Tea at Fortnum’s

There are few things I enjoy more than afternoon tea. Ok so it’s well know I  love almost any meal, but afternoon tea is special. It is a meal that is completely unnecessary for nutrition, one that can barely be squeezed into the day, living as we do now, and one that takes a deal of preparation. For who at home could be fussed to make a selection of finger sandwiches, a couple of scones and a choice of tiny but intricate cakes and pastries. As for getting out and cleaning the silver tea pot, well it’s just not going to happen in my house.

So going out for tea then becomes an occasion, something genuinely different and luxurious. Not , you understand, a bargain treat by any means. A good afternoon tea will cost as much as lunch at many starred Michelin restaurants, but with tea there is none of the rigidity of lunch, no pattern of starter, main course and pudding. At the tea table you can nibble sandwiches and cakes in any order you please, pausing for the occasional bite of cream topped scone should that be your fancy.

Fortnum and Mason is and always has been one of my favourite places. No Christmas would be complete without my standing  outside the shop, gazing in awe at their windows rich with decoration and treats. I feel quite like the Little Match Girl sometimes, wondering just who has parties so special that whole glace pineapples and melons might be served?

The marvellous display when the clocks chime is another reason for loitering outside on Piccadilly but the point of being there is to go into the store. There have been many changes recently, the food hall has split and now the ground floor has the less perishable items such as Fortnum’s trade mark teas  and coffees, a wonderful selection of sweets and chocolates and all the biscuits even the greediest school boy could eat. For there is still something of Billy Bunter’s larder here, something that for all the renovations remains happily a little old fashioned, it is still ,without doubt, the best tuck shop in town.

Now great changes have been taking place in what was once known as the St James’s Restaurant. A complete refit has had this light and airy fourth floor room transformed into a tea room. And not just any tea room , A Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon in fact. A place so packed with glories I’m quite delirious writing about them. Well no, that is a slight exaggeration, but it is all quite wonderful.

I took my mother to tea last week, she is six years older than the Queen and so not immensely mobile but she, as I do, loves a proper afternoon tea. It was so much a part of her childhood , for, between the wars, teas and high teas were an everyday event.

Our table was booked for 3.15 and from the moment we stepped out of the lift the staff could not have been more helpful. We had a lovely table facing into the second of the two rooms and an aside here: when taking someone one either of advanced years or a child out to tea it is much pleasanter and easier to eat sitting at a table rather than trying to manage scones and jam from the deep, highly stuffed sofas found in many hotel tea rooms.

The tea was delicious : finger sandwiches, fruit and plain scones with clotted cream and a choice of jams, tiny cakes, macaroons in weird and wonderful flavours and the possibility of visiting the Jubilee Cake Chariot for more cake should the very attentive staff not have delivered enough to our table. I drank Jubilee tea and ate Jubilee jam on my scones and, whilst I did have to laugh gently at the extreme jubilee nomenclature, it was all done with grace.

Our table was a supplied with constant hot water and fresh pots of tea. Tea made by people who take care, using fresh, well blended leaves and a properly heated pot is one of the world’s great drinks and, when served in a fine china cup, cannot be beaten.

It was all good, I ate until couldn’t eat another mouthful. My mother managed five cakes. That is truly the spirit of the blitz.


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