Simpson’s has been on Jon Cards culinary to-do list for some time.
The restaurant, created by Andreas Antona, earned its Michelin star in Kenilworth in the 90s, then moved to Birmingham a few years later. Simpson’s has brought rural Warwickshire with it, retaining its country manor feel. When you sit in its strong leather chairs in the snug, or by the window overlooking the garden, the centre of town feels like it’s 50 miles away, rather than five minutes. When Lady C and I visited it was a cold and wet November afternoon, and Birmingham in the rain is no-one’s idea of a nice time. On days like that you want to escape or retreat. You want to feel warm and cared for, to find a place to relax, sip on red wine by the fire and forget about the world. Simpson’s is just the place to do this. It’s pure escapism in culinary form. You might be in the heart of Brum, but you’re really in a Warwickshire cottage surrounded by mist, eating game bought from the local poacher. It feels welcoming here, you sense it from the moment you walk through the door. Within minutes you’re in the snug, eating olives and drinking champagne in a happy place.
We ordered from the snug and were taken through to our table by our hostess. Some warm bread and wine promptly followed and we were ready for the plates. One of the things I like most about eating at top restaurants is all the little extras. Our amuse bouche was a pumpkin soup, topped with a cheese foam and served in Lilliput pint glasses. The foam was superlight with a good depth of flavour, while the soup had a little spice to it to keep winter at bay. For starters, I picked a crispy duck egg which came with smoked salmon, hispi cabbage and a potato espuma. The egg was runny and its yolk spilled happily all over the potato and fish. There was a childlike joy to its construction, contrasting with the rather adult choice of ingredients. Lady C chose sesame crusted scallops, which were cooked just right, leaving them moist and flavoursome. Her dish was served with chicory, lentils, lemon and an oriental sauce. Another extra followed which was a fine mackerel salad served with a variety of beetroot. Beets are such lovely, flavoursome vegetables, it’s a shame we mostly pickle them when there are so many other uses for these purple princes of the patch. Good chefs are regularly making foams out of them, which are often good. But roasted beets are well worth trying, too.
The main dishes on the Simpson’s menu made for a formidable bunch. It was packed with red meats and salt-water fish, with garnishes made from winter vegetables such as pumpkin, parsnip, beetroot, Jerusalem artichoke and squash. I had the Finnebrogue venison, served with autumn vegetables, a pumpkin purée, warmed blackberries and juniper. This was sweet and salty, rich and fine – a sheer delight of a dinner, which you wish you could replicate at home. Lady C opted for a fillet of Aberdeenshire beef, potato pancetta terrine, foie gras, red wine onions and green salad. She loved it all, particularly the terrine. Chef had recommended both our meats to be medium rare and we took his advice. The executive chef at Simpson’s is Luke Tipping, who has been with Andreas for years. He’s one of the city’s best, so don’t argue with him over the cooking of meat unless you’re fussy.
Our pre-dessert arrived, which was a reconstructed Tarte Tatin, served in a glass. If I had known this was coming, I might not have chosen my actual desert which was an apple parfait, blackberries, crumble and custard, as it was rather upstaged by the Tarte. The parfait, which was served as an apple was decorative and pretty, but just not as flavoursome as the Tarte. I was also jealous of Lady C’s choice of a toffee soufflé. This was spooned open by the waiter, who then added a dollop of banana and lime ice cream into the centre before resealing the package. She loved this, especially the gooey toffee at the bottom. I grabbed a spoonful and it was clear she’d won the dessert battle, although I still hold the main. Simpson’s was a pleasure to visit and doubtless we will be back again in the future. Its staff are all clearly well-trained, knowledgeable and helpful. There’s a tremendous sense of family to the place and an atmosphere of calm. As we sat at our table in the conservatory we could watch the goings on in the kitchen. It appears to be a busy but pleasurable place to work, not an aggressive, Ramsay TV show-style ordeal. This joy and calm translates into its great food and faultless service.