Each hour Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason appear and greet each other on the store's famous clock.
Each hour Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason appear and greet each other on the store's famous clock.

Fortnum & Mason a green grocer like no other in the world

IF ever you're in London and in the market for a toothbrush, I know just the place to go.

You can buy a handmade toothbrush - made of wood and horse hair - for the equivalent of around $30 at Fortnum & Mason, a very exclusive grocery store, just down from Piccadilly Circus in central London.

You'll be served by a gentleman in tail coat and striped trousers. And, of course, he will call you 'sir' or 'madam'.

Although known primarily as a royal grocery store, Fortnum's is much more.

You can buy accessories for the gentleman and the lady - from exclusive beauty products for her, to a bowler hat for him.

When I'm in London I like to spend an entertaining hour or two 'just browsing' the 300-year-old store and seeing how the other half lives. It's a grocery store like no other.

The Fortnum & Mason store had an interesting start - in Britain's royal household.

The insistence of Queen Anne's household on fresh candles every night suggested a legitimate perk for an enterprising footman, William Fortnum.

Why not sell the spare, leftover palace wax to Londoners.

By 1707 William's sideline had boomed enough for him to leave the royal household and start a grocery business with his landlord Hugh Mason.

Fortnum's has always had an enthusiastic patronage from British monarch.

The store's royal warrants relate to grocery and provisions.

A Fortnum & Mason sales assistant in tail coat and striped trousers.
A Fortnum & Mason sales assistant in tail coat and striped trousers.

Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by the Duchesses of Cornwall and Cambridge, last year took afternoon tea in the refurbished fourth floor Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon.

Afternoon tea on the fourth floor has been a tradition for 90 years. Sandwiches, scones, savouries and cake accompanied by fine tea are served in plush surroundings for 44 pounds per person.

The third floor has essentials for the gentlemen - accessories, nightwear and grooming.

The second floor is devoted to my lady - perfume and cosmetics, bath and beauty, jewellery, handbags and lingerie and nightwear.

But Fortnum & Mason is best known for its first floor and lower ground floor food halls - and its famous food hampers.

The hampers, dozens of different mixes, are on the first floor. Originally, they were prepared for passengers travelling in the coaches which passed by the store.

Now they include classic hampers, gourmet hampers, tea hampers, ladies' hampers, children's hampers, gentlemen's hampers, wine hampers and hampers for champagne moments.

Want to spoil the child? There's a first birthday hamper.

Top of the range is a 500 pounds (about $750) Belgravia hamper which will have in it a selection of teas and coffees, chocolates and groceries including marmalade, biscuits, olives, nuts and Dundee cake.

Plus ham, venison salami, stilton cheese and wild Scottish smoked salmon.

Of course, the hamper must have several bottles of excellent wine and a bottle of port.

Thoughtfully, a corkscrew is thrown in. All this in a distinctive cane basket.

According to Fortnum & Mason, the store can deliver by post for Christmas if an order is placed before October 30.

I enjoy browsing the store's ground floor, packed with a huge range of teas and chocolates, as well as cakes, wines, cigars, fruit and flowers.

I head for the Gallery restaurant on the ground floor.

Today is Sunday and the three-course lunch menu for 32 pounds includes an appetiser of cured smoked salmon with toasted soda bread, a main course of roasted sirloin of red Sussex beef served with roast potato and Yorkshire pudding.

For dessert there's either a chocolate orange tart or Cropwell Bishop Stilton with chutney and Fortnum's cheese crackers.

Ground floor displays of a huge range of teas and chocolates, as well as cakes, wines, cigars, fruit and flowers.
Ground floor displays of a huge range of teas and chocolates, as well as cakes, wines, cigars, fruit and flowers.

The history of Fortnum & Mason and that of tea drinking in England is intertwined.

Black Bohea tea was one of the first products the store sold in 1707 when the 'tay' drinking Queen Anne was on the throne.

In the early 20th century, ladies' fashions, from shoes and gloves to evening dresses and sportswear, were serviced by a Fortnum's workroom full of seamstresses.

Men, too, had a floor to themselves where they could be measured for a suit and buy other gentlemen's essentials.

Pies have been a feature of Fortnum's menus.

Top of the list was a raised pie, much in the shape of a food can.

Charles Dickens was a particular fan of Fortnum's Yorkshire pies. He sent his butler off to Fortnum's to buy a pie whenever he finished a novel.

Honey is a Fortnum speciality. In fact, the store has a colony of bees on its Piccadilly rooftop - to take advantage of the plentiful nearby parks, squares, gardens and window boxes.

Buckingham Palace's gardens are within range of the bees.

Fortnum's has had a department dedicated to 'Expeditions'.

The 1922 Everest expedition, for example, could not start without 60 tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottles of champagne.

Today, Fortnum & Mason is owned by a Canadian family, the Westons.

After you leave the store, look up at the clock on the outside of the building.

Metre-high figures of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason appear on the hour.

One holds a tea tray; the other a branched candelabra. They bow to each other - and carry on.

Make sure you also look at the window displays. They are works of art.

 

IF YOU GO

For more information visit http://www.fortnumandmason.com.

 

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