Fortnum and Mason

Things to do in London | Fortnum and Mason

If you love your food with a big dollop of luxury, Fortnum and Mason is the place to go. Right in the middle of Piccadilly, the 300-year-old store has oodles of Georgian charm, but still manages to give its well-heeled clientele a shopping experience that’s bang up-to-date. You could lose hours wandering around the two food halls, marvelling at the beautiful displays of lighter-than-air macarons or sampling some of the world’s finest caviar and truffles. But there’s more to Fortnum’s than just foodie treats to snaffle. Venture further up the elegant spiral staircase and you’ll find clothes, jewellery, the quaintly-named ‘Gentleman’s Department’ and even a luxurious (if small) spa.

Back in the 1700s, William Fortnum worked as a footman for Queen Anne. The Royal Family insisted on having new candles every night and the entrepreneurial footman would save the wax and sell it on at a profit. Buoyed by his success, he opened up a sideline business as a grocer and in 1707 persuaded his landlord, Hugh Mason to become his partner. Fortnum and Mason was born. The fledgling grocery business was boosted when Fortnum’s grandson Charles went into the service of Queen Charlotte, giving them a royal connection that exists to this day. During the Crimean War, Queen Victoria sent Fortnum's beef tea to Florence Nightingale and the present Queen opened the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon in 2012. The store still has a warrant with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles to provide groceries to the Royal Family. But Fortnum’s aren’t just famous for their royal connections. The store was a trailblazer when it came to food, coming up with their much-copied hamper concept, but also inventing the Scotch Egg in 1738 and being the first grocer to sell Heinz Beans in 1886.

No trip to Fortnum’s is complete without watching the famous clock chime - and luckily, it does this every 15 minutes so you won’t have too long to wait. The clock made its debut in 1964 and features 18 bells made from the same foundry as Big Ben. You’ll have to wait until the hour though if you want to see figures of Fortnum and Mason appear.

Visiting Fortnum and Mason? Why not book into a Premier Inn near Piccadilly? That way you can get to see some of the other sights that the area is famous for, such as Buckingham Palace. And with comfortable beds and amazing breakfasts, it’ll get your city break off to a right royal start, too.

Fortnum and Mason

Fortnum and Mason

Top tip

If you’re eating an afternoon tea, you can ask for refills on anything, but there’s a chance that you get so full on sandwiches you’ve no room for dessert. But don’t worry about missing out - staff are happy to package everything up so you can take it away.

Essential information

Although it’s easy to lose hours wandering in the main food hall, venture further up the spiral staircase and you’ll find that a whole new world awaits, with beauty rooms, accessories and even a spa. And unlike stores such as Selfridges or Harrods, it still has a quaint, old English feel about it.

Fortnum and Mason is laid out on four floors. The basement and ground floor are primarily food halls, the second has beauty rooms, fashion accessories, jewellery and a perfumery, while the third floor houses the Gentleman’s Department.

Because it stocks mainly boutique brands, there’s none of the hectic atmosphere you get in other department stores. In fact, mirrored dressing tables are scattered throughout to encourage shoppers just to hang out and play with the products.

Tucked away in the Beauty Hall, the spa may be small, but it’s full of charming touches that make it both the epitome of zen calm and reminiscent of the English countryside at the same time. Try the Bamford Signature Facial which uses hot and cold jade stones.

The main Piccadilly entrance is step-free, and although there is a large spiral staircase, you’ll also find lifts to all floors. There are accessible toilets on the second and fourth floors, and step-free access to the Gallery restaurant.

What to buy

A visit to Fortnum and Mason is like a wonderful sensory overload - the sights, sounds and smells are incredible. To help you work out where to head first, we’ve listed some of the products that the department store is most famous for. Here’s a round-up of what you should buy.

Fortnum's is so well-known for its hampers stuffed with goodies it sends out over 100,000 of the wicker beauties each year. Of course these days, everyone from Marks and Spencer to Sainsbury’s is getting in on the act, but a hamper from Fortnum’s is something special - after all, they invented them! Fortnum’s started selling hampers in the 1730s, when wealthy customers travelling to their country estates asked the store to prepare picnic baskets for the journey. Today, you can choose between 40 pre-made hampers for different occasions, or get a bespoke hamper made up in store.

Fortnum’s is undoubtedly the best place to buy tea in London - in fact, the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon has around 82 different types to choose from. If that all sounds a bit confusing, the store has ‘tearistas' (uber-knowledgable tea experts) on hand to take you through all the different blends available. They even sell rare teas, such as the first truly English tea - the Tregothnan, picked in Cornwall.

You don’t get honey that’s more local than the one made by Fortnum’s. Four colonies of bees have been living on the roof of the store since 2008 and they produce a truly delicious honey that’s harvested every September. In fact, Fortnum’s Bees’ Honey is so good there’s often a waiting list to buy it. Interestingly the taste and colour of the honey varies from year to year, depending on the flora available to the bees, but is usually a lovely pale, toffee colour with a soft consistency.

Forget chocolate that you can just buy anywhere. Fortnum’s has its own famous chocolate recipe which is still used today in its handmade English collection. Each chocolate in these special boxes has been made individually by hand. Most famous has to be Fortnum’s Rose & Violet English Creams. Subtly flavoured with natural flower oils, they were the Queen Mum’s favourite. In fact, they’re now so synonymous with the store, they’ve been turned into flavours in the in-store ice cream parlour.

If you’re a lover of all things sweet and crunchy, you’ll be pleased to hear Fortnum’s is a biscuit-lover’s heaven.Best known for their Florentines, it’s new-kid-on-the-block the Chocolossus that have recently made waves in the biscuit world. A simply gigantic macadamia nut biscuit, covered in an almost ridiculous amount of dark chocolate - it’s a challenge not for the fainthearted.

An entire wall of the store is dedicated to preserves and luckily there are staff on hand to take you through the finer points of each. One of the most famous has to be their Rose Petal Jelly - made exclusively for Fortnum's with rose petals grown in a single garden in Oxfordshire.

Eating and drinking

If having afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason’s is not on your bucket list, it should be. They’ve got it down to an art form, as you might expect from a shop that’s been selling the stuff for over 300 years. But there are other food and drink treats on the menu here, from fine dining and ice cream to cocktails and champagne. You’ll find all the places to eat right here. 

Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon
Fancy a Darjeeling Jungpana to go with your afternoon scone? This pretty tea room on the fourth floor is the image of refinement (there’s even a pianist to accompany you as you eat), but the sheer range of tea on offer is a bit baffling. Luckily, ‘tearistas’ are on hand, to tell you which of the blends on offer will best accompany your choice of cake or sandwich - and it’s all served on beautiful china in the store’s trademark eau de nil and white shades. Afternoon Tea includes finger sandwiches, scones and a selection of cakes and is available from noon. Smart casual dress is expected and you’ll need to reserve a table two weeks in advance for weekdays and six weeks in advance for weekends.To reserve a table contact 020 7734 8040.

The Parlour
While you can get artisan coffee, open sandwiches and even a glass of wine at this first floor Fortnum & Mason spot, most people are here for one thing and one thing only - to get stuck into the ice cream The Parlour is famous for. Although all the classics are here, it’s the innovative flavours that keep people coming back, like Fortnum’s orange marmalade, Rose and Violet or even an Afternoon Tea Sundae inspired by the store’s own Tea Salon, that combines Rose Ripple, Cucumber and Mint, Strawberry and Scones, and Coronation flavour ice creams. Be warned though - The Parlour is popular, and booking a table is recommended, particularly at weekends. You can do this by calling the store on 020 7734 8040.

The Wine Bar
If you hate shopping, but are accompanying someone who thinks of it as some kind of sport, this is the best place for you to perch while you wait for them. An oasis of calm in the basement Food Hall, just off the wine department, most people have never heard of it. But this is a hidden gem that’s well worth hunting out, if only for the interesting food and drink pairings it provides. It is decadent though, with a glass of Champagne costing around £15. But light bites are tasty and reasonable, with a small plate of Pigs In Blankets served with grain mustard setting you back around £6.50. You can even buy your own wine from the wine department and sample it here (at a fairly hefty corkage). It’s open until 8.30pm Monday to Saturday and closes at 5.30pm on a Sunday. To book, call 020 7734 8040 as before.

The Gallery
If all the sights and smells you encountered while wandering around the Food Hall has whetted your appetite, head directly to the Gallery Restaurant on the first floor. Flooded with natural light, and with some great views over Jermyn Street, it’s the perfect spot for lunch. There’s everything from sandwiches to larger meals, but must-trys are the Welsh Rarebit and the steak and chips, all available on the Taste Of The Food Hall menu. Again, it’s not exactly cheap (a simple Welsh Rarebit with no bacon will set you back about a tenner), but everything is so delicious and you know you’re getting ingredients of the highest quality and provenance - for example, all the steaks are from Glenarm and aged for 28 days in a Himalayan salt chamber. Again, booking is advised, so call the store to reserve a table on 020 7734 8040.

Getting to Fortnum and Mason

You’ll find Fortnum and Mason at 181 Piccadilly in Central London - it’s pretty much in the middle of the street, but ever-so-slightly closer to Green Park than it is Piccadilly Circus. Plus, if you get off at Green Park you’ll get to walk past that other London institution, The Ritz.

By car
Driving to Fortnum and Mason isn’t advised as parking in the area is very limited. If you do decide to brave it, you’ll need to use the following address and postcode for your sat nav - 42 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6DN.

By bus
Several buses go along Piccadilly towards Trafalgar Square or Tottenham Court Road. These include the 9, 14,19, 22 or the 38. You can pick them up from stop J outside Green Park underground station.

By tube
Green Park, for the Piccadilly, Victoria and Jubilee Lines, is just a five-minute walk away. Piccadilly Circus, for the Piccadilly and Bakerloo Lines, is at the other end of Piccadilly but still only a ten-minute walk.

By train
Nearest mainline station is Victoria. You could hop on the Victoria Line from here, or just walk it - it’s a lovely stroll past Buckingham Palace and up through the park to Green Park station.