Off went the di­van with my old man in it, in­nit

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

U100 Strand, Lon­don

WC2R 0EW 020 7836 9112; simp­son­sinthes­trand. Three cour­ses with wine and cof­fee: about £75

per head npar­don­ably cruel though it is to raise the ghost of plea­sures past dur­ing this vin­dic­tively gloom­some in­ter­reg­num be­tween Christ­mas and New Year (“Hem­lock Week”), I must none the less re­port the fol­low­ing. With the sole ex­cep­tion of Marco Tardelli’s vis­age af­ter scor­ing for Italy against the Hun in the 1982 World Cup fi­nal, never have I seen a look of such pure, tran­scen­dent joy as that which lit up the face of my friend and ac­coun­tant Robin as we bowled up at Simp­son’s-inthe-Strand.

When­ever Robin and his son/ part­ner Alis­tair form a lunch­ing quar­tet with my fa­ther and me, as that myth­i­cal beast “the reg­u­lar reader” may re­call, the venues cleave to the uber-tra­di­tional. Yet nei­ther at Wil­ton’s in St James’ nor at Oslo Court, that peach paean to Sev­en­ties bour­geois cui­sine op­po­site Re­gent’s Park, did such be­atific joy com­man­deer his fea­tures.

“Now this re­ally is the stuff, isn’t it?” he cooed, tak­ing in a deeply hand­some, lov­ingly main­tained erst­while cigar di­van, gen­tly il­lu­mi­nated by four beau­ti­ful chan­de­liers, laden with rich wood pan­elling, and adorned by an oil paint­ing of a monarch be­ing served black­bird pie with the nurs­ery rhyme cap­tion “Was it not a dainty dish to set be­fore a king?”

The con­cept of dain­ti­ness is clearly a mov­able feast, be­cause there can be no restau­rant on earth less dainty than this one. Its butch­ness seems wholly un­leav­ened since the Ed­war­dian era, when it fea­tured reg­u­larly in the oeu­vre of PG Wode­house, though there has been one as­tound­ing change. “Good grief,” said Robin, not­ing the oc­cu­pants of one ta­ble, “when did they start let­ting women in?”

It was in 1984 that the proto-PC Gone Mad Thought Po­lice took their toll. Be­fore then, ladies were al­lowed ac­cess only to an up­stairs room (since sold off) with walls of a calm­ing eau de nil.

But apart from a sin­gle nod to sec­ond-wave fem­i­nism, the last three decades have had no dis­cernible im­pact. “It’s a bit, erm, club­land, isn’t it?” sniffed Alis­tair, play­ing his usual role of hip young dude pin­cered by fo­geys. “You wouldn’t ac­cuse this menu of be­ing overly con­cerned with vogue.”

You would not. On the front of the said menu is a Bate­man car­toon of a red-faced chap fling­ing his knife sky­wards in out­rage at “the gen­tle­man who asked the carver whether the meat was for­eign or English”. This re­minded me of an eti­quette co­nun­drum that ur­gently needed re­solv­ing. “How much,” I asked the ta­ble, “do you tip the carver th­ese days?” “Half a dol­lar,” replied Robin. Alarm­ingly for an ac­coun­tant, he ap­pears yet to come to term with this new-fan­gled dec­i­mal cur­rency. “Though it may have gone up since I last ate here, I sup­pose.”

He sup­posed right, but be­fore com­ing to that rite of pas­sage (tip­ping a carver had been an am­bi­tion of mine for a long time), we had set about a de­li­ciously el­der­flow­ery Ken­tish white called Bac­chus Re­serve – no fancy for­eign wines for us, not here – and the starters.

No one ac­quainted with san­ity would come to Simp­son’s for a ground-break­ing gas­tro­nomic ex­pe­ri­ence. This is high-class com­fort food, by and large ex­e­cuted well. Pot­ted salmon had “a nice gen­tle flavour”, while smoked salmon was “ad­e­quate, though no bet­ter than Tesco’s Finest”. My roast wood pi­geon breast came prop­erly pink, with beans and lar­dons, though the win­ner by a coun­try mile was my dad’s “sea­sonal creamed mush­rooms”, served in crispy brioche buns. “Ex­cep­tion­ally good,” he said – and at £14, so it bleedin’ well should have been.

Only once the plates had been re­moved did things take a turn. A fe­male diner mildly rem­i­nis­cent of Dustin Hoff­man’s Toot­sie ridiculed this fad­dish con­cept of uni­sex din­ing by tak­ing to the pi­ano to play Happy Birth­day. I asked a waiter if she took re­quests. “I do not know, sir, but I will ask. What is your re­quest?” “That she cease and de­sist play­ing, im­me­di­ately.” Far from ei­ther de­sist­ing or ceas­ing, she then dipped into the mu­sic-hall reper­toire with Roll Out the Bar­rel – es­chew­ing Let’s All Go Down the Strand for some rea­son.

Calves’ liver was “ten­der and re­ally good”, ac­cord­ing to my fa­ther, while Alis­tair dis­missed his shep­herd’s pie as “a grownup school din­ner. Fine but not bril­liant.” Robin de­scribed his beef wellington as “very nice”. Might he be a shade more pre­cise, I won­dered, as if com­plet­ing a VAT re­turn? “No. It’s very nice.”

I had the roast rib of beef with all the trim­mings, and tipped the carver £4 – dou­ble what we were told is the go­ing rate, and suf­fi­cient to se­cure a bonus third slice of meat that was cor­rectly rare, if not the melti­est or most flavour­some.

Elect­ing not to ’ave a ba­nana, we en­joyed some fault­less puds – sticky tof­fee pud­ding and plum cob­bler with orange ice cream – and we might have stayed for ages over cof­fee had Toot­sie not launched an un­pro­voked as­sault on The Girl From Ipanema. “I think it’s very sweet that a guest can per­form like this,” said my dad when I moaned. “Do you re­ally?” I snapped, with per­haps less fil­ial rev­er­ence than was his due. “In that case, I’m go­ing to do a 20-minute set telling my smut­ti­est North­ern club comic jokes.” “Def­i­nitely time for the bill,” he said.

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