Every department store going has at least one place for it’s weary customers to rest their aching bodies. For some it’s just a matter of providing a café or two, a self-service restaurant or even a sit down waiter service arrangement. The best of the best department stores have food halls that serve food via some of their counters – here Harrods comes to mind. Others have top chefs and restaurants in store – Selfridges likes this set up. Fortnum & Mason, the grand dame of department stores, royal warrant and all, goes a different route; it runs all six of its in store dining experiences, plus a private dinning room, a bar at Heathrow Terminal 5 and a restaurant at St Pancras Station. But then Fortnum’s was founded in 1707 as a grocery store, and that foundation is still central to its being; it even invented the Scotch Egg.!
It’s always had a great reputation for afternoon tea, and both The Parlour for ice cream and the 1707 Wine Bar have long been enjoyed by customers. But, over the last 18 months, Fortnum’s has really upped its game, revamping its old dining spots and launching new ones. In doing so, it has not just improved its offering, but created some of the best dining and drinking spots in London, flush with modern classicalism, from décor to food, and with immaculate service.
The Parlour, The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon and The Gallery have always been popular with customers, particularly shoppers, and for good reason. The Tea Salon offers a selection of the finest teas and champagne accompanied by traditional scones, sandwiches, cakes and a pianist, while The Gallery offers casual classic British food from breakfast through to dinner.
The Parlour invokes an old school ice cream parlour – hence the name – with bright pastels, a chrome ice cream bar and cartoons on the wall, giving a fun, young, nostalgic and elegant feel that works for both kids and adults. The ice creams, of course, are superb with classic and creative flavours on offer – gin and tonic sorbet or toffee, nougat or blackcurrant ripple ice cream anyone? Like all the best ice cream parlours, the menu is full of build your own sundaes, knickerbocker glories, banana splits, milk shakes, ice cream floats and hot chocolate. But, for those with less of a sweet tooth, there are cakes and savouries, including Welsh rarebit – which, like tea, is offered by all of F&M’s dining options – and has a selection of wines and champagne to drink.
The Wine Bar
But it’s the new and revamped food and drinkeries that excel and shine out beyond the confines of the 310 years old store.
Secreted behind the large staircase that leads down to the small but perfectly curated offering of the food hall, is The Wine Bar. Originally called 1707, the new incarnation is still the same tucked away wine bar that has had oenophiles making a B line to it and its stunning wines for years, but now with an extended food and cocktail offering. The wines change monthly and can be had by the glass or bottle, but the favourite for any wine lover must be the wine flights. These sets of three wines, each around a theme, be it country, region, grape or process of manufacture, are a superb way to experience wines you may not get to otherwise, and learn more about them. They also do monthly flights with paired food, and the champagne selection is top notch.
Food wise, the bar offers a variety of oysters, a favourite among the regulars as an accompaniment to their fine white wine or champagne. Whilst you’ll also find other wine bar classics like caviar, smoked salmon, crab, cheese and charcuterie, it also offers the trademark Fortnum & Mason rarebit, classic British pies, padron peppers, devilled kidneys, avocado on toast, sashimi, and even a burger. As you’d expect, each dish is a perfect example of itself and, when paired with such good wines, it’s very easy to sit down – and the next thing you know you’ve wiled away the afternoon!
Happily for those of us who enjoy a good drink, The Wine Bar is no longer the only drinks bar at Fortnum & Mason. The newest addition to the drink and dining options is the 3’6 Bar (Three and Six Bar), found on the third floor by the Gentleman’s Department. This cocktail bar is wonderfully relaxed with its antique globes, books and fun fair toys. The name is derived from Fortnum’s 1930s home cocktail party service that was located on the third floor and charged customers 3 shillings and 6 pence per person (before alcohol costs, unfortunately). Today that’s £11 per head and, in honour of this, it’s the average cocktail price. There’s also a well-curated wine list and a great selection of spirits. They have also constructed a small kitchen in the corner that distributes such wares as potted rabbit, Welsh rarebit (you didn’t see that one coming!), steak tartare and raspberry trifle, alongside other Fortnum & Mason classics. It’s a great quiet space to plonk yourself in for a restorative drink and bite to eat, or for a pre dinner and after work cocktail.
45 Jermyn Street
The star of this foodie mecca, though, is The Fountain Restaurant’s replacement: 45 Jermyn Street. Unlike the tired tea room that it replaced 18 months ago, 45 is run as a separate entity, rather than a restaurant within Fortnum’s, and is a place I have loved since its opening. It combines old-school glamour with contemporary dining, and décor and fittings to die for. The service from every member of staff is always charming and executed with a smile and attention to detail. In fact 45 is all about detail and at no point does it falter. Whether you’re having breakfast, lunch, dinner, a cocktail, or a pre/post theatre supper, the modern British and European food is immaculately prepared using the finest ingredients, and always includes a refined twist. A number of dishes are cooked and served tableside from the trolley, adding another level to the professionalism exemplified by 45.
I have never once had a bad dish at 45, and in many cases it has been the best version of the dish I have had the delight to eat. On the opening menu were snails with garlic and parsley butter, and gorgonzola; it was eye opening and set the tone for everything I’ve had since. The combination of the butter with the salty umami cheese was a match made in heaven and set off the earthy snails with such depth that you wondered why no one had done this before. I still quietly pray that I will see it back on the menu, every time I walk in the door and sit down for one of 45’s own cocktail creations (the cocktail menu is extensive and creative.
The steak tartare in my humble opinion is the finest currently in London, and I make a monthly Saturday lunch pilgrimage to 45 especially for it. A recent discovery was the Chicken Liver and Foie Gras Parfait with Onion Brioche, a classic dish and very innocent sounding, belying the creation put before you. What comes is the best classically flavoured parfait I’ve had in ages. A swirl of brioche containing onion compote, it’s topped with a large quenelle of light, smooth and rich parfait, over which is sprinkled crispy onion and spring onion, all finished with a drizzle of deep flavoured red wine jus. It is quite the culinary achievement.
Fortnum & Mason has well and truly put itself on the culinary map of London. From food to drink, to service, every bar and restaurant offers something unique, while exemplifying the old school glamour of the store in a contemporary way. You are left in no doubt as to the quality and creative product you’ve enjoyed.
The Food Hall
Oh, don’t forget, you can take the food home thanks to the superb ingredients in the Food Hall. Many of the same ingredients on sale are used in the restaurants, and the quality is always superb as they work with select producers, some selling under their own name and others under the Fortnum & Mason brand. The Irish Glenarm Estate supplies superb beef (the 32 day aged ribeye is sublime) and smoked salmon that is sold under its name and Fortnum’s. Fortnum & Mason also produces its own goods like home cured salmon and gravlax, and its own honey from the bee hives on the roof. Admittedly the food isn’t cheap (and the liquor – notably the gin – is about 20% more expensive than in other stores), but its worth treating yourself from time to time and, if you go late in the day, food about to meet its end date is usually heavily discounted, be it a scotch egg, steaks, poultry, or £55 worth of smoked salmon down to £12.50.