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Simpson's-in-the-Strand - the epitome of traditional British dining

After a recent change of management, Simpson's is reclaiming its venerable reputation for providing first rate British cooking.

Simpson's-in-the-Strand goes back to 1828, when it opened as "The Grand Cigar Divan" on the site of the former Fountain Tavern where the Kit Kat Club for literatti used to meet. Mr Simpson, a noted caterer of his day enlarged the premises in 1848, and in 1898 it was acquired by Richard D'Oyly Carte the opera impresario and hotelier. There are many dining rooms: the most impressive is the clubby restaurant on the ground floor with its glittering chandeliers, dark panelled walls and "boxes" with divans to sit on, left over from former days.

Enormous roasted joints are carved at the table from grand silver dinner wagons by carvers wearing tall chefs' toques. Since the absurd beef-on-the-bone ban, rolled sirloin joints are the mainstay in the beef department. The whole saddles of lamb are no less impressive. Wonderful pink slices of tender juicy meat were arranged so as to cover the whole of my plate. This made it hard for the waiter to serve my vegetables with any great artistry, but this misses the point of Simpson's - you don't go there to have your roasts got up like skyscrapers resting on millefeuilles of aubergine topped with wilted rocket.

This is not to say that modern culinary art has passed by the Strand without leaving a trace. Dishes like goat's cheese and vegetable terrine, or pan fried cod with cabbage and smoked bacon were as attractive to our eyes as to our palates. I began my meal with a bowl of London Particular, a pea soup invented to drive out the effects of the dreaded "peasouper fogs" that were a late nineteenth century scourge of the capital. It was so good that I managed to extract this traditional recipe from the kitchens.

Whatever you do, don't eat too much bread while you order you meal and wait for your starter. You simply must keep some room for those British dessert dishes which are truly worthy of the name pudding. The lemon sponge pudding contrives to be both light in texture and comforting and the lemon flavour was natural and not over sweetened. Bread and Butter pudding is another must - the custard was creamy and just set - there's a genuine flavour of vanilla, and the the bread was crunchy on the top and gooey underneath. Oh nanny, how we so miss you!

The service had bucked up considerably since we last visited. The head waiter looks more like a Harley Street surgeon or a top QC, but he's a big softie with his customers, whilst keeping a keen eye on his staff.

Special events

Until the end of January, there's a special lunch menu for £12.50 per person for two courses, or £17.50 for three. The old favorites are all present and correct. The offer is also available as a pre-theatre menu, for those ordering before 7.00pm

There's a special Valentine's Weekend Menu on Saturday the 13th and Sunday 14th of February. After a glass of champagne, there's a medley of Hors d'Oeuvres followed by roast rack of lamb in a wild mushroom crust and truffle sauce. Then there's the Simpson's pudding plate pictured above right. The price per couple is £85 including coffee, petits fours and service. I'd recommend one of the more feminine upstairs dining rooms for Valentine's night.

Clifford Mould January 1999

Simpson's-in-the-Strand, 100 Strand WC2, Tel: 020 7836 9112


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