Every department store going has at least one place for its 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 have food halls serving up via some of their counters – Harrods comes to mind. Others have top chefs and restaurants in store – Selfridges likes this setup. Fortnum and 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.
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 eighteen 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, particularly with 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 evokes the setting of an old-school ice cream parlour – hence the name – with bright pastels, a chrome bar, and cartoons on the wall, giving a fun, young, nostalgic, and elegant feel that works for both kids and adults. The ice creams are superb, with both classic and creative flavours on offer – gin and tonic sorbet, or toffee, nougat, 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. For those with less of a sweet tooth, it offers cakes and savouries, including Welsh rarebit – which, like tea, is offered by all of F&M’s dining locations – and has a selection of wines and champagne.
The Wine Bar
The new and revamped food and drinkeries are what excel and shine out beyond the confines of the 310-year-old store.
Hidden 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 place that has had oenophiles making a beeline for 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 F&M 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 rendition and, when paired with such good wines, it’s very easy to sit down – and the next thing you know you’ve whiled away the afternoon.
Happily, for those of us that enjoy a good drink, The Wine Bar is no longer the only watering hole at F&M. The newest addition to the drink and dining options is the 3’6 Bar, found on the third floor by the Gentlemen’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 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 St.
The star of this foodie Mecca, though, is The Fountain Restaurant’s replacement – 45 Jermyn St. Unlike the tired tea room that it replaced eighteen months ago, 45 is run as a separate entity, rather than a restaurant within Fortnum’s, and is a place we at IGT 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 is 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. Oh, and don’t forget, you can take it all home thanks to the superb ingredients in the Food Hall.