Simpson's Tavern itself is located just off Cornhill, across from the Royal Exchange and reached via a small alley. It's worth remembering that in 16th/17th century London, what is now The City was the food and restaurant centre of the capital, Cornhill itself being up to that point a hill on which corn was sold, while Poultry, Milk Street and Bread Street, just minutes away, branch off of Cheapside (ceap or chepe itself being the Old English word for market).
We say this because to eat at Simpson's is to participate in this history and their own traditions. We've always enjoyed meals there, they're fun, lifting your spirits, especially if there's a small group of you sitting at the somewhat cramped tables for six, arranged in stalls, seated on barely padded banquettes that make you feel like your about to slide off under the table. Wood panelling is evident everywhere, the restaurant's façade and enveloping your stall, all broadly unchanged since the 19th Century, with all stalls accompanied by an overhead brass rail on which gentlemen can place 'top hats or bowlers'.
When it comes to food, consider that in 1750, beef sausages were the culinary fashion (really) and the sausage seems to play a special roll at Simspon's, for whatever you order, you'll be invited to enjoy a sausage on the side also; 'do you want a sausage with that' is undoubtedly the restaurant's catchphrase. A little after Simpson's opened, French writer and traveller François Misson wrote of London eateries 'beef, mutton, veal, pork and lamb; you have what quantity you please cut off, fat, lean, much or little done'. These places understandably became known as 'chop houses' and Simpson's was a part of the chop house tradition with the focus little changed today.
Menu-wise, there's a selection from the grill: gammon, chump chop. steak, pork chop or a mixed grill. There's some kitchen prepared mains (salmon, lamb shank etc), or something from a weekly rotating menu of daily specials. Always a roast (Monday lamb, Tuesday beef, Weds duck, Thursday pork, Friday beef), as well as pies and stews etc. This Monday, as well as roast lamb, chicken & ham pie as well as cottage pie made up the daily specials. The place is also without ceremony: paper napkins are placed in a beer jug at the table, condiments are plentiful and stacked at the table end and butter comes in wrapped portions to accompany the bread that is served alongside most starters.
The other main, roast lamb, was, sadly, just about okay. Sides too were slightly wide of the mark, roast potatoes for example undercooked which was a shame. Other sides included cauliflower cheese, bubble and squeak and spinach. This actually provided a lot a food, too much in fact with one side generally able to serve two people.
The outcome was that we were both full with no puddings needed even if it wasn't the best meal of our lives. On the pudding front, we didn't look at the menu and menus posted on line talk only of 'home-made puddings' but I'd wager the cost of a meal that they do a spotted dick, a jam roly-poly and a treacle sponge, all with custard.
First, it's not that expensive. The roast lamb was £7.85 as is the beef; with sides mostly at £3.25 each; even with two sides, the total cost is £14.35 though as noted the sides are easily shared. Compare this to the other Simpson's (on the Strand), and while the food is undoubtedly better, they charge £25.50 for lamb and £27.50 for beef. Puddings at the Tavern are £3 while jam roly poly at The Strand is £8.50.
Second, service was genuinely friendly, and totally informal which we enjoyed. Third, Despite the history, they don't take themselves that seriously so everybody can relax and have a good time. It's a great place for example to meet up with friends you haven't seen for a while and a place that is without doubt used to parties who 'set the table on a roar'.
History without formality has given Simpson's Tavern a unique charm and it has been loved by generations of City workers who, even when separated by decades or more, have each enjoyed broadly the same Simpson's experience, which must encompass some magic as it has survived intact for over 250 years. Ignored by today's food crowd however (the restaurant has not a single blog-post to its name on Urbanspoon), despite the fact that this particular meal could have been better, I never remember having a properly bad meal there. In fact, all I have of Simpson's Tavern are fond memories: friends, laughter, and a sausage with that.
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