Don’t panic: there is no global vegan conspiracy determined to deprive you of access to prime rib. However, one of the world’s iconic restaurants—an establishment that has raised the service of roast beef to a fine art—is in danger of extinction.
Simpson’s-In-The-Strand has come to symbolize London for generations of visitors. I first dined there as a college student on an exchange program (when my parents came over to visit, naturally). The stately, wood-paneled interior is straight out of a Sherlock Holmes story—not surprising considering that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the detective series, was a regular. The specialty is roast rib of Scottish beef: aged 28 days, hand-carved before your eyes on a silver trolley, and served with roast potatoes, Savoy cabbage, Yorkshire pudding and horseradish.
Founded in 1828, Simpson’s began as a chess club. Some of the greatest 19th century grandmasters played there, including Howard Staunton, William Steinitz, Paul Morphy and Emmanuel Lasker. In fact, the idea of serving beef from rolling trolleys was conceived as a method of speeding up service during interminable chess matches. After the restaurant was purchased at the end of the century by the Savoy Hotel, Simpson’s neighbor, chess vanished but roast beef remained.
Now the Savoy is seeking a new tenant for the restaurant, one that won’t be obligated to retain the Simpson’s name or menu. The hotel has announced that they want to “reinvigorate” the space, either with an upscale franchise or a celebrity chef. In practical terms, this would likely mean the 187 year-old wood paneling would be ripped out, the silver trollies would be melted down for scrap, and the joint would be taken over by a guy who looks like an Italian race car driver.
You could still get roast beef elsewhere, of course. You could also make it yourself, although this is not a likely course of action for most people. A seven-rib standing roast weighs 15-18 pounds and requires seven or eight hours of cooking in a slow oven. It won’t fit in your microwave, either.
The moral of this tale: those who forget the past are not doomed to repeat it, but merely to bury it in the midst of a world without distinction. Everything changes, yes, but not for the better.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); for more information, go to amazon.com