London’s Oldest Chophouse
Simpsons Tavern is one of the City of London’s oldest and most loved institutions. In 1723 Thomas Simpson opened his first Fish Restaurant in Bell Alley, Billingsgate. Thomas Simpson opened the present site of Simpsons in 1757. Making it the City of London’s oldest chophouse and a contender for London’s oldest restaurant.
In addition to reading about my visit to Simpsons Tavern you can watch it here in the YouTube video above.
London’s hidden alleyways and courtyards
A secret world exists behind the grand buildings of the great streets in the City of London’s hidden alleyways and courtyards. Simpson’s tavern remains hidden to passers-by down the city’s maze of ancient alleys in Ball court. Only sign posts on alleyway walls and courtyard corners point the way from the main streets.
City of London alleyways are narrow, partly covered in places and look well-kept but untouched for a century or two. Once you venture in its hard to believe your still in the 21st century. Depending on which alley you come from you could be in a Dickens novel or a Harry Potter movie.
Simpsons Tavern was originally two houses. Built sometime after the whole area suffered significant damage in the great fire of London 1666. The two buildings converted into one tavern in 1757. Originally a Tavern the bow fronted restaurant section was most likely fitted out as it is today in the early 1800’s. So giving the bar then and now a smaller room than the grills dining room.
The layout is still that of a 18th century London Chop house. Communal dining tables and bench style seating. The Dickensian brass rails for top hats are still in place if you have one. And enough dark oak to build a battle ship, from the exterior windows and doors to the bars, panelled walls, panelled stalls, dining tables and the seating. The only modern alteration seems to be the addition of discrete air conditioning units.
Simpsons Tavern menu
Simpsons Tavern menu is quintessential traditional English food. The breakfast is Full English, eggs on toast, a selection of sandwiches or porridge. Lunch starters include potted prawns, pate, smoked salmon and soup. A selection of grills, pies and salads. Additionally every day 3 or 4 daily specials are available including a different roast dinner each day of the week.
Because classic English food is filling and the portions are generous, I would wait to order deserts. However if you do still have room there is a selection of homemade puddings. Also a selection of cheeses are available. In particular Simpsons Tavern stewed cheese dish is famous in the city.
Drinks include a good selection of tradition British ales, popular beers, short and simple wine lists with most bases covered, spirits, aperitifs, sherry, cognacs, liqueurs, ports, Madeira’s and also desert wines.
It has been a popular lunch venue for generations of city workers. Equally visitors to London love Simpsons Tavern. Similarly visitors who don’t even venture inside become enchanted by the charming looking buildings and the historic maze of alleys and courts.
So I would definitely recommend a trip to the city to try some traditional English cooking here. Also since 1916 Ladies entry is allowed, so even if it doesn’t look modern, it has changed with the times in some ways over the two and a half centuries it has been open.
London’s Oldest Restaurant ?
Which of London’s many old and historic eating establishments is the oldest is debatable. In fact the first challenge with establishing which restaurant is the oldest in London is many establishments pre-date the popular use of the term restaurant.
Also London is a city with a long list of pubs dating back centuries. So defining when a pub becomes a restaurant or a tavern a pub or hotel is difficult enough. But even if you do substantiating the claims would be even harder.
Rules restaurant originally opened as an oyster bar in 1798 which is possibly best known as the oldest restaurant in town and they lay claim to be. Simpsons in the Strand opened in 1828 originally as a smoking room and club. Kettners founded in 1867. The Criterion which looks incredible opened in 1874. So London has many historic restaurants for you to visit. However if you include the pubs you have a lifetimes work visiting them all.
Jamaica Wine House and the George and Vulture
Also if you fancy drinks after lunch a passage beside Simpsons to the left takes you into Castle Court where you will find Jamaica Wine House and the George and Vulture tavern.
Simpsons Tavern, 38 1/2, Ball Court Alley, Cornhill, London EC3V 9DR
Open: Monday 11.30am
Open: Tues-Fri 8.30am
Last Orders: Mon-Fri 3.30pm
Breakfast Orders: Tues-Fri 8-10.30am
Find out more about London’s first coffee shop here