Yesterday’s blog anticipated a family lunch in London. It is not, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Shildon side of the family.
The occasion’s Sharon’s brother-in-law’s 90th, the venue Simpson’s in the Strand, one of the country’s most venerated – and essentially English – eating establishments. I wear my Arsene Wenger tie specially.
Simpson’s began as a smoking room in 1828, was taken over by John Simpson 20 years later, became the unofficial headquarters of English chess and still attracts both the well-heeled and the penurious – the latter, as on this occasion, only when someone else is paying.
“The Briton may stupefy himself with food for the small sum of half-a-dollar,” wrote P G Wodehouse of Simpson’s in 1915. These days there may be more satisfaction than stupefaction, though it works out at a great deal more than half-a-dollar.
We start in the Knights Bar, where a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding sandwich (honest) is £15 (honest, again) and a 330ml bottle of pale ale about £6 50. Downstairs we’re in the corner – the table, we’re assured, where Churchill held court and quite possibly cabinet, too.
The lobster soup’s £12, the steak and kidney pudding £20. The test’s to see if it’s even better than Fray Bentos – it is – though I chicken out of asking if they’ve any HP.
Though Simpson’s is best known for its roast beef, it aso offers Lord Woolton pie, a meatless concoction of potato, barley and peas named after the wartime food minister. Back then it was probably around a shilling, now it’s £21.
Eight of us dine, raise a glass to the birthday boy, give no thought to the 700,000 folk up the road, protesting against something-or-other. With wine and what-have-you, there’s unlikely to be any change out of £1,000 – but next Saturday afternoon it’s back to pie and Bovril.