London’s Finest Food Halls
For those of us nurturing a healthy obsession with food, moving to London can sometimes entail a surprising sense of loss. There are more exciting restaurants and concept-driven cafes than you could visit in a lifetime, but it comes at a price. Locally-produced food made by real artisans can often feel inaccesible, and it’s all too easy to retreat into the safe, predictable world of the major supermarkets. However, in the centre of London, the food halls of the major department stores create food that can still amaze and delight, and handily gather it all in one place. It’s an unusually lucky family that can afford to do their weekly shop in places like this, but for the rest of us the food halls bring a sense of wonder back to the supermarket, and generally provide enough free samples to feed a sophisticated horse.
FORTNUM & MASON
If you’ve ever thought the Co-Op would be so much more pleasant if only it were a sort of dazzling regency phantasmagoria, then you may find yourself in Fortnum & Mason. Established in 1707, Fortnum began as an upmarket grocery store, and other departments were added as time went by. The selection of food today is suitably cosmopolitan, but has a firm grounding in quality British produce. The main floor is a ritzy and gilded affair, trafficking mainly in artisan chocolates, pastries, fine teas and other fripperies. Down a gilded staircase, the basement is recognisable even today as a part of the grocer’s tradition. Personable and surprisingly quiet, the lower hall is stocked with comforting, earthy-looking cheeses, meats, fish and vegetables that you just know probably taste like the platonic ideal of their respective food groups – the ham to which all other ham is just a second-generation photocopy. And if that seems extravagant, just know that I am in prestigious company – the Royal Family has been using F&M as their trusted cornershop/off-licence for centuries. If nothing else, any visitor to London should be aware that F&M was the first place in the country to stock not only the Scotch Egg, but also Heinz Baked Beans, making it perhaps the focal point of all British history. Its famous luxury picnic hampers range in price from £35 to £25,000.
Fortnum & Mason’s closest tube station is Piccadilly Circus
At the end of Oxford Street, London’s busiest centre of retail, Selfridges is a unique delicatessen writ large. Dispensing with the visual extravagance of Harrods and F&M, Selfridges favours a less intimidating atmosphere, along the lines of traditional quality supermarkets like Marks & Spencers or Waitrose. Each counter has a different theme for its food, and the aisles are rich in strange overseas delicacies (No prizes for guessing which country spreads marshmallow on toast.) There’s always a lot of stuff available for tasting, and the in-house restaurants compliment the unpretentious style, Krispy Kreme and Yo Sushi proving slightly more welcoming than the dining rooms of Fortnum & Mason. Don’t go confusing it with Poundland, though. Selfridges is home to such extravagances as the world’s most expensive sandwich: a paen to wagyu beef the size of a dog.
Selfridges’ closest tube station is Bond Street
Unquestionably Britain’s most famous shop, and one of the great retail tourist attractions of the age, Harrods food hall is one of many jewels in a heavy crown, a metaphor that seems appropriate given the mind-boggling opulence and exoticism on display. Although things can obviously get pricey, Harrods has a surprisingly decent selection for the gentleman (or lady) on a budget, and some of the various ensconced restaurants have been known to offer 50% off after 7pm. Separate halls cover every species and culture of cuisine, and quality levels in all areas are astounding. Tasting events are frequent, but it is the sheer scale and variety on offer that makes Harrods London’s greatest food hall.
Harrods’ closest tube station is Knightsbridge.
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