Originally founded in 1828 as a coffee and cigar house, Simpson's became the home of English chess, frequented by the likes of Howard Staunton, and as a venue, the home to the first international chess tournament, organised in 1851 as part of the Great Exhibition of Art and Industry of that year. Chess sets used in the 1853 tournaments are still on display.
And the chess is important because it is how the food tradition started also. Gentlemen playing chess (for women were back then excluded from the main room) wanting food without disturbance to the game had large trolleys of meat wheeled to the table where it would be carved in front of them and served up, a tradition continued to this day, still with the original trolleys and still a fabulous sight to see (indeed it recently featured in Michel Roux's Service on the BBC).
And while there was no evidence of chess games taking place while we were eating, Simpson's claim to have a board available for anyone who does wish to enjoy a game while enjoying their food. Women are now of course welcome throughout Simpson's though MrsCC feels the place retains the feel of a gentlemen's club and is less partial to the venue than I. Being MrCC, I find it hard not to revel in both the surroundings and its past and appreciate that while this might not exactly be the place for gastronomes (of a certain kind), it nevertheless nourishes in different ways and I have been an occasional visitor here for a decade or so, enjoying its unchanging ambience for all that time.
Finally, and what really helped to make our visit, was that looking after our aisle and the beef trolley was Giuseppe. I hope I don't offend him so by saying that if he wanted to retire, surely he could, but no doubt having been on Simpson's staff for decades himself, not only is he in character with the place but he is the character of the place and his pride in the trolley, the food and the institution offered a lesson in 'traditional values' that so many people talk of and dream of returning to. Well, it's here, at Simpson's, with Giuseppe, his trolley and his 'old school' service.
Giuseppe asks if I want my Yorkshire Pudding soaked in gravy? Why not I say after which the pudding takes a bath. Portions are generous and this is the original table theatre. There's beef seconds available too for £5.75 but you'd have to have a hell of an appetite to want and manage this. It's all beautifully done in beautiful surroundings and I'm delighted. The food too is excellent, exactly what you hope it will be, a roast to be savoured and I do admit loving it even if the beef for personal preference could have been somewhat more on the medium rare side.
We're too full for old school desserts that include treacle sponge and jam roly poly.
If I have a qualm, it's that it's pricey. Three courses will set you back the best part of £50 before service for essentially a roast dinner, and wine is generously marked up though there are one or two bargains if you press the wine list hard enough. Accordingly, it's not a place to go every week, or even every month, but an occasional visit borders on an almost patriotic duty, and for anyone who reads history books, or watches history programmes on TV and enjoys them, Simpson's on the Strand more directly places you at the centre of the adventure, as a participant, not a mere observer.
So, loving London, and loving history, in turn, I love Simpson's and will certainly return annually over the next decade, like I have for the past decade, find it unchanging over that time and love it all the more for it. And they say nostalgia isn't what it used to be?
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