Beefing up tradition at Simpson's in Toronto
I first met Richard Marshall alongside a large and juicy side of roast beef. He was carving razor-thin slices at the time and no amount of bribing would get him to add so much as a millimeter to the thickness. Even to suggest it was something of an offense to him.
"The thinner the slice, the better the flavor," he says with a finality that brooks little argument. Indeed, Simpson's-in-the-Strand has never cut a "crude" beef slice going all the way back to the days when Charles Dickens was a frequent patron. Dickens knew what he liked in beef and always got it -- leastways at Simpson's he always did.
Marshall's accent is English, the restaurant's atmosphere is thoroughly English. So is the decor. And the name certainly is English. Consider, too, the menu: roast sirloin of beef and Yorkshire pudding, roast leg of lamb (complete with mint sauce and red currant jelly, naturally), mixed grill, Dover sole, potted salmon, to name just a few. Treacle roll, and trifle, head the "sweets" (dessert) list. This is hearty English fare, all of it. Yet we are in Toronto, Canada, not London, England.
The fact is, Simpson's-in-the-Strand recently moved, by invitation, to Toronto. In the process, the second-ever Simpson's opened to the public.
It opened with something of a bang in March 1979, starting with all the tradition built up by Simpson's in London over the last 150 years.
One of those traditions, begun around 1850, was to wheel hot joints on a dinner wagon to the table. On this occasion a saddle of lamb and a roast beef are wheeled up for our inspection. We choose the beef, as much for the Yorkshire pudding that accompanies it as for the beef itself. Yorkshire pudding is another tradition. As Anthony J. Berry, manager of Simpson's-in-the-Strand, Toronto, points out: Yorkshire pudding and popovers are not the same. The latter are baked on their own, the former is roasted in the juice of the meat. It makes a difference, a considerable difference.
The position of head carver is an august on at Simpson's. The most famous, Mr. Charlie Brown, was head carver in London from 1879 to 1937. Such loyal and devoted service has placed his picture on Simpson's menus both sides of the Atlantic.
On this occasion Richard Marshall (assistant manager, in fact) is head carver for the evening. He comes from an English banking family but declined to follow tradition because "compared to good food, money is uninteresting stuff." His training at Simpson's in London is obvious, for he covers the warmed plates with numerous beef slices in a matter of seconds. He dispenses the Yorkshire pudding, too. Waiters serve up the accompanying vegetables.
Before leaving, Mr. Marshall says that if we wish for seconds, we have only to ask. We believe we will. But long before the meal is over we are too full to contemplate such a step. Even the dessert is in doubt.
Orginally Simpson's was established for a male only clientele. But that tradition soon evaporated. Until very recently the staff was totally male. But an acute shortage of waiters in London forced the company to hire English waitresses. Such a shocking departure from tradition has, as yet, not been forced on the Toronto restaurant.
Perhaps, suggest Mr. berry, "we are somewhat more Simpson's-in-the-Strand, than Simpson's-in-theStrand!"