Step back into the history of British cuisine, masterfully delivered and forever worth another visit at Simpson’s in the Strand.
Having been restored to its former glory last year following a restoration project by Robert Angell Design International, Simpson’s in the Strand, housed in a beautiful Grade II listing building, is now firmly back on the list as one of London’s most historic and traditional dining institutions located in the heart of the West End. Sink into the sumptuous dark green banquettes and ruby red chairs and be transported back in time to when elegance and tradition were the norm.
The restaurant’s history dates back to 1828 when it opened as a chess club and coffee house and Samuel Reiss opened the Grand Cigar Divan. It became popular with gentlemen who wanted to smoke cigars whilst sipping coffee and browsing the daily papers and journals of the time. It was then in 1848 that noted caterer John Simpson joined Mr Reiss and enlarged the building and named it “Simpson’s Grand Divan Tavern”. Its popularity prompted the introduction of wheeling the large joints of meat on silver dinner trolleys to each table and carving meat slices right before eager diners’ eyes. It also meant that ardent chess-players could be served at their tables without disturbing their game and having to move. It was then in 1898 that Richard D’Oyly Carte, who was the man behind The Savoy, acquired Simpson’s to expand the hotel on the Strand side and become part of the hotel’s new East Block. It reopened in 1904 completely rebuilt with the new name of Simpson’s-in-the-Strand, Grand Divan Tavern.
Jump forward to 2018 and Simpson’s in the Strand is now run by the restaurant’s first female General Manager, Anne Lomas, who is also the Head Sommelier, adding a fresh modern approach to this wonderful London institution.
The new menu, created by Chef de Cuisine Adrian Martin, is straightforward and offers diners a contemporary take on classic British dishes and showcases the finest seasonal ingredients from around the British Isles. If you’re thinking steamed Steak & Kidney pudding and Gentlemen’s Relish and Potted Shrimp, then this is the place! Simpson’s is also one of London’s only restaurants to have a Master Carver, which has been a long-standing tradition and has been held by Manzil Diniz for some fifteen years here at the restaurant. Served every day, diners can choose from 28-day dry roast rib of Scottish Beef or Daphne’s Welsh Lamb, carved at your table and served with good old roast potatoes, carrots, Yorkshire Pudding and lashings of gravy and horseradish sauce.
The starters set the tone for your meal, with the likes of Yorkshire Fishcakes, Pulled Ham Hock and Chicken Terrine or what we had, which is a plate of delicious slices of Beetroot Cured Loch Duart Salmon served with avocado and pickled cucumber.
If the traditional roast is not your thing, then some of Simpson’s signature dishes are sure to tempt you. The Smoked Haddock and Salmon Pie will warm you up on those colder days whilst those of you prefer to steer clear of meat may like the barley and cauliflower cheese, served with grilled Portobello mushrooms and London Howard cheese and pickled walnut purée. Steak lovers may fancy the 8oz Buccleuch Fillet Steak whilst those of you looking for a lighter meal may prefer the Grilled Dover Sole or Menière served with spinach, brown butter and topped with lemon and capers. I was here at the start of the Game Season and therefore treated to a traditional Roast Yorkshire Grouse with braised red cabbage, liver pâté, lots or bread sauce and toasted bread crumbs.
And whilst I indulged in a fabulously naughty Sticky Toffee Pudding to round off my dinner, you will also find a Baked Alaska on the dessert menu, which is Simpson’s signature pudding.
When it comes to choosing what to drink with your meal, the Simpson’s in the Strand drinks menu offers something for everyone, with bottles of wine from quality British wine producers as well as a selection of craft beers sourced from some of the best breweries in Britain.
And speaking of drinks, a visit to the Knight’s Bar up the first floor, makes for a great start to any meal. The bar team have recently introduced a rather special “Allotment Menu” inspired by the bountiful British gardens and allotments to toast the summer. I tried the “Fig” made with fig of course, grapes, walnuts and English sparkling wine. It is a rather refreshing drink and ever so slightly salted to help bring out the taste.
Lastly, a mention should also be given to the restaurant’s two event spaces, the West Room and the Regency Room, ideal for a private dinner or special occasion. But don’t let it be a special occasion for your next visit, as Simpson’s in the Strand is the perfect setting for a relaxed cocktail or meal with friends on any day of the week in a relaxed convivial atmosphere and enjoying some delicious British fare.
Simpson’s in the Strand, 100 Strand, London, WC2R 0EW, England.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7420 2111
The restaurant is a five-minute walk from Charing Cross mainline train and Underground station and is open for Lunch Monday to Friday from midday to 2:30pm and for Dinner from 5:00pm to 11:00pm. On Saturday it is open from midday to 11:00pm and Sunday from midday to 8:00pm. Knight’s Bar is open Monday to Saturday from 11:30am to 11:00pm and Sunday from midday to 8:00pm.
Type of Restaurant: Traditional British Restaurant
Price Band: High
Insider Tip: I recommend arriving a little early and popping upstairs to the Knight’s Bar to try one of their inventive cocktails before your meal.
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10
Simon Burrell is Editor-in-Chief of Our Man On The Ground Travel and Lifestyle Magazine, a member of The British Guild of Travel Writers and professional photographer.
Photographs courtesy of Simpson’s in the Strand