Simpson’s in the Strand, one of London’s most revered culinary institutions, has had a welcome makeover, writes Alec Marsh
Much Beloved, Simpson’s in the Strand is a gastronomic bastion, a culinary dreadnought, one that’s been flying the flag for a certain sort of British cuisine since 1828. The name of the game, of course, is beef, and British beef at that, although they do serve lots of other things, such as oysters. British oysters.
But step inside and you’ll discover that something’s afoot: the place was done up in 2017, and they’ve made it very slightly hip. In the Grand Divan, fluted burgundy leather chairs – reminiscent of the bucket seats in a 1930s Alvis – have been introduced. And along the windowed wall there’s a new low, green-leather banquette with mint piping that’s elegant, intimate, comfortable and just a tad camp. Meanwhile, golden uplights capture the plaster mouldings above the oak panelling. What once was a bit 1980s boarding school now seems polished and a little chic. Touché.
Taking up a table along the new banquette, we drink Ridgeview, the Simpson’s house sparkling wine – a fizzy, biscuity bullet with touches of grapefruit fired from the South Downs. I start with the oysters – a half-dozen Jersey and Merseas, of which the former – creamy and oceanic – emerge victorious. Mrs Marsh has a revitalising zig-zag of salt-baked Lincolnshire beetroot – all saline sweetness bumping into the crunch of honeycomb, rhubarb and goat’s curd; a gentle delight. We rinse this lot home with a superb Stopham Estate pinot blanc from Sussex, before moving on to an impressive Hush Heath Estate pinot noir from Kent of all places.
Next I have the roast beef from the trolley – three buttery, tender substantial slabs of luminous pink, the colour of an Englishman who worked the guns at Trafalgar. And peerless, but not compared to the astonishingly satisfying Buccleuch estate 28-day dry-aged beef wellington – an impregnable Waterloo infantry square of protein, pastry, mushroom and peppercorn sauce. Oh for space to describe the cheese or the port – a sweet, twiggy sauna in the mouth. Good fare? By jingo: the dreadnought steams on.
Alec Marsh is editor of Spear’s