On 30 March 2012, Fortnum & Mason opened the doors of the newest jewel in its crown – the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, where customers can enjoy the historic ceremony of afternoon tea in outstanding style.
As part of Fortnum’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations we made the momentous decision to refurbish and redesign the St James’s Restaurant, where customers have enjoyed an elegant dining experience for many decades. The traditional ceremony of afternoon tea, complete with silver cake stands, china teapots and the gentle sound of a pianist in the background, is something for which Fortnum’s is well known and much loved. So we were keen to continue that fine tradition while transforming the restaurant into something even more exceptional.
Led by Design
The task fell to David Collins – who refurbished all of our restaurants for the store’s Tercentenary in 2007 – to redesign the St James’s Restaurant. His brief was to provide the quintessential English afternoon tea experience, which could stretch to include a light savoury menu for midday diners. The décor had to fit effortlessly into the 21st century as well as reflect Fortnum’s Georgian origins and capture the elegant, peaceful atmosphere that pervades the rest of the store.
Now that the work is complete, customers can see how spectacularly this has been achieved. This is not just new décor; the floor has been completely rearranged to create a tea salon that is grand and yet intimate and perfect for every customer, whether they’re walking up from the Food Halls on the spur of the moment or arriving for a special celebration.
As the space is large, covering the whole of the Fourth Floor, the main part of the salon has been divided into separate areas, the North and South Salons - each with its own tea bar and serving staff - which makes each salon feel cosy rather than cavernous. In addition to the North and South Salons there are two new spaces; the Drawing Room and the Tasting Room. The larger of the two, the Drawing Room, is light and spacious and perfect for larger parties and corporate events; the Tasting Room is by contrast a small but perfectly formed space that is flooded with natural light. Its table seats just 10 guests who will enjoy the dedicated attention of a ‘tearista’ – our equivalent of a coffee barista – during their event, whether it is a birthday party with tea and cake, a business lunch or a serious tea-tasting for connoisseurs.
The Fortnum’s Experience
The real pleasure of our new tea salon lies in the many carefully considered details that add up to a delightful experience: the wicker covering of the reception desk; the hand-painted wallpaper (the design of which is repeated on the menus); the tea-bush leaf detail on top of each cake stand; the vintage silver and china, including a silver-plated pot for the clotted cream; the crisp, white tablecloths; and the stylish photographs on each wall, evoking a past age of elegance. Even the height of the tables was tailored to suit; they are set at 73cm rather than the standard 75cm, so that one can lounge a little more comfortably.
The atmosphere has also been very carefully created; calm, elegant and relaxing rather than grand and imposing, the salon conveys a sense of occasion without being stiff or overly formal. The newly recessed ceiling lights and the ample natural light from the many windows ensure that the salon is light and airy and the pale green carpets muffle any sounds that might interfere with the conversation. The only sound to be heard is that of the Steinway baby grand piano that graces the reception area, notes from which drift into each corner of the salon in a rather soothing way.
The Importance of Tea
One of the points of difference for Fortnum’s afternoon tea is that we care very much about the tea itself; there is an extensive tea menu of around 75 teas, from Fortnum’s own blends to very rare and unusual teas sourced by our buyers. Studying the tea menu is quite an important part of the tea ceremony – the huge choice and the helpful notes on strength and flavour make for fascinating reading.
To complement this traditional ceremony we are making good use of modern gadgets, such as specialist water-boilers that can heat the water to different temperatures to suit each tea; tea-timers on the tea bars to ensure that every pot is perfectly brewed; and warming drawers that warm the teapots before the water is added. We have a veritable army of tearistas to advise and guide each customer’s choice of tea, and, in addition to their chosen tea, guests can try a selection of different flavours to help them explore our tea range further. For those who prefer coffee we will grind the beans to order and serve the freshly brewed coffee in a rather elegant Georgian silver coffee pot.
Every tea on the menu is stocked at Fortnum’s, so if customers particularly enjoy their tea, they can take some home from the Food Halls. In fact, this applies to many things on the tea table; the preserves and clotted cream as well as the china are all exclusive to Fortnum’s and can be bought and taken home as a souvenir of the afternoon.
And So to the Cake…
Behind the scenes in the Tea Salon’s kitchen is head chef Jane Smyth – Fortnum’s first female head chef. Every pink-iced miniature éclair and freshly baked scone is her responsibility and she will be choosing seasonal fillings for the sandwiches, creating exquisitely iced biscuits and devising an ever-changing choice of cake, from delicate patisserie to traditional favourites such as Bakewell tart or Sachertorte. Jane’s cakes are so divine that we created a special marble-topped Diamond Jubilee Cake Carriage on which to display them, from which guests can choose their favourite cake or biscuits. Even diners arriving for lunch can partake; the simple menu of 12 savoury dishes can be followed by a slice of cake and a pot of tea or coffee.
A Royal Experience for All
Everyone at Fortnum’s was delighted that the first guest to enjoy the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon was HM The Queen herself, who opened the salon during her visit on 1 March, accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge. After unveiling a plaque to commemorate the occasion, the Queen and her party took tea amid the freshly painted surroundings. The plaque unveiled that day will have pride of place on the wall and will serve as a reminder that the new Tea Salon will always aspire to the highest of standards, no matter who the guests might be.
With that in mind, we look forward to welcoming you to the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon where we trust you will find that afternoon tea at Fortnum’s has been transformed into a truly unforgettable experience.