Simpson's in the Strand
100 Strand, London, WC2R 0EW
WLC Rank : 203
Glass from : £ 14 (175 ml)
BEST FOREnglish Wines
The historic trolley
Grand setting of the Grand Divan
Considered cocktails in the Knight’s Bar
Sommelier, Ben Humberston respects the classic regions in London's second oldest restaurant while hand-selling more esoteric ferment.
Conceived as a coffee house and chess club in 1828, trolleys of beef were introduced to “The Grand Cigar Divan” to convey food to players’ tables, allowing them to continue to draw, check and sacrifice with minimal intrusion. Roasts are still dispatched to tables today on trolleys dating to 1848. “Being London’s second oldest restaurant, the emphasis goes to Bordeaux for the roast beef with a few cherry-picked New World options,” says head sommelier, Ben Humberston.
However, other dishes by “Master Cook”, Adrian Martin may include cauliflower soup with either truffle shavings or caviar, dressed Dorset crab picked or served in the shell, and main of “tongue in cheek” featuring salted ox tongue, braised ox cheek, horseradish mash and beetroot relish. Finish the experience with a mandarin and chocolate trifle and wine-based digestif, the Adonis cocktail, “which honoured the Broadway Musical of the same name,” notes Humberston. “Adonis ran for 603 consecutive shows on Broadway before being transferred to the West End making it one of the first transatlantic ‘exports’ of theatre,” he adds. “The cocktail features one-part sweet vermouth, one-part dry (Fino or Manzanilla) sherry, and orange bitters.”
Humberston notes the Adonis is delicious with or without food, possibly savoured in the art deco style Knight’s Bar upstairs, featuring cartoons of Sir Winston Churchill with Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone by satirical teenage cartoonist and artist-in-residence, Zoom Rockman, the youngest of his ilk to feature in Private Eye.
The hand of history is something Humberstone feels at Simpson’s In The Strand, especially when welcoming new guests into the Grand Divan dining room. “Seeing it through their eyes for the first time ensures we never lose a sense of where we are and what we as a team are striving to achieve.”
As well as his own list, from which he enjoys performing the esoteric hand sell of “beautiful Slovenian Dry Furmint”, for example, Humberstone is happy to serve any wine from the extended list of The Savoy’s venues, including grower Champagnes. “The list features Paul Dethune, Larmandier Bernier and Roger Coulon amongst others, alongside our extensive Grandes Marques and English houses.”
Humberston recently enjoyed a research trip to Alsace. “Having never travelled so far north in France, it was interesting to see the melting pot of cultures totally separate with regards to food and wine from the rest of the country. Tasting in the cellars of Trimbach with Jean Trimbach himself was quite the treat. Arguably the ‘holy grail’ of Riesling in the region (or the world).”
When not working, Humberston enjoys theatre, “and have recently been enjoying The Bridge Theatre off London Bridge.” The hospitality there, managed by St John, “is quite superb” he advises. “Be sure to order the freshly baked madeleines for the interval!”
By Douglas Blyde.
Sommelier, Ben Humberston has made English wine his priority since the legendary institution at 100 The Strand reopened following a sensitive refurbishment last summer. ‘A partnership with Ridgeview on the South Downs has become an integral part of the offering by the glass,’ he told WLC. ‘In total, we feature four English sparkling wines by the glass (Ridgeview ‘Simpson’s’ Cavendish, Furleigh Rosé, Bluebell Vineyard ‘Hindleap’ Rosé and Ridgeview ‘Fitzrovia’ Brut Rosé) and 10 by the bottle, from Dorset, Sussex and Kent. These work perfectly as an aperitif, and match beautifully with a number of the lighter starters including the Dorset crab salad or London smoked salmon.’
Humberston also enjoys still English wines, two of which are offered by the glass (Pinot Gris from Stopham and Pinot Noir from Hush Heath – try it with the Buccleuch Estate beef tartare with smoked egg yolk and Gentleman’s Relish). ‘These provide a great opportunity for our international guests to try something they may not be able to outside of the UK.’
Humberston’s list also comprises a window into what he terms the classic regions, ‘including Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Piedmont and the Rhône, with a select number of New World options including Napa, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.’
The most popular dish at Simpson’s remains, of course, the table-side carving of roast beef and lamb conducted with decorum from trolleys dating to 1848 – and carving masterclasses are also available to buy. ‘For this, the list features a number of deeply concentrated full-bodied reds from a number of the aforementioned regions. One of my current favourite pairings has to be the roast beef with Langoa Barton ’05.’
Finish the experience that is dining in this deeply upholstered, kindly spruced venue with baked Alaska with sea buckthorn sorbet, hazelnut ice cream and caramelised white chocolate, or perhaps one of the striking cocktails, such as the The Chip Shop, comprising ‘pea infused Simpson’s Old Tom gin, Manzanilla, lemon juice, sugar syrup and soda water.’
By Douglas Blyde.