Simpson’s-in-the-Strand for breakfast – restaurant review

Simpson’sSamuel Reiss opened the ‘Grand Cigar Divan’ in 1828, on the site of the Fountain Tavern, which had been the home of the famous literary association the ‘Kit Kat Club’. It was in Simpson’s in 1851 that one of the world’s great games, the famous “Immortal Game”, was played between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky. It also hosted the great tournaments of 1883 and 1899, and the first ever women’s international in 1897. In 1898 Richard D´Oyly Carte of the Savoy Group bought Simpson’s. It was closed in 1903 for redevelopment, at the time when the Strand was widened, and reopened in 1904 but chess was no longer to be the principal draw. Simpson’s has now become synonymous with continuity, good taste and charm, with excellent food and platters taking the place of inspired moves and boards.

Simpson’s-in-the-Strand is one of London’s most iconic venues. There are two main restaurants, The West Room and the ground floor Divan Restaurant, and it’s to the latter that we headed. It is a striking vision of oak panels, Simpson’s kedgereehigh ceilings, marquetry, and the celebrated high-backed booths along one side, known as divans, from which the restaurant takes its name. These were the chairs of choice for chess players and there are still mementoes throughout Simpsons to remind the visitor of that unique association.

I couldn’t have written this review a few years ago. It was only in 1984 that Simpson’s dropped its rule forbidding women from using the panelled street-level dining-room. Before that date, ladies were asked to use the dining room on the floor above. It still has a comfortably masculine ambiance. The dark upholstery on the original divans, the pillars and mouldings create a scene where dark-suited gents puffing cigars would not be out of place.

In 1994 Simpson’s broke with tradition and started serving breakfasts for the first time. A light menu was available, but the popular items are traditional English breakfasts. There is The Great British Breakfast as well as the Ten Deadly Sins, which consists of the above copious plateful along with four additions including fried bread, and I am convinced this should be eaten with every British fry-up. Good to find it on the Simpson’s bill of fare.

Simpson’s is famed for its traditional egg-and-bacon-based breakfast but there are other dishes here that are just as traditional. Smoked haddock kedgeree was a regular under the lid of the Victorian sideboard’s chafing dishes. It seems to have fallen from grace with restaurants and, indeed, at home. The Simpson’s version is the best I have had for many a long reviewing year.

Simpson’s pancakes

It takes a degree of skill and foreplanning to present the early-morning guest with such a well-textured example of this fish dish. The grains were tender rather than being puddingy, as is sadly often the case. It had the appropriate flavour of aromatic Madras curry powder which also supplied the golden colour from its turmeric. It’s an unctuous and creamy concoction and just as every kedgeree lover would hope.

My companion was tempted by an eclectic dish of a stack of Scottish pancakes with fried bananas, maple syrup and mascarpone. The pancakes were fluffy and the fruit rich, soft and decadently sweet from the amber syrup. A dish that gave a delicious nod to an era when the pink on the map was predominant, and the sun never set on the Empire.

Simpson’s teaA reviewer cannot live by omega-3-rich breakfast goods alone, so I also ordered some pastries to help down the cups of breakfast tea. These dainties are made to nibble while perusing the morning newspapers (supplied). This isn’t a venue for just stoking up with calories. Yes, there is plenty here to delight those who crave yoghurt and cereals but I would suggest you bring a hearty appetite and indulge. No need to bolt your breakfast; sit back and absorb all that this unique restaurant has to offer. Simpson’s is, sadly, one of the last of a dying breed. I for one hope that we have the opportunity to return to enjoy real luxury that is maintained only by a periodic dust, long into the future. It shouldn’t have a major refurbishment or refit. It shouldn’t be tinkered with. It’s a gem with its own very timeless character and it’s that as much as the food on offer that will assure its continued success.

Grand Divan Restaurant opening times:
Breakfast: Mon to Fri: 7.15am – 10.30am
Lunch: Monday to Saturday: 12.15pm – 2.45pm
Sun: 12.15pm all day
Dinner: Monday to Saturday: 5.45pm – 10.45pm

100 Strand, London WC2R 0EW
Phone: 020 7836 9112
Visit Simpson’s-in-the-Strand here


Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018


Read reviews of other Breakfast restaurants here