It’s possible, allegedly, to order chicken at Simpson’s in the Strand. There are rumours that fish is served. Regular diners, it is alleged, have been known to plump for a ‘pie’ of some sort. But this is all unsubstantiated hearsay and should be completely ignored, because no-one ever really comes to Simpson’s for anything other than the beef. Endless quantities of roast beef, served direct from the wheeled trolley and carved – to your preferred thickness – at your table. Vegetables are served, as a formality, as are crisp potatoes roasted in duck fat, and towering Yorkshire puddings (all of which are best enjoyed soaked in thick dark gravy, to the point of disintegration). But it’s the roast rib of beef, quivering on the centre of the plate, that is the dense, gouty, main attraction.
Simpson’s has been serving beef for a long time. The restaurant began life, in 1828, as ‘Samuel Reiss's Grand Cigar Divan’, a smoking room - and later coffee house – in which London’s gentlemen would while away the hours reading the papers and playing chess with one another (and with rival chess clubs too – runners in top hats would charge across the city and report the moves). It became ‘Simpson’s Grand Divan’ in 1848 with the arrival of caterer John Simpson, who swiftly introduced a menu, and with it the practice of carving beef at the the table. A London institution was born.
Diners included Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw and Vincent Van Gogh. In Conan Doyle’s story The Illustrious Client, Sherlock Holmes dropped by. Winston Churchill kept a regular table by the fireplace, from whence he could survey the room.