I discovered Fortnum & Mason (F&M) a few months after I moved to London. I’ve never heard of it before and restrospectively I think that it’s a shame because it’s really worth a visit.
The history of F&M started in 1705 when the Fortnum family arrived to London and rent the spare room Hugh Mason had in his house.
In 1707, Fortnum became a footman in the royal household of Queen Anne. Every night, he was in charge to replace the candles used by the royal family with new ones. He came with the idea to resell the used candles to ladies of the royal household for a tiny profit.
He then convinced his landlord Mason, to go into the grocery business with him, and they set up a shop called Fortnum and Mason, in Piccadilly.
Since then, the grocery shop has developed into a luxury department store with an international reputation.
In the history of F&M, there are 2 major food events that need to be highlighted:
In 1738, F&M invented the Scotch Egg (hard-boiled egg in sausage meat and coating it in fried breadcrumbs, still very popular in pubs nowadays) for travellers who needed food easily portable for long distance journeys.
And, in 1886, F&M introduced the mighty Heinz baked bean to UK for the first time.
The clock on the Picadilly frontage only dates from 1964. It has been commissioned by the then chairman Mr Weston as a tribute touts founders.
Every 15 minutes, a selection of airs is played and every hour, the figurines of Fortnum and Mason come out and bow to each other.
The department store
When you enter in F&M, you feel like you’re actually entering in Ali Baba’s cave. The place is breathtaking: colourful, bright and the selves full of treasures presented with care.
The Ground Floor definitely is my favourite place. This is where you can find tea, coffee, biscuits, pastries, confectioneries, chocolates, preserves and honey. In other words, it’s the paradise for people with a sweet tooth!
The choice of tea is amazing, whether in loose leaves or in tea bags. I believe it’s one of the largest in London. From classic Earl Grey to exotic Chai, there really is something for everyone.
The extensive range of preserves includes jams, jellies, marmalades and curds. There are excellent and you might have a hard time to make a choice. The last ones I bought were Passion fruit and Golden raspberry and there were just delightful.
The pastries are freshly baked and as good as they look. And I think that you will agree with me that they look amazing!
I particularly like the macarons. But the last cake I tried was a lemon and hibiscus tart a few days ago and it was beyond my (high) expectations.
Whether to treat yourself, your family or your friends, the Ground Floor is the perfect place to buy traditional and refined British souvenirs that are be sure to please all food lovers. You can’t go wrong with F&M products!
Lower Ground Floor
The Lower Ground Floor is also dedicated to food as it’s a grocery where you can find fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, charcuterie, cheese, breads and spirits of high quality.
I’m not very interested in this floor except in the spirits. Even if I don’t drink a lot, I like to have a look at the great and well presented selection of alcohols. And I have to show a minimum of interest with a boyfriend working as a Bar Manager!
And if yourself or your loved ones prefer savory treats, a jar of Stilton cheese can also be a nice gift idea.
There is also a florist, just under the majestic spiral staircase.
But F&M isn’t just about food. There are 3 other floors full with luxurious items for Ladies, Gentlemen and Homes. So if you have a bit of time, it’s really worth to explore as it has nothing to compare with department stores you have or will ever seen.
The First Floor is dedicated to Homes. You will find, among others, silver, china, glassware, candles and stationery.
I’ve had a thing with flamingos lately and I totally fell in love with these cute mugs!
The Second Floor is the Ladies floor. However, don’t expect to find clothes. This floor is more focused on beauty products and accessories, such as hats, scarves and handbags.
The Third Floor is the Gentlemen floor. The decoration makes me think of an intimate office, with wood tables, paintings and a fire place. As opposed to the Ladies Floor, there are some clothes. There are also beauty products and accessories such as bags, pocket handkerchief, walking sticks… Last but not least, there is a shoe shine service!
The picnic hampers
F&M is famed for its world-renowned luxury picnic hampers, which the store first distributed to Victorian High Society for events such as the Henley Regatta and Ascot Races.
These hampers – which contain luxury items such as Stilton cheese, champagne, quails’ eggs and smoked salmon – remain popular today, especially at Christmas time and can cost (as of 2008) from £35 to … £25,000!
They can be found in several places across the shop. I love them, they make me want to go on a picnic straight away!
There are 5 restaurants located at different floors, all with a different style: a deluxe brasserie, a tea salon, a wine bar, an ice cream parlour and a restaurant overlooking the Food Hall.
I haven’t tried any of the restaurants yet but it’s only a matter of time as I’ve always heard good comments about them.
The Christmas decorations
F&M is an unmissable place during the festive season for its Christmas decorations. The window displays are among the best in London every year.
I hope I have convinced you to pay (or repay) a visit to Fortnum & Mason next time you’re in London. I promise that even Harrods fans will be disorientated! 😉
Fortnum and Mason
London W1A 1ER