Covent Garden, 100 Strand, London
A favourite of Dickens and Conan-Doyle, this Victorian restaurant is still the toast of London
Despite the constantly shifting sands of time there are a few things about Britain that will always stay the same: peoples’ preoccupation with the weather, the changing of the guard and the daily roasts at Simpson’s-in-the-Strand.
This dignified restaurant has stood in the same spot since 1828 and much of the interior remains unchanged. Originally a coffee house and chess club known as The Grand Cigar Divan (‘Simpson’s’ was added in 1848), the practice of wheeling joints of meat on silver trolleys to the table was introduced so as not to disrupt the games. The same trolleys are still used to this day, and it’s a wonderful bit of restaurant theatre to see the cloches removed with a flourish to reveal juicy hunks of beef and lamb.
The clientele is a mixture of stolid folk who would be prepared to do their patriotic duty at the drop of a hat should they be called upon by queen or country, and American tourists who come to gawp at these relics in their natural habitat. Right on The Strand with The Savoy next door, Simpson’s treads a difficult line between beingtrue to itself and veering into a Victorian-themed tourist attraction. However, consistently excellent cooking and a loyal local following ensure it stays safely in the former camp.
The menu makes as few concessions to modern trends as the decor. It consists mostly of beautifully cooked adult versions of the comforting dishes served in boarding schools, with the words baked, boiled or roasted preceding most items. We’re urged by our waiter to have the roast rib of beef, which is aged for 28 days. When we refuse on the grounds we had the same meal the night before, he looks crestfallen, as if he thinks it should be eaten every day. An order of beef Wellington with roast salsify and green peppercorn sauce seems to mollify him a little. When it arrives, the pastry flakes off in golden crisps at the lightest touch of a fork and the meat is deep burgundy in the middle. A fish cake starter decadently lubricated with a soft poached egg and chive butter is pricey at £16 but 189 years of history is never going to come cheap.