Fortnum's: Floor by Glorious Floor
Part One: Lower Ground to First
We may be a little biased – this, after all, is where we live -- but we think 181 Piccadilly is a rather special place.
At our short address in the heart of London, we have been filling floor-upon-floor with the very finest things imaginable for centuries. In that time, countless millions of visitors have wended their way merrily up and down our staircases in search of something special. Not many have left empty-handed.
If you have ever paid us a visit and tripped your way from lower ground to fourth floor, you will know all about the particular magic of our famous store. But for those who have never been before, for our millions of online shoppers, and anyone who is struggling to recall the last time one of our doormen last ushered them inside 181, we are here to provide a small virtual trip around Fortnum’s, floor by glorious floor.
We start with David, our doorman.
His gentle Irish accent is only a small part of the warm welcome he extends. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about Fortnum’s, and always happy to answer visitor’s questions. We asked him where he would go, were he the one walking into the store, rather than guiding other people inside. He pointed, immediately, below stairs to the lower ground floor.
Down a single flight of stairs is our Fresh Food Hall. Here, you will find our butcher, our bakery, but sadly no candlestick-makers. Not presently, at least. And candles are available on first, as it happens.
To our left, as we enter, is fresh fish, cheeses from all points of the globe, and charcuterie. To the right, wines from South America to Southern France, rows of fizz, port displays and much more. We try a sample of delicious sausage at the butcher’s counter; we watch brie being sliced and weighed; we drag ourselves away from the Champagne and up to the ground floor before we buy everything in sight.
We are working, after all.
We take the stairs, spiralling upwards through the middle of the store, offering incredible views of the floors above and flooding light into the building. The Christmas decorations are still up, and people stop to take photos. Of the stairs, obviously. Not of us, however happy we might be to strike a pose or two.
On our ground floor, we stop a Fortnum’s assistant clad in customary eau-de-nil tie, white shirt, dark jacket and approachable, welcoming demeanour. We ask her where we should head first.
'Hampers. Or chocolate and confectionery. Or you could head to teas, coffees, jams and preserves, the biscuits—'
She laughs, because she has more-or-less listed the entire contents of the ground floor. But then it is very hard to know where to start on a floor so abundantly populated with wonderful things.
We plump for teas. Rows upon rows, shelves upon shelves, in loose leaf and in bags, from all corners of the globe and to suit all tastes, and all beautifully-presented. No wonder it’s been so popular for 300 years. We overhear a couple talking: he drinks tea, she does not, but she admits that even she is tempted. Everything looks so pretty, she says. And it does.
We march on to the jams and honeys and preserves, flit around the biscuits, coo at the hampers and the hidden treasures inside, and feel a pleasing sort of sugar rush just looking at the chocolates on display.
We could stop for longer, and we recommend you do, on your visit. But for now, we must press onwards, or else this article – this brief and colourful whizz around the inside of 181 Piccadilly -- might end up at novella length.
And so, to the first floor.
And my word, the hampers: alongside tea, the item perhaps most closely associated with Fortnum’s, there are examples aplenty beside the Hamper Ordering desks, where wonderful wickers are dreamt up, ordered, dispatched and paid for.
Our thoughts turn to what would comprise our own ideal hamper, and whether we could feasibly keep it below, say, 50 items.
Probably not, is the verdict, but we compile a list, all the same, comprising Fortnum’s honeys, marmalades, and strawberry preserve, our incredible Florentines, a bottle – no, two! – of Fortnum’s fizz, tins of Royal Blend loose leaf tea, Dundee Cake, Fortnum’s London Gin, and much, much more. Our mouths water at the prospect.
Taste buds tickled and in need of a little energy after taking the stairs between floors (instead of the beautiful wood panelled and mirrored lifts), we head to The Parlour for ice-cream - one of the few things we didn’t include in our mythical hamper.
And the most remarkable thing we realise, as we spoon home great heapfuls of delicious dessert? That we are only halfway through our journey through the floors at Fortnum's...