Review: Simpson's In The Strand Resurrects Vintage Classics, To Continue As One Of London's Grand Old Restaurants
Silver trolleys the size of small cars wheeling sides of beef around the room. Men in the urinals, discussing buying first edition Potters for their daughters from nearby Cecil Court. There is almost nothing so quintessentially English as Simpson's in the Strand — certainly if you subscribe to the idea that England is one long-running episode of Downton.
Starting out life as a Victorian chess club (the meat trolleys served members so they could eat and play at the same time) Simpson's has become the last word in British fine dining over the past 190 years — at least that's the impression it oozes, what with its ox blood leather dining chairs, impeccably-mannered wait staff and general sense of solid-oak, moustachy occasion. It has also often been accused of being 'outdated and overpriced'... and by us, too.
Fighting off over-exaggerated rumours of its demise, a refreshed Simpson's has been making changes, or rather, careful tweaks to its bill of fare. Newly appointed Master Cook Adrian Martin has flicked through old recipe books with a highlighter pen, creating a 'new' menu of resurrected classics — nothing off the wall, but rather sharper versions of antediluvian fare; devilled eggs with crispy chicken skin, dainty beef wellington trinkets served with potato fondant — you get the picture.
No beating about the bush: you need good money to enjoy Simpson's to its full potential. A steak tartare starter comes in at £16 — although it's a good sized portion, and zingy, just how we like it. The scallops — cooked simply with garlic butter and crumbs — taste freshly plucked from the Manx coast. You'd hope so for their eye-watering £21 price tag.
Now to put our pleb cards on the table: we don't have any previous lobster thermidor experience to pit against Simpson's'. The divinely sweet flesh of the lobster and unctuous cheese, combined with the punishing price of £44, though, reminds us of that bittersweet moment in the Simpsons where Homer ends up devouring Pinchy. The 'tongue-in cheek', meanwhile is a posh 1930s meat feast that combines salted ox tongue and ox cheek. 'Flavoursome' doesn't come close — although the wall of salt means the dish really ought to be accompanied by some palate-cleansing greens — maybe a complimentary glass of soda water.
Throughout the evening, we can't help ogle the tables where full-on roasts are being dished up: just like you go to martini bar Dukes for the trolley experience, so you go to Simpson's for the, well, trolley experience. Again, at £38, you'll be celebrating something (a birthday, being rich). But boy, this room — frequented by the ilk of Winston Churchill and Arthur Conan Doyle — is an event in itself.
Our greatest love affair of the night, strangely, is with a black muscat dessert wine; it's £11.50 for a small glass, and we quickly find it online for £15 for a small bottle. This episode highlights both how savvily the sommeliers have chosen the wine list, and also the kind of stiff mark-up you can expect here.
So is Simpson's worth the money? That's something only you can decide. Certainly you can find English fare that's more pizzazzy, less pricey elsewhere (try Brixton's Smoke & Salt). Then again, if you hanker for the tinkle of Coward on the ivories, the ghosts of greats hovering in the corners, and the strange sight of four-wheeled beef — nowhere quite does it like Simpson's.
Simpson's in the Strand, open daily
Last Updated 02 November 2018