The Foodist: two centuries of Simpson's in the Strand

A trip to a genuine relic reminds Foodism's editor Mike Gibson that London's food scene has a history that's unmatched

Recently, while browsing Twitter, I saw a photo doing the rounds. It was of a list of 'Famous Restaurants in London' from the Official Guide of the British Travel and Holidays Association, dated 1963. The completely arbitrary descriptions for some of the restaurants made me want to visit immediately. I even felt a pang of sadness that it's too late for me to check out Peter Evans' Eating House ("Scotch steaks and scampi a speciality", apparently), Celebrite ("wine, dine and dance", which appears as a descriptor for quite a few of them) and especially Brief Encounter (simply "moderate charges").

Notable, though, were a few legendary restaurants, still moving with the times today. Bentley's, 'Leoni's Quo Vadis' and Simpson's in the Strand were all on there – the latter of which I happened to eat at for the first time very recently. I don't really have a frame of reference for the specifics of eating in London in the 1960s (apart from, evidently, the knowledge that lots of dancing was involved). But I do know Simpson's balances roots in the oldest of old schools – having been open since 1826 (it's older than Canada and Australia by a distance, which blows my mind).


The dining room is loungey and cavernous. I had a meaty fishcake with flecks of tangy, pungent sauce gribiche and an enormous lamb chop, its cap of fat offset (sort of) by a streak of mustardy Welsh rarebit sauce and a tiny handful of lamb's lettuce. A pianist played reimaginings of Elton John songs. There wasn't a queue to get in. I wouldn't say it was 'cool'.

But it was great. Along with its neighbour, the much newer (but with an old soul) Holborn Dining Room, Simpson's is putting out plates of British comfort food better than pretty much anyone. There was a touch of new-school flourish, especially in the wine (a funky, skin-contact pinot gris, for example). The food has changed as much as it's needed to, and not much more than that. The hype of a thousand new openings a year is exciting, and London is nothing if not dynamic, but it's also a city that's been doing things its own way for centuries, and it's nice to be reminded of that. Even if there wasn't room to dance.

Simpson's in the Strand; 100 Strand, WC2R 0EW;