Fortnum and Mason
As a first-time visitor to a new place, one is usually dictated by a pre-decided list of things to do and see. Whimsical desires are mostly addressed in subsequent visits, when balancing the budget between a must-do-now and a must-do-once is no longer an over-riding factor. That is why a visit to Fortnum and Mason’s came about after Harrods and Harvey Nichols had already been given the once-over. Fortnum’s, as it is popularly called, is not just one of the oldest, but also the most upmarket department store in London.
Established in 1707, by William Fortnum and Hugh Mason, the store celebrated its tercentenary a few years ago and has, literally, stood its ground for the past 300 years at its original site in Piccadilly. Since its inception, the store has been known for pioneering imports from all corners of the British Empire, while it was in existence.
It is no co-incidence then, that one of their main specialties since they opened to public, has been tea, and the blends they continue to stock have reached them from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Japan. Their classic collection includes the Darjeeling Orange Pekoe alongside the Queen Anne and Early Grey, while their collection of rare teas is almost entirely created by the produce of Assam and Darjeeling. In fact, St James’ Tearoom, their restaurant on the fourth floor, has been offering traditional tea since just a few years after the store began its trade, making Fortnum’s the original tea house of London. Even though the prices are comparable with other ritzy tearooms, St James does not have a dress code, allowing the uninitiated to casually walk into its charming old world. Delicious sandwiches with fillings of ham and mustard mayonnaise, salmon and crème fraiche, cucumber and cream cheese, egg mayonnaise and cress; freshly baked scones and pastries; and of course a pot of tea, are all yours for the partaking.
A multitude of other reasons for visiting Fortnum’s could well exist in their famed food court, no mean treat for the senses, with its unparalleled selection of chocolates, confectionery, bakery products, preserves, condiments, fresh foods and pantry items. The most fanciful reason has to be the luxurious willow encased Christmas hamper. It went at a gob-smacking twenty thousand pounds on their Tercenturian anniversary! Nearly all the 50 items that make up its contents are the very finest in leather and cashmere, and are silver-plated. The champagne vintage, the caviar Beluga, the cheese Stilton and Beaufort, the stationery hand-engraved and the pot of honey, truly English. This is one hamper, the purchase of which I would happily forego, but just as willingly accept as a gift… Anybody listening?