Simpson’s in the Strand is a name that connotes luxury, empire, tradition, majesty and upper class-ness. In London recently I didn’t have the time for lunch, for which they are rightly famous for their servings of beef or lamb carved off massive haunches at the table.
But I can manage breakfast. I know what I am having well before I get there. It’s a treat I have promised myself. The Great British Breakfast at Simpson’s is “Cumberland sausage, streaky and back bacon, Stornoway black pudding, fried mushrooms, baked tomato & egg (fried, poached or scrambled)”.
It is just wonderful. Beautifully cooked and served hot (how rare is that) on a warmed plate and eaten with silver cutlery on a linen table cloth with a copy of the Times next to me. I read the court circular recording the activities of the Royal Household with particular interest.
The room is left over from the 17th century – a high ceiling with dark panelled walls, festooned with pictures including one over the mantelpiece at the end of the room, showing a meal being served, to a regal person. It’s captioned, what a dainty dish to set before the king. It is an aide memoir of a bygone era.
Simpson’s-in-the-Strand is a landmark restaurant in London and in its own words “has been offering classic British dishes to its delighted patrons for over 170 years.”
It opened in 1828 and in its original incarnation it was a chess club and coffee house – The Grand Cigar Divan – and soon became known as the “home of chess”.
“It was to avoid disturbing the chess games in progress that the idea of placing large joints of meat on silver-domed trolleys and wheeling them to guests’ tables first came into being, a practice Simpson’s still continues today.”
While the French (and others) typically deride British cooking, Simpson’s says it offers “only the finest quality British ingredients cooked to perfection in classic British style.”
I wish that I could extend my experience to the extensive lunch and dinner menu which features lobster, sea bass, beef wellington, calves liver, dover sole and other very British dishes like steak and kidney pudding (or pie), Scottish salmon, local oysters and saddle of English lamb.
Simpson’s may be old but it is not stuffy. At breakfast I am treated with courtesy and dignity. Tea is brought. The waiter puts a little milk in the cup and then pours my first cup. The toast comes in a rack – two slices already cut in half and still warm. The butter is soft enough to spread. Small things matter.
Nor is it particularly expensive. The main dish is £12.50, with tea, and service, my bill is around £17.50. The same breakfast items in a standard sit down café in central London will cost around eight to ten pounds. I check out a McDonald’s breakfast a few doors along the Strand and find that a sausage bacon and egg McMuffin, hash brown and a coffee comes to nearly £8. There is a cost to gentility and quality, which at Simpson’s, I am happy to pay.