Joeblade

Breakfast at Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum & Mason, a poncy food store for posh people and imbecile tourists who can’t tell how expensive everything is, also serves breakfast. I’ve been trying to have breakfast there ever since I moved to London just because it felt like something one ought to do, as a Londoner.

Eventually it became something I wanted to do just because I was finding it so bloody hard to get there. Public transport delays and various illnesses had conspired to cause me to miss my reservations in the past, and in one instance I had arrived during their breakfast hours but not during their breakfast seating hours, which turned out to be a crucial distinction. You see, breakfast is served until 11am, but they stop seating for breakfast at 10:30am, an arrangement which really just raised further questions.

Fortunately, a friend’s imminent wedding provided another excuse to do ‘something special’, and being neither of hen nor stag night material — in animal terms, I’m sort of a cross between a hermit crab and a grumpy terrier — we booked a table, and in an unusual sop to establishment dress codes, I wore chinos instead of jeans. Fortnum requested that “both sexes lean more towards elegance” in clothing, and this was the best I could do.

I was a little tense going in. This was unknown territory, prim and proper and smelling faintly of lavender, and the chinos — slightly ill-fitting around the arse with shallow pockets from which small change, keys and phones seemed eager to slip from — were only making things worse.

With plenty of empty tables, we were naturally seated as close to the other diners as was possible without actually sitting in their laps. It was an odd arrangement, sort of at an angle to them that meant that my friend was looking straight at them and any head movement turned into an intrusive stare. Not by us, of course, because we are civilised people, but the others found us endlessly fascinating, glancing at us every few seconds like nodding dogs. When three large jars of own-brand marmalades and jams were brought to our table to go with our toast, the lady at the next table spotted them and demanded her own set even though she had nothing to spread them on, the nutter.

She was clearly in a comfortable place, though, and most of the diners seemed at home there. Elderly parents with middle-aged children still calling them ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’. Everyone wearing very lovely shoes. Everyone pratting around with the waiters, getting cutlery replaced because it was placed at the wrong angle and fussing over the state and provenance of the food. Lots of dithering, which helped me to understand why the place needed to allow 30 minutes between sitting someone down and serving them.

Fortunately, the food turned out to be pretty good. Eggs Benedict was the most vibrant Benedict I’ve ever seen with bright orange yolks bursting into the sunflower-coloured Hollandaise. This also came with a sudden conversational breakdown with the waitress as she randomly explained that Eggs Royale came with salmon, not ham, until we were just staring blankly at her, wondering if she needed a glass of water or something, until she pointed out that there had been a printing error on the menu and just wanted to make sure we knew what we were ordering.

The full English, on the surface, ticked all the boxes. Two eggs, two sausages, bacon, white and black pudding, grilled tomato, mushroom, toast, juice, coffee. Exhaustive, and the food was all fine, but…there was something a little anal about the whole thing, a ‘one of each’ mentality that felt overly fussy. Not just two sausages, but one Cumberland and one Lincolnshire. Not just bacon, but back bacon and streaky bacon. Two poached eggs, one hard, one soft, and both neatly trimmed. White pudding, black pudding. Nothing wrong with any of this — apart from that hard poached egg — but it lacked a soul. Perhaps it needed a slice of fried bread, a small serving of beans, something greasy to hold it all together. It wasn’t really a full English breakfast, it was a plate of full English breakfast ingredients artfully arranged.

So, it was all very nice, but it’s a bit too clean for my liking and I doubt I’ll end up a regular visitor; I just don’t have the trousers for it.

By Paul Haine, in