London! What do we think of? Historic continuity, elegance, refinement – and tea. So much of what visitors seek in this capital city includes one or several of these qualities, and there are a few places that will enable tourist and local alike to enjoy all of them. Fortnum & Mason is just such an establishment.
Just as Elvis Presley was affectionately known as ‘Elvis’, Princess Diana will always be ‘Diana’, and the Singer Formally Known as Prince is still ‘Prince’, so ‘Fortnum’s’ will only ever be associated with Fortnum & Mason. It’s been around long enough to enjoy its own diminutive.
The story of this magnificent shop is illuminating. That is to say it started with candles. William Fortnum was a footman in the Royal Palace of Queen Anne and moonlighted as a grocer. He earned a little extra money by selling the Queen’s candle stubs to the ladies of the Queen’s retinue. He persuaded Hugh Mason, his landlord at the time, that here could be a new business and so in 1707 Fortnum & Mason opened its doors for the first time.
In 1761, William Fortnum’s grandson Charles revived the palace connection when he went into the service of Queen Charlotte, and that association did the business no harm at all. The store flourished and attracted the very best class of shopper and has held Royal Warrants for the past 150 years. It’s now a ‘department store’ but its core business remains food.
For over 300 years Fortnum & Mason has been a purveyor of quality loose teas, and in 1926 the store added a restaurant that offered afternoon tea as well, and this tradition has remained. In 2012 the refurbished St James’s Restaurant was opened by HM the Queen and renamed The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon.
Fortnum & Mason offers a collection of afternoon teas to accommodate every taste and appetite. Each one is copious and, as one would expect, beautifully presented. One can take advantage of a tea tasting while considering which tea to settle upon for one’s event, for taking tea here is indeed an event. There will be four teas to try and they will be brewed and served as if you were a professional taster. Leaves are first steeped and brewed in white beakers, and then strained when the tea has infused sufficiently to give the drinker the optimum benefit of colour, aroma and flavour.
Chose your tea and your preferred sweets and savouries, and relax in this striking salon. The tables are well-spaced, the linen crisp, the cutlery gleaming. This was everything this reviewer had hoped, wanted, expected from Fortnum’s. The décor is classic with hints of light Regency creams and greens, and a scattering of iconic black and white photographs including a striking profile of Audrey Hepburn.
Fortnum’s Afternoon Tea is available from 12 noon and includes the expected finger sandwiches of cucumber but with the addition of mint butter, Coronation Chicken (which was appropriate for the setting), Ploughman’s (cheese), Rare Breed Hen Egg with Mustard Cress, and Fortnum’s Smoked Salmon with Lemon Dill Butter.
Fortnum’s scones are rumoured to be made with strong flour, which is generally what one would use when making bread. Well the departure is inspired, as these scones were light and fluffy and well-flavoured. They were served with generous pots of Somerset Clotted Cream and Fortnum & Mason Preserves.
The top tier of the traditional 3-plate stand held the individual cakes and patisseries and these showed the skill and the artistic flair of the pastry chef. They are airy fancies and perfectly formed but the purist will be eager to inspect the sweet bounty of the Coronation Cake Carriage. This offers the visitor a slice of Victoriana, as a cake to cut was always part of the afternoon spread enjoyed in front of a blazing fire with ladies in crinolines and men in moustaches. There will probably be a Bakewell tart, a chocolate cake and several other typically English confections. Have a glance at this display when you arrive: it’s a good idea to pace oneself!
Those of us with a less-than-sweet tooth are not forgotten at Fortnum’s. I can highly recommend the Savoury Afternoon Tea with Fortnum’s Savoury Scones of Ham and Cheese accompanied by an English Mustard Butter which was outstanding: saffron-coloured with real adult mustard bite.
The top tier, that more usually contains the éclairs and miniature sweet pastries, now displayed Smoked Salmon Blini with Cucumber and Herb Dressing, and Mushroom and Chicken Pie with Tarragon. This was an individual single-crust creation of delicate pastry and moreish filling. A triumph!
Rosary Goat’s Cheese on Walnut Shortbread with Beetroot, and Millefeuille of Tomato with Black Olive, Mascarpone and Marinated White Anchovy all looked too good to eat but I was glad I made the effort. The combinations of taste, texture and imagination made this savoury tea a memorable meal, for that is indeed what Afternoon Tea at Fortnum & Mason offers.
London is blessed with many good venues for afternoon tea, which is enjoying something of a revival. Fortnum & Mason presents one of the most thoughtfully constructed menus in a salon that, although newly refurbished, is bound to retain regular visitors and attract more.
Tea Salon Savouries & English Afternoon Tea
Monday to Saturday 12 noon to 9pm.
Sunday 12noon to 8pm.
Bank Holidays: The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon is open as usual.
Reservations: For weekdays 1 week in advance is recommended and for Saturdays, 6 weeks are advised to ensure availability.
To reserve a table please contact our Reservations Team on 0845 602 5694 between 9am and 6pm Monday to Saturday
Fortnum & Mason
Phone: 0845 300 1707
FAX: 020 7437 3278
Visit Fortnum and Mason here
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018