Simpson’s in the Strand - History and Facts | History Hit

Simpson’s in the Strand

Chris Smith

31 Aug 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Simpson’s in the Strand

Described by P. G. Wodehouse as “a restful temple of food”, Simpson’s in the Strand is a London institution. Now part of the world-renowned Savoy Hotel, Simpson’s has served its signature roasts, and insisted on the term ‘Bill of Fare’ rather than ‘menu’, for over 170 years.

History of Simpson’s in the Strand

Simpson’s in the Strand opened in 1848 but the site was an 18th-century meeting place for the Kit-Cat Club, a group of influential Whigs that included Sir Robert Walpole, John Locke, and the Duke of Somerset.

In 1828, Samuel Reiss opened Grand Cigar Divan, a smoking room and coffeehouse which quickly became the epicentre of British chess. In 1848, a merger with caterer John Simpson enabled Reiss to expand the premises and establish a restaurant, John Simpson’s Cigar Divan.

To avoid interrupting legendary chess players such as Wilhelm Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, and Paul Morphy, plus revered regulars like Charles Dickens, Benjamin Disraeli, and William Gladstone, servers would push hefty, silver trolleys of roasted meat around the dining hall, and carve at the table. This pioneering approach remains central to the Simpson’s experience today.

In 1903, five years into the Savoy Hotel’s ownership, all original furniture was sold in a refurbishment, including 265 chairs, the largest mahogany table then in existence, and 60 other dining tables. A year later, the rebranded Simpson’s in the Strand, Grand Divan Tavern finally permitted men and women to share the same room.

Simpson’s in the Strand has featured prominently in popular culture, notably David Niven’s Guns of Navarone, Alfred Hitchcock’s Sabotage, several of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlocks Holmes stories, P.G. Wodehouse’s Something New and Cocktail Time, and E.M Forster’s Howard’s End.

Simpson’s in the Strand today

After another refurbishment in 2020, the restaurant now has an ostentatious glamour. Leather banquettes and chandeliers complement high ceilings to produce an aura of decadence.

Chess has departed from the halls though hints remain in the décor, and the iconic signage out front, while carving meat at the table remains a fixture of London’s most historic roast dinner.

Getting to Simpson’s in the Strand

Simpson’s in the Strand’s central location means there are many nearby underground stations. Covent Garden, Embankment, and Charing Cross are all within a five-minute walk, while mainline trains also stop at Charing Cross.

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