For all that’s hot and super on-trend in London’s restaurant scene, even the best new opening would find it hard to challenge the superiority of the trusty and true few who’ve endured, not just for years, but decades. Indeed, in the case of Simpson’s in the Strand, almost two centuries. It’s one thing to command a fortnight’s worth of queues when you’re brand new; it’s something else entirely to be able to maintain a reputation for 189 years.
Following a full restoration this summer, Simpson’s is once again stating its position as one of the finest dining spots in London. The revolving doors into the Grade II listed building open into a deep green atrium leading to the Grand Divan dining room. It’s truly splendid – crystal chandeliers, leather upholstery, a grand piano being softly played in the corner – and the longstanding heart of the establishment.
Opened first as the Grand Cigar Divan by Samuel Reiss, it was a place for men to drink coffee, play chess, and smoke cigars. In 1848 Reiss was joined by John Simpson who introduced a meat trolley, wheeling large joints of meat on a silver dining trolley to be carved at each table. It’s a service Prime Minister Winston Churchill no doubt availed himself of as a regular visitor with a favourite table next to the fireplace at the far end of the room where he could see all the comings and goings. The meat trolley tradition continues today, and diners can enjoy the theatre of seeing their choice cut of beef or lamb served to them directly.
The newly refurbished Grand Divan dining room
Green leather seats and wood panelling in the newly refurbished Grand Divan dining room
Steak and Kidney Pudding
Simpsons-in-the-Strand's signature silver carving trolley
Smoked salmon. All the dishes are seasonal and as locally sourced as possible
Smoked Haddock Pie
Winston Churchill's table, from whence he could command a view of the entire restaurant
For a place so steeped in tradition and history, there’s nothing retrograde about the quality or the service. The contemporary diner has certain sensibilities that must be appeased, and Simpson’s does this effortlessly, beginning with the drinks list. The restaurant have their own bespoke gins – a London Dry and an Old Tom – made for them by Blackdown Distillery in West Sussex, and available to buy and take home too. Similarly, Simpson’s have partnered with craft breweries and English vineyard Ridgeview to create a truly patriotic drinks offering.
The British focus continues with the bill of fare – no French language ‘menu’ here – where Welsh chef William Hemming has brought contemporary flourishes to sturdy English classics like beef wellington and Barnsley chop. The salmon, for example is smoked in London and served with Tottenham-based cheesemakers Wildes’ zero curd. It’s de rigeur for restaurants to champion their support for local producers and the seasonality of their dishes, but at Simpson’s this is merely the continuation of a longstanding practice. For a restaurant where even the toilets are made by the Thomas Crapper Company, it’s clear that nothing less than service fit for a statesman and the best of British will do.