Wednesday, January 18, 2017

3 - Simpson's

Dr. Watson tells us that he and Sherlock Holmes visited one London restaurant two times. And while the gustatory habits of the famed Baker Street duo are not entirely well-documented, we have a good sense as to what they must have eaten at the famed Simpson's in-the-Strand.

This is a case of fact meeting fiction, as Simpson's is very much a real establishment in London — one that was recently in danger of losing its identity. We bring you inside this gem that dates from the 1820s as a cigar and chess divan and explore what dining like Sherlock Holmes was like.

Download | 6.5 MB 14:19


Music credits

Performers: Uncredited violinist, US Marine Chamber Orchestra
Publisher Info.: Washington, DC: United States Marine Band.
CopyrightCreative Commons Attribution 3.0


Narrator: [00:00:01] Welcome to Trifles - a weekly podcast about the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Clive Merrison: [00:00:05] It is of course a trifle but there is nothing so important as trifles.

Narrator: [00:00:10] Yes the band was speckled and there were six Napoleons, but there are so many other details to pick apart in the stories.

Jeremy Brett: [00:00:17] Pray be precise as to details.

Narrator: [00:00:20] You know the plots but what about the minutiae? Have you ever stopped to wonder about why Dr Watson was called James by his wife? Or of Sherlock Holmes's dining habits? Or what happened when he let a criminal escape?

Denis Quilley: [00:00:33] You are very inquisitive Mr. Holmes.

Jeremy Brett: [00:00:35] It is my business to know what other people don't know.

Narrator: [00:00:38] Scott Monty and Burt Wolder will have the answers to these questions and more in Trifles.

Clive Merrison: [00:00:44] The game's afoot.

Narrator: [00:00:46] Episode 3: Simpsons.

Scott Monty: [00:00:50] Hey welcome to Trifles. I'm Scott Monty.

Burt Wolder: [00:00:55] And I'm Burt Wolder.

Scott Monty: [00:00:56] And this is the podcast where we talk about some of the minutiae in the Sherlock Holmes stories. And in this case we know we've been babbling about for two episodes and boy are we hungry. So we thought what a great time to talk about one of the handful of restaurants that was mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Simpsons.

Burt Wolder: [00:01:20] Oh I thought it was Inspector MacDonald.

[00:01:24] It was actually Flanders.

Burt Wolder: [00:01:26] No wait a minute didn't Inspector MacDonald have have big old McDonald's boots.

Scott Monty: [00:01:31] Old McDonald had a nugget. E-I-E-I-O. That's McDonald's.

Burt Wolder: [00:01:39] Oh dear. It's a natural mistake.

Scott Monty: [00:01:44] It was the Burger King of Bohemia.

Burt Wolder: [00:01:49] Oh, I like that a lot.

Scott Monty: [00:01:50] Simpsons on the strand.

[00:01:53] It's mentioned twice in the canon first at the conclusion of The Dying Detective when Holmes was coming out of his three day self-inflicted fast and obviously was in need of some food to strengthen himself, when he said "I think that something nutritious that Simpsons would not be out of place." And then again it was mentioned the second time in The Illustrious Client when Watson says I think "I met him by appointment that evening at Simpsons where sitting at a small table in the front window and looking down at the rushing stream of life on the Strand, he told me something of what happened." Have you ever been to Simpsons?

Burt Wolder: [00:02:43] Yes.

Scott Monty: [00:02:44] This is this is one of those occasions where as we talked about last time reality and fiction are intertwined. Simpsons in the Strand is very much an actual restaurant in London.

Burt Wolder: [00:02:57] Oh yeah. And has been since the middle of the 19th century is something like.

Scott Monty: [00:03:01] That.Yeah it opened in 1828 as the Grand Cigar and Divan a chess club and coffeehouse. And their web site notes that it was to avoid disturbing the chess games in progress that the idea of placing large joints of meat on silver-domed trolleys and wheeling them to the guests tables in the first place came to be.

Burt Wolder: [00:03:25] On my first visit to Simpson's I was quite the rube. You know the American rube and I didn't understand any of the customs. But luckily I was with an English gentleman who very politely told me what those customs were and they include tipping the carver.

Scott Monty: [00:03:45] Really?

Burt Wolder: [00:03:46] Yes. You have to slip the carver a five pound note would be most appreciative.

Scott Monty: [00:03:54] Well what do they gave me the side-eye while I was there. I did not know that.

Burt Wolder: [00:03:59] Oh really.

Scott Monty: [00:04:00] I did not know that. No sir.

Burt Wolder: [00:04:02] It's kind of like tipping the sushi chef. You know when you get to a particular If you're if you're at a sushi bar or something like that sitting in front of you.

Scott Monty: [00:04:12] Well I mean I suppose it's a pretty smart practice just in general anyway. Don't don't insult the man with sharp implements.

Burt Wolder: [00:04:21] Yeah. It's a wonderful place and I wish I could have known it in the days when there were still cigars and chess games there. But I made it my business to go to Simpsons. It's the Mecca for real British beef and Yorkshire pudding and many other wonderful things and I thought that it was in some jeopardy I thought that within the last year as though there were some rumors that it might be closing down but I don't believe it has.

Scott Monty: [00:04:49] I don't think it has yet. I think we had written that up somewhere on I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere at some point. I'll have to take a look and if it is if that is indeed the case we will include it in these show notes. But when you went to Simpsons and you lived in London for a time did you always try to have the same thing when you went there or did you like to vary?

Burt Wolder: [00:05:21] It's hard to improve on on good British beef in Yorkshire pudding but you know I had different things in the Simpsons it's kind of like Keen's - you know there's an almost equally old steakhouse that's it's been through several generations, ups and downs and problems, called Keen's steakhouse in Manhattan which is I think at 36th and Broadway and their star signature dish is very expensive mutton chop and it's one of those things that you're never going to find anywhere else. And so whenever you go into the temptation is to have it again and again and again. And it's hard to do better at Simpsons than wonderful roast good British beef and Yorkshire pudding. In fact that's what first convinced me that I wanted to learn how to make Yorkshire pudding and that it was so simple was I felt that I was a fool for way.

Scott Monty: [00:06:15] Well that that's how I was introduced to the Simpsons as well. You know the traditional joint of beef as they said that they'd roll the the don't cover the table over to carved for you, table side. There was a place in Chicago. I think it was Lawry's in Chicago that was known for a very similar kind of experience and they topped it off with what they called a spinning salad, where they would before they brought the beef over to you, they would show up with a salad cart. And there balanced and a tray of ice was a large stainless steel bowl and they would put in some romaine lettuce and some parmesan cheese and some croutons and some anchovies if you liked. And then they would start spinning the bowl very quickly and this ice to the point where the ball would remain spinning on its own and then from about two feet up they would begin to drizzle the Caesar dressing into it.

Burt Wolder: [00:07:27] A Caesar dressing? Where's the raw egg?

Scott Monty: [00:07:32] Oh, well, they already made it. I'm sure the dressing was made with the raw egg. They weren't good they weren't about to make it.

Burt Wolder: [00:07:40] Ah, but these are the great old customs you know it's. You still get the rolled out to your table. But also in the old days you'd go to a fine restaurant and they would make a Caesar salad right by the table side as you suggest but using all of the traditional ingredients of course which I think are now frowned upon in some quarters. Yes very terrible.

Scott Monty: [00:08:00] Go figure. So you know they weren't that deconstructionist about it but they would do the spinning salad. By the time it was done it would all be mixed nicely. It was wonderful but it reminded me of the traditions at Simpsons. And we did in fact write this up on I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere - ihearofsherlock dot com - that it was about a year ago actually that it was in danger of disappearing after 187 years, because its lease was owned by the Savoy Hotel. And under the search for a new operator for the hotel, the hotel was not going to require that the name Simpsons in the Strand be kept as part of the deal. But looking at their Web site it very much looks like Simpson's is still in existence. That's good to know.

Burt Wolder: [00:08:56] So the Simpson's name is owned by the Savoy hotel, so that means that the operator of Simpsons... Well I suppose if there had been anything changed we would know about a new website. Looks like they're working hard to maintain the tradition.

Scott Monty: [00:09:07] We would have heard. And that's that's a tough... You know the Criterion Bar is gone. Actually the Criterion Restaurant but that was a much different kind of a beast. I think Londoners would even throw a fit if they knew that Simpsons was going away.

Burt Wolder: [00:09:32] Simpsons is an institution.

Scott Monty: [00:09:33] It is. It is. Now in the 2016 BSI dinner insert Peter Blau included his usual "Compliments of the Season" and he included in this one a cartoon by H. M. Bateman. And there is a gentleman who is witlessly questioning the carver who has thrown his hands up into the air and the knife is flying. And he's got a look of horror on his face and it's captioned: "The gentleman who asks the carver whether the meat was English or foreign." Evidently that - and all the patrons were looking on, equally as horrified - evidently that cartoon had decorated the bill of fare at Simpsons for many many years. It's from 1972 when joints from the trolley included roast sirloin of beef with Yorkshire pudding for £1.30, whereas today at least this is as of last year. The roast rib of Scottish beef costs £31.80.

Burt Wolder: [00:10:47] A bargain.

Scott Monty: [00:10:50] I know.

Burt Wolder: [00:10:51] You know you know all of this puts me in mind of that essay by Morley. In 1948 the Baker Street Irregulars put out a special edition of The Blue Carbuncle with an introductory essay by Christopher Morley which we have read and discussed in previous episodes of I Hear of Sherlock [Everywhere] - the podcast but in there, Morley observes: "Much has been said about Holmes housekeeping but no one has remarked his passion for meat and bird game. We have we have records of his meals of grouse pheasant partridge woodcock and Patay just won ground cold beef eggs and oysters but he never ate fish. He can't he can't have been English. There was some talk about trout in the Shoscombe Case, but only as a pretext." Isn't that interesting?

Scott Monty: [00:11:40] That is. I love that essay. I think we did that on Episode 49 of I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere. He talked of the visiting the pub across the street from the British Museum and walking in and seeing a jambon of ham on the sideboard behind the bar. Just one of those wonderful visuals of English dining life.

Burt Wolder: [00:12:16] Well they used to be so many of those I remember in New York. And of course some of these are still going - Keen's bar - they have a very big bar and they've got every single malt whisky in the world. They still put out hard boiled eggs and things like that for the patrons to consume at the bar. And the Cafe des Artists which used to be over by Central Park and also used to have a bar spread like that but it's long gone now.

Scott Monty: [00:12:47] Sad. And now you get peanuts and if you're lucky, maybe some pretzels. Well dining was certainly an important part of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson's lives and it does creep in from time to time. And you know we talked to Al and Julie Rosenblatt in Episode 103 about making the Sherlock Holmes Cookbook and also in those wonderful dinners at the Culinary Institute of America (the CIA), when they put those together every four or five years. They had to invent some things from whole cloth because dinners were not widely discussed in the canon. There was very limited mentions of food so we're fortunate that Simpsons is among them, having made the grade twice. And knowing that we can actually visit there when we go to London.

Clive Merrison: [00:13:46] It is of course a trifle but there is nothing so important as trifles.

Narrator: [00:13:52] Please join us again next week for another installment of Trifles show notes are available on Please subscribe to us on iTunes and be sure to check it out our longer show I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, where we interview notable Sherlockians, share news and go into even more depth on certain topics.

Peter Barkworth: [00:14:14] You take my breath away, Mr. Holmes.


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Scott Monty and Burt Wolder are both members of the Baker Street Irregulars, the literary society dedicated to Sherlock Holmes. They have co-hosted the popular show I Hear of Everywhere since June 2007.

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