traveling and meeting other cultures: ideas, destinations, reviews and tips
Fortnum & Mason and Surroundings on Piccadillly, London
Fortnum & Mason - founded
as a grocery store and
grown into a department
store, its main focus is still
on various types of foods.
The store is located at 181
Piccadilly St., London
Fortnum & Mason store -
staircase to the lower
ground level where you can
find wine, spirits, cheese
as well as savoury groceries
and various delicacies
Fortnum & Mason - inside
Stained glass windows in
St. James's Piccadilly church.
Very Slippy-Weather (1808)
- James Gillray caricature
showing a print shop in St.
James's Street (one of main
streets in the central London
area of St James's; it runs
from Piccadilly downhill to
St. James's Palace
Yknow, it took me a while to figure out where the center of London is located. It turned out to be Charing Cross - the junction of three streets, Strand, Whitehall and Cockspur, south of Trafalgar Square in Westminster. In particular, mileage from London is measured from the site of the original cross where now a plaque marks this spot.
The reason I am talking about this is that London has a layout different from what you may find in many other cities: it has no natural compact center formed by streets and traffic patterns. So, when you start exploring London for the first time, it can be quite confusing even if you want to stay organized and start with the city center and then expand your excursions outwards in different directions. In fact, Central London covers about 10 square miles (26 square kilometers) on areas both north and south of the Thames with its more than 200 galleries and 300 museums.
Our solution to this problem was to select small areas in Central London and explore them one by one. Very quickly, those separate pieces started forming a big picture in our minds. Our explorations became more targeted while we acquiring better understanding of the city.
With this in mind, I am offering you a glimpse of Piccadilly, a major London street, running from Hyde Park Corner in the west to Piccadilly Circus in the east (located very close to Charing Cross). Actually, my small gallery and blurb covers only small area on Piccadilly closer to Piccadilly Circus. As the focal point of the gallery, I selected Fortnum & Mason, a famous department store (see Fortnum & Mason on map) and Royal Warrant holder. But I will also show some other places of interest you can see and visit in this area.
Fortnum & Mason, often called "Fortnum's" was established in 1707 by William Fortnum and Hugh Mason (currently own by Wittington Investments Ltd.) as a grocery store. After more than 300 hundred years (just think about this!), it is still there as one of the most recognized London and British iconic symbols. Today though, it's a big department store occupying five floors of a big building with four restaurants located inside.
Fortnum & Mason store - entrance. Just looking at it, you may understand why the store is renowned for its "quintessential English charm."
Fortnum & Mason - Fountain Restaurant, one of four Fortnum's restaurants. The Fountain is the only restaurant at Fortnum 's that have a separate entrance (from Jermyn Street). When the store is opened, you can access the restaurant through the Ground Floor Food Hall of the store.
Jazz brunch at Fountain Restaurant (Fortnum & Mason, London, UK). The restaurant targets mostly customers who want to have breakfast, lunch or pre- or post-theatre dinner. In fact, it opens for breakfast at 7:30 am and stays open until 11 pm.
Interior decor of Fountain Restaurant (Fortnum ' Mason). The restaurant is well-appointed and decorated with pastel colors, intricate woodwork and lots of glass
Fortnum and Mason is known for its high quality goods and has become one of the most famous stores in the world. In United Kingdom besides its reputation for high quality food, it is recognized as the shop most closely associated with the British Royal Family. It has been a holder of many Royal Warrants of Appointment (issued to suppliers of goods or services to a British Royal Family). In fact, today, it holds two: as Grocers & Provision Merchants granted for HM The Queen - Master of the Household and as Tea Merchants and Grocers granted for HRH The Prince of Wales (currently, warrants are only issued by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales).
Although Fortnum's expanded its trade well beyond food stuff, the main focus is still on various types of food. Because of this, its most interesting sections are on ground and lower ground floors. All sweet things like bakery, biscuits and cakes, chocolate, confectionery, preserves, honey as well as tea and coffee are on the ground floor. All "serious" stuff like meat, fish, delicatessen including cooked or processed meat foods, savory groceries, fruits and vegetables are on the lower ground floor. Here you will also find wines and spirits as well as 1707 Wine Bar with a large selection of wines and rather eclectic menu (which like everything in Fortnum's inevitably gravitates towards British traditional tastes).
What else you can find at Fortnum's? Men's departments (mostly grooming and accessories) are on the third floor together with books, games, stationary and leather goods. Women perhaps will be disappointed to find that there are no fashion departments in the store with the exception of lingerie and nightwear located on the second floor. There are also jewelry, handbags, cosmetics and perfume, some accessories for women, bathroom goods, bed and linen, and babywear. The first floor with the exception of china, glass and silver, host various services offered by Fortnum's: deliveries, personal shopping, demonstration kitchen, hamper ordering, VAT reclaim, etc.
As I mentioned, there are four restaurants at Fortnum's: St James's, The Gallery, The Parlour, and The Fountain. They are all different with one thing that unites them all - traditional British cuisine. If you like it, you will be fine. If you do not know it yet, you will be fine at the beginning. The rest depends on whether you will like it or not. But if you are like me, no matter what, you will start wondering if Fortnum's management can be a bit less loyal to all British - when it comes to food, there is nothing wrong with this.
Anyway, here is a brief guide to all of them:
- St James's is on the forth floor and offers a formal dining experience - should I say lunch experience, since the restaurant closes at 7 pm after finishing serving its famous afternoon teas. Customers are encourage to choose "elegant" attire. Reservations are highly recommended.
- The Parlour restaurant is on the first floor with a modern style enclosure. It is a nice place to eat an ice-cream, a cake or sandwich and deserts of all shapes and sizes. For drinking you can select between tea, coffee, hot chocolate or glass of wine. I would say that this is the least formal restaurant and a good place to come with kids. The restaurant is open until 7:30 pm.
- My understanding is that The Gallery restaurant has been design to offer something to eat while you are shopping. It is located on the ground floor next to the Food Hall and is inspired by food ingredients you can find in the store.
- The Fountain restaurant is somewhat unique in that it has a separate entrance (from Jermyn Street but can be also accessed through the Food Hall on the ground floor). As a result, this restaurant is the only one that remains open until 11 pm and offering real dinner. The restaurant serves customers all day since 7:30 am (when breakfast is offered) with brief breaks between breakfast and lunch as well as lunch and dinner. I think The Fountain is the most interesting restaurant at Fortnum's as far as interior decor. "Elegant" attire is also requested. Reservations are highly recommended.
To finish my brief exposé regarding restaurants at Fortnum's, I have to mention that the service can be uneven. Whereas there is a visible attempt and desire to serve customers the best possible way, lapsus' take place more frequently than they should taking into account the overall reputation and caliber of Fortnum's. Longer waiting times, mistakes in serving ordered dishes are examples of what I am talking about. I think that the organization of the whole process of taking orders, preparing dishes and delivering them to customers is not up to volume of business to take care - management problem. We wish them all well - with excellent location, good ambiance and food, they can do it.