“ Address: 100 Strand / London / WC2R 0EW / England „
There are meals you eat because you are just hungry. You don't remember much about them, you just fuel up in the same way you put petrol in the car. Likewise, any business traveller will look at you askance if you ask them how they enjoyed their flight: "What'd'ya mean enjoy? It was just from A to B".
I once flew Concorde, London to New York and though the seats were quite small and there was no overhead locker space and there wasn't even a movie, it was a wonderful experience and I'm really glad I did it. Yes, it took me from A to B - well, LHR to JFK - but what a way to go.
The Grand Divan, Simpons-in-the-Strand is not the Concorde of restaurants - it's neither that good, that memorable nor that expensive - but it is far more of at the Concorde end of the market than it is EasyJet to Glasgow: Happy Eater this ain't.
I like The Strand: Running south west to north east from Trafalgar Square towards Fleet Street and the City of London, this is one of the Capitals more interesting areas. The river is one block south and Covent Garden and theatre-land just a block or two north. The Savoy Hotel, Charring Cross station, the Adelphi Theatre, Coutts and Co (the Queen's bank) and the Strand Palace Hotel are all here and this is an area where you see every nationality, people in all forms of national dress, the whole of life in a single street.
I have been to the area several times and even worked there for a while and whilst I had heard of Simpsons-in-the-Strand, I had never eaten there. I have a friend whose parents used to go there for dinner when they 'went up to town' and it was certainly a place I wanted to try. In the end, my friend and I decided to try it and what fun it proved to be!
Stepping in from the cold and wet winter street, the first impact if of a baronial hallway in a one of the grander country houses - if you understand me, a suit of amour and a couple of shields on the wall would not have looked out of place. Heavy deco features date the décor to the period between the wars and the dark wood panelling and striking black and white tile floor are austere but solid looking - reliable, somehow.
A friendly greeting from the reception desk and with our coats checked, we were moved through to the wood panelled dining room.
Ranged down one side were a number of high backed bench seats making booths and I looked on at people who had secured one of those - maybe they had slipped the matre'd a £5 on the way in? We were seated at one of the tables in the main body of the room, close to other people - I should think the restaurant was two-thirds full at the time we arrived (we had made a reservation, which is recommended).
The main event (the food!)
Large, plush menus were placed in our hands and the water glasses filled at once.
Have you ever been to Disney Epcot at Orlando, Florida? Ranged round a lake is mini-world, where these is a mini China and a mini-Japan, a France, an Italy and an England (amongst others). Mini England has a pub, of course (arguably, to be authentic, there should be someone outside it throwing up and four smokers under an umbrella) but it is an attempt to capture the 'Englishness'. This restaurant is serving English food, but really it is slices of 'Olde England' itself which is on offer here. This is England, but almost cornily so - almost painfully stylized.
There are dishes to begin with like Morecombe Bay shrimp and Cornish crab as well as tried and traditional soups (and there are salads and the like - but you are surely not eating here for the salad?).
The main course - the main event, the reason d'etre even - is the roast beef. Our friends in France call the English 'le roast beef' and it is one of those very British dishes somehow. American's describe roast beef as being available "rare, medium and English" - English being cremated. I assure you that cremated was not the only option here.
There were other main courses. There was roast lamb. There were pies, there was Dover Sole, there was other things roast and there was seasonal game, but you are really there for the roast beef, rare slices of pink meat carved on a trolley next to your table and delivered immediately, steaming hot, to your plate. Crisp white tablecloths and napkins, heavy polished silver cutlery and glasses reflecting the light, this is not just a meal, this is dinner as theatre - the ballet of the waiters, the dramatic flourish as a serving salver is uncovered, the heads turning to see at who's table the champagne cork is popping.
Actually, it is theatre of a particular genre, too. You really do half expect Hercule Poitot to appear at any time and fuss about the fish or Miss Marple to settle herself next to you and tell you about the Vicar. I don't know if Agatha Christie ever eat at Simpons-in-the-Strand, but I am confident she would feel quite at home if she did.
Starters were from £6 or so up, main courses started at £17 and there was an extra charge for vegetables (which I object to paying).
Desserts are all at £6.95 and were as typically English as everything else: Anyone for Treacle Tart and custard (well, Crème Anglaise, maybe). Fortunately, the wines were not English - sadly they were not cheap.
Was it worth it
For the theatricality of the event was it worth it - certainly. This was a fun couple of hours, not cheap but at a similar price to a couple of hours spent in a West End theatre and as entertaining as many (a lot more entertaining than The Mousetrap, for sure).
Actually, the joke about the whole 'English' thing was that there was almost nothing English at all (except the food - and even the beef is Scottish). Very few of the customers were English, seeming mainly to be American's, Japanese, Russians and some visiting Germans and certainly none of the staff I spoke to were English (typical in a cosmopolitan city like London - actually, almost no-one in hotel and catering in London seems to be originally from London).
For the quality, taste and value of the meal was it worth it - well, mainly. It was better than many and it was good, but not great. It was somewhat old fashioned but that is not always a bad thing. At least it was not 'goujons of this nestling on a bed of that with a whatever coulis drizzled over it' and thank goodness for that, at least.
We had three courses, we also had two bottles of wine and the bill came to well over £100 - but look, this is not a place you are going to come too that often. We had a couple of hours of entertainment for free, which made it all better value: And in how many restaurants can you expect the Dowager Duchess at the next table to be bumped off at any point by the Bishop in the booth?
The loos were also deco and thirties, marble and grand - all Queen Mary and bulkhead lights. Everything worked and there was hot water, soap and towels. There was a real person on a coat check desk (you don't see that often enough) and staff knew the difference between service and servile. Oh and fortunately, there was not someone employed to turn on the tap in the Gents or to hand you a paper towel - happens a lot in the Far East and inevitably makes me nervous - very not English.
As a special event, as a one off, if you want to do something a little different, if you want to impress a visiting friend from one of the countries in Britain's colonial past (especially if they have been raised on a diet of Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie), for a very special pre-theatre dinner to make a memorable night or just for fun - do it. I am confident that you could get better food and more cheaply on any night of the week in London - indeed, almost certainly within a mile - but better food does not necessarily mean a better experience, so go for the theatre - go for the craic - and the beef, of course.
Where is it and how to get there
On The Strand, near the Savoy Hotel and more or less opposite the Strand Palace Hotel.
Nearest Tubes - Charring Cross, Embankment, Temple
Smart casual dress code - no jeans, trainers etc.
Fine dining. British cuisine.