Tea time in London is unmissable. To celebrate this tradition properly, what better way than to visit an authentic tea room inaugurated by the Queen herself?
Fortnum & Mason is a true symbol of British culture. Founded in 1707 by William Fortnum and Hugh Mason in Duke Street, a passage place very popular with travellers, the company is initially a delicatessen. Eager to satisfy their specific clientele, the owners decide to create easily transportable food products. Thus were born the very first luxury take-aways, among which the Scotch egg, a hard-boiled egg wrapped up in stuffing, coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried; an all-in formula for hurried travellers.
The store’s reputation, built on the distribution of quality food, especially grows during the Victoria era. Fortnum & Mason settles on Piccadilly and becomes official supplier to the Court. The company entertains the British high society, especially with loose tea and luxurious gift baskets, the renowned hampers, the ones the wealthy families like to bring to prestigious exterior events.
The elegant building, fitted with a pretty clock and sumptuous windows is nowadays an institution. The concept of a store distributed over several floors is similar to that of Harrods, but much less kitsch and far more classy. Clothes, accessories, cosmetics, decoration, furniture, all the products offered here embody good taste. But it unquestionably is the ground floor that makes the place famous and alluring. Candied fruits, chocolates, biscuits, salted specialities compete among a choice of countless jams (we wrote about it here), and a massive tea collection, all of which are presented in splendid and instantly recognizable boxes, thanks to their pastel colors and lovely patterns. You don’t know where to start and would like to taste it all.
It’s precisely tea time! Direction the fourth floor, in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon. Fitted carpet and panelings, cosy atmosphere, personnel wearing frock coats or lace aprons, pretty crockery, afternoon tea is a serious business!
You are given the choice between various menus, all very appetizing and containing all elements of a five o’clock worthy of its name: scones, finger sandwiches with various fillings, typically English appetizers, and a slice of one of the splendid cakes on the trolley. The formula is all-you-can-eat, except for the dessert. I chose the salty, the Savoury Afternoon Tea. The dilemma concerns the choice of tea: no fewer than 85 black, green and white tea, rooibos, infusions varieties are offered. Yellow tea, so far unknown, wins my votes. The very caring waiter provides the necessary and serves tea with a subtle apricot and pear flavour. He then brings a tower of plates containing the specialities as well as some spreads. I particularly appreciate the cucumber/cream sandwiches, the goat/beetroot shortbread and the oeuf Drumbilko. There is just the right touch of sophistification. I’m quickly full, certainly because I appreciated the scones so much…
As dessert, I ask the waiter if it is possible to have several small cakes slices rather than to get down to a new Cornelian choice. The plate of sweets – chocolate cake, plum and almonds pie, strawberry shortcake and sweet cake – is gigantic!
Don’t worry if you bit off more than you can chew: everything can be taken away in beautiful little boxes! This is an opportunity to prolong this pleasant time after a last walk in the store and you cannot avoid leaving with a box of tea and a jar of lemon curd…
Further information on Fortnum & Mason
Translated from Tea time @ Fortnum and Mason by Aude