Sep 14, 2010

Fortnum & Mason, "High Tea" indeed

Fortnum & Mason is one of those “favourite place on earth” spots for me in London. Quintessentially English, yes, best place to stock up on tea, yes, beautiful preserves, yes. But I think what really does it for me is the light teal colour that decorates the facade, and peppers all the packaging and displays. It’s like a glam Willie Wonka, a confectionery high of majestic proportions. They have indeed amassed a series of Royal Warrants, starting, surprisingly, with candles.

The history of this English institution harks back to 1705, when:

“Hugh Mason had a small shop in St James’s Market and a spare room in his house. The Fortnum family had come to London from Oxford as high-class builders in the wake of the Great Fire, helping to establish the St James’s and Mayfair areas as the most fashionable in London. William climbed another rung by taking a post as footman in Queen Anne’s household - and the room at Mr Mason’s.”

Now a footman, that’s a big effin deal in Britain. Anywho, these folks went on to ride the wave of British imperialism with bravado, and set themselves up as THE place to go for unfair trade tea. But that is all in the past now, and the blue packaging is truly delightful.

The store is now a major affair, with a little gourmet supermarket on the lower ground that is well worth the detour. On the ground floor you will find a massive catalogue of teas, herbals, green, white, oolong, you name it. These folks are suppliers to the Royal Family, so you will find a Royal Blend, and a Queen Anne blend, and you can feel all regal while you sip your cuppa.

Being partial to Earl Grey blends, always, my personal favourites are the Green Earl Grey and the Smoky Earl Grey (yes, how creative). The Smoky Earl Grey is, as the name suggests, a dense, smoky take on the classic blend. It will set you back £7.75 a tin with 250g. There is also a luxurious White Yunnan (at about four times that price). White teas are the most precious and delicately flavoured infusions, made from handpicked buds, steeped for a minute or two, just so...

The preserves and jams are also wonderful, as are the chocolates and biscuits. This is a great place to get a hamper made, and they also make the most perfect picnic baskets. The store is spread out over several stories, and you can find everything from fashion accessories to stationery, as well as a couple of restaurants. But the beautiful British fare is really the star of the show here, a true gastronomic journey. Between the infinte jars of pickles and chutney, this is a place to come and understand what British elegance and tradition really mean.

My suggestion is that you go for afternoon tea, upstairs, and sample all the goodies. That way you will get to try out the tea blends, and gorge on the scones and the clotted cream (which is churned by cherubs, I’m sure).

The shop is in Piccadilly, so if you find yourself stranded in one of the most demonic parts of town (after Oxford Street), escape the chaos and have a cuppa.

All images courtesy of

Oh, breaking news flash! They have just started selling their blend of London honey, which they make from the beehives they placed on the roof of the building. Now that is the ultimate chic souvenir.

You can catch up with latest London food news on my new blog,

The store is still at its address in Piccadilly, where it has been for the last 300 years:

181 Piccadilly
United Kingdom

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