Friday, 30 September 2016

Spotlight on: Fortnum & Mason

When I'm not cautiously deciding whether or not I'm too broke to afford a Pret wrap, I like to pretend I'm a fabulously wealthy socialite who lives in Mayfair and has a butler named Whatley. As in, "Get the car, Whatley, we're going to Harrods. I'm in desperate need of a new Birkin bag." Anyway, one of the places where I like to live in my imagination is the upscale department store of Fortnum and Mason. Generally known for its food halls, it is a grand shop with some of the most beautiful displays I've ever seen.

It was still summer when I went and the sweeping staircase in the middle of the ground floor was decorated like something out of a fairy tale. I wanted to descend those stairs in a giant princess ballgown and waltz with Prince Charming.

Founded in 1707 as a grocery store and situated along Piccadilly, Fortnum & Mason certainly have cornered the market for fancy and overpriced food but somehow, even though you laugh at the prices, you somehow still want it all. Or at least I do. I wanted the delicate chocolates and the little pots of honey in their honey mansion. I wanted the splendidly English hampers and especially the tea, for which the shop is famous. I wanted to laden Whatley's arms with shopping bags and have him drive home and unpack while I take afternoon tea with Lady Pendlington-Smyth.

I felt a little like an impostor while I perused, like the shop assistants just knew I wasn't going to buy anything. Not everything was terrifically expensive, I must admit, but enough was specialist and artisanal to make it obvious I was just there for a nosy. I noticed there was a sign for the crypt downstairs and, my interest piqued, I wandered around the wine section in the basement like a lost sheep until I found it.

Situated in what is probably one of the oldest sections of the store, it has been arranged to look like a Vampire Count's dining room. You can almost see Dracula swishing his goblet of wine and saying, "I vant to suck your blooood." Of course there are ghost tales about the crypt to add to the store's mythology. You can actually hire it out for private functions, which is pretty cool. I bet it would make a terrific party location. In fact, I think fancy socialite me may hire it out for Halloween. I'll get Whatley to pick up the decorations at once.

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