Fortnum & Mason’s Brand Director Simon Thompson is preserving the heritage of the original greengrocer’s, while continuing to keep up with the times. He shares with the Resident how he walks this fine line
Words: Madeleine Howell
There’s no dearth of fresh new offerings to delight the senses at Fortnum & Mason this summer, from a gentleman’s barber shop coming soon to complement the Bamford Haybarn Spa, to the recently launched ‘hamperling’ (the portable younger cousin of the traditional wicker hamper Fortnum’s is famed for). It’s a foodie institution at heart that is proud of its 300-year-old history, but it’s still trailblazing ahead with new inventions and innovations.
When I arrive for our exclusive photo shoot with Simon Thompson, a new ‘Countess Grey’ Iced Tea with vintage marmalade is hitting the shelves, and an Alice in Wonderland themed window display coinciding with the release of Through the Looking Glass is enthralling passers by. It seems that in the world of Fortnum’s, a new blend or concoction is created every day. It’s as magical as Lewis Carroll’s wonderland or Charlie’s chocolate factory – and fantastically British. The tempting ‘Surprise Me’ ice cream sundae currently available in The Parlour is just one example.
‘Alice in Wonderland is a story that takes everybody back to being a child,’ says Thompson. ‘It felt right and it chimes with the eccentricity of the afternoon tea ceremony. At Fortnum’s, you can regain a sense of child-like wonder.’
Thompson himself has a true zeal for the ‘confident’ USP of Fortnum’s, and having previously worked for Alfred Dunhill and Caprice Holdings, he’s the perfect man for the job. ‘I’ve always been partial to working with businesses that have a wonderful history, and bringing them forward. It’s a tenureship,’ he explains. ‘It’s our time to look after Fortnum’s as stewards, and keep it going for centuries to come. We’re respectful of its heritage, but it’s also about maintaining relevance.’
Fortnum’s has an intriguing and, at times, surprising history. For example, you may or may not know that it invented the Scotch egg back in 1738, and more recently the black pudding Scotch egg – a typical Fortnum’s twist on a classic. Just like the hampers, says Thompson, the Scotch egg is the perfect travel companion. ‘It’s a great piece of packaging, a luxury ready-meal,’ he laughs. ‘We’re always looking for the next legacy product that will stand the test of time, and we have a wonderful archivist who is a constant source of new ideas.’
You may or may not know that it invented the Scotch egg back in 1738, and more recently the black pudding Scotch egg – a typical Fortnum’s twist on a classic
As well as being the Queen’s official greengrocer’s, where visitors can still pick up their daily pint of milk, Fortnum’s also has an impressive array of dining options, each with a unique personality. There’s The Parlour and the tea salon, which boasts 82 blends and an indulgent afternoon tea, but also The Gallery, which Thompson says is a ‘truly seasonal restaurant, with the wonderful ability to source ingredients from the food hall itself.’ Everything you can eat at The Gallery, you can cook at home with ingredients bought downstairs. ‘We’ll showcase particular produce as it comes into season. We’re first to market with white truffles and gull’s eggs, for example,’ Thompson tells me with pride. ‘We often highlight certain ingredients to celebrate special events in the food calendar.’
The Wine Bar is a ‘well-kept secret’ he adds, with 102 wines to choose from. ‘It’s a little oasis with tapas-style grazing food. As with afternoon tea, it’s about taking the time to indulge,’ he says. ‘We endeavour to deliver a sense of pleasure, to forge unforgettable moments and to leave a lingering impression, and for people to leave with a few of our eau de Nil shopping bags, of course.’
The herb garden on the roof is also a boon to the restaurants. ‘We smoke our own salmon on the roof,’ Thompson tells me. ‘We utilise it to give a home grown facet to our food.’ And that’s not to mention the bees – as well as Piccadilly, Fortnum’s has bee hives in Hoxton and Bermondsey producing sell-out honey, with Somerset House set to be added to the collection this month.
A shopper’s paradise, then – and, of course, there’s plenty to keep the discerning gentleman happy too. ‘The barber shop will be launched in the autumn,’ Thompson points out, ‘Jermyn Street is already a hub for discerning gentlemen. We have Savile Row across the way. So Fortnum’s has a very long tradition of being in the gentleman’s district. We complement that and curate the bits and pieces a gentleman may wish to purchase to match their attire and their suits. There’s wine and spirits, but also clothing. The beautiful thing about Fortnum’s is that there is everything under one roof for the guys as well as for the girls – including immaculate service on the second floor for the man looking for a gift for a lady in his life. It’s absolutely key for a gentleman to feel comfortable whilst shopping on the ladies floor as well.’
So keep your eyes peeled for the next Scotch egg, and if you haven’t already got one, get hold of one of those hampers ready for the highlights of your summer calendar, or simply for an afternoon picnic to remember with loved ones. Glyndebourne and Henley, here we come…
181 Piccadilly W1A 1ER; 020 7734 8040; fortnumandmason.com