Afternoon tea is a long-standing love of mine. Like Keanu Reeves, happy dogs and pints of cookie dough crammed ice-cream, it’s something I’ve adored for more years than I’m willing to admit. A sincere, proper, uncomplicated, unadulterated love because when it’s done right, I honestly believe there are few experiences nicer to share with someone you love. Hell, for the sake of a good scone weighed down under a flamboyant cushion of clotted cream, sometimes just someone you like will do.
Fortnum & Mason does so many things well; service like nowhere else in the capital, products tailor made for the wide-eye tourist throngs that flock to it still in reassuringly vast numbers and a minty green décor that’s as timeless and elegant as some of the surrounding buildings on London’s Piccadilly. On Mother’s Day, as you would expect, it was heaving but in the quietest, calmest, most relaxed and controlled way it’s possible to be. Ushered to a table in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon that fit our party of 6 more than comfortably with room, frankly, for another 6 of our closest friends, the tone was set for the loveliest of afternoons.
Satin leafed and blush pink ranunculus poked beaming petalled heads shyly out of glass vases, antique silverware gleamed and flawless white linens were pressed to perfection. One of the very best things about taking tea here is that even though the room itself has space enough for a dozen extra tables, they avoid filling in those gaps. Everyone has their own space in which they can relax without fear of disturbing neighbours or being disturbed themselves and in a place that could clearly double their takings with a little table tweaking, the fact that they don’t smacks of charm and understated confidence.There are several options for the food, all of which can be chosen on the day so no last-minute panic of wishing you’d gone for a different option. Savoury, Vegetarian, Gluten Free and High Tea versions are all on offer although, hand on heart, the standard will take some beating. Savoury finger sandwiches include Coronation chicken so light and beautifully flavoured I wanted to bag a bucket of it from the kitchen and gluttons of the world rejoice – I am one of you, you are my people – because you can have as many refills as you want of anything on offer.
Plain and fruit speckled scones were golden crusted, soft, warm & beautifully filling drops of heaven, especially when buried under properly yellowed cream, velvety lemon curd and sweet fragrant jam. Cakes arrived short and tall, long and round, shiny and crumbly, ticking off every shape & size. Highlights include a tooth achingly darling baby version of the rose eclair found in the ground floor cake cabinet, a tiny apple crumble tart that made me long for the full-size version, a jug of custard and a room to myself and a red velvet cube that was mesmerisingly glossy & gorgeously squidgy.
Allow me to bestow upon you here a word of warning; as well as the petite sweet treats that appear before you, there is also a (brace yourself for two of the greatest words in the English language here) cake trolley from which you can choose a slab of something fluffy, frosted and fabulous. A triple layered, raspberry coconut cake came wrapped in inch thick, ‘it’s a girl!’ baby pink icing, a fudgy chocolate tart was richer than Mark Zuckerberg and for the traditionalists among you Battenberg cake, that stalwart of British teatime, was also on offer.
Staff here are simply wonderful; our waiter was funny, charming and attentive. Never obsequious or overbearing, he appeared as if by magic at exactly the right time and departed quietly once his work of depositing baked goods, champagne flutes and steaming teapots was done.
The choice of tea on offer here is incredible and numbering fifty plus, they range from your most dependable black to zesty greens, floral whites and fruit laden infusions. Sold at Fortnum’s for over 300 years, the business of tea taking here is a serious one with ‘tearistas’ on hand to offer expert tips and rare tea tastings also available for purchase. Single Estate coffees, Single Origin hot chocolate, matcha lattes and freshly squeezed lemonade are also an option for any tea free drinkers.
There are so many options for afternoon tea here and while the Ritz, the Savoy & Claridges all have loyal and steadfast fans for whom this is a ritual to be treasured, I’d encourage you to find a little place in your heart – and a big place in your stomach – for Fortnum’s.