BY ROYAL APPOINTMENT
Rob Dunlop follows in the footsteps of their highnesses for a gilt-edged London shopping spree
THE Queen’s grocer, Fortnum & Mason, has just turned 300. It has been serving the royal family for almost 150 years. Although that history is hardly a secret, details of exactly what tantalises the Queen’s tastebuds are less well known.
Holders of royal warrants — official suppliers to the royal family — must keep tight-lipped about the exact goods and services provided. Otherwise they forfeit the prestige of being able to display royal insignia on buildings, packaging and stationery.
Royal warrants are issued by three members of the royal family — the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales — for recognition of quality goods and services that tickle their fancy.
But it’s not about freebies; money changes hands in a strict commercial arrangement between the parties. There are about 1000 holders of royal warrants today; here are six of London’s tastiest.
Fortnum & Mason
Prince Charles and the Queen partake of the goodies in this posh grocery store in Piccadilly, which has celebrated its tercentenary with a $55 million facelift. Famous for its extravagant picnic hampers, sought after by high-end customers since the Victorian era, it’s more than a grocery store. On the upper floors you can even buy an umbrella and other accessories that might make a day out at Ascot more comfortable.
Word is that this is the royals’ favourite food hall, so head to its wine bar, 1707, for a plate of smoked wild salmon with a glass of Australia’s Merricks Creek Pinot Noir 2004. While there, ponder the beautifully arranged foods, guessing which ones might tempt the royal customers. Where: 181 Piccadilly, Westminster. Open: Monday-Saturday, 10am-8pm, Sunday, noon-6pm; www.fortnumandmason.com.
Paxton & Whitfield
This cheesemonger evolved from a stall operating at Aldwych Market in 1742. Queen Victoria was the first long-term royal customer and today the Queen and Prince Charles indulge in its sumptuous artisan cheeses. Specialising in the best products from England and continental Europe, the gorgeous offerings include Tunworth, a rich, creamy, white cheese with a nutty flavour from a small farm in Hampshire, and the floral-toned Machecoulais from the Vendee region of western France.
Buy some organic chestnut crackers with your cheese choices and head to a nearby royal playground, St James’s Park or Green Park, for an indulgent treat. Where: 93 Jermyn St, Westminster. Open: Monday-Saturday, 9.30am-6pm; www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk.
Berry Bros & Rudd
This is Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant; it set up shop outside St James’s Palace in 1698, which is where king George III discovered the shop when he was in residence in 1760. Today, the Queen and Prince Charles continue the tradition.
Remarkably, 10 generations on, the shop is still family-owned. Stepping into this wine emporium is like entering a museum. The vaulted Georgian cellars hold about 20,000 bottles of wine, with prices from $10 to $50,000. The most popular is the Good Ordinary Claret at $12 a pop.
You can also pick up a bottle of King’s Ginger Liqueur ($35), which was specially created for Edward VII.
Berry Bros & Rudd has been called the best wine shop in the world, and could quite possibly be the oldest. Where: 3 St James’s St, Westminster. Open: Monday-Friday, 10am-6pm, Saturday, 10am-5pm; www.bbr.com.
Charbonnel et Walker
This chocolatier has been making delectable treats by hand since 1875. The temptations displayed in the historic shopfront are too beautiful to resist and include truffles, chocolate bars, coated nuts, drinking chocolate, sauces and more.
Violet and rose cream fondants are infused with essential oils of rose and violet and garnished with crystallised petals; pink champagne truffles offer a yummy pairing of wild
Posh nosh: Food fit for a queen at Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly, main picture; Paxton & Whitfield supplies the royals with fine British and continental cheeses strawberries and marc de champagne. Although the offerings are lush, the legend here surrounds the silky smooth plain chocolate made with the finest couverture. But then there are the theatre treats, resembling little hat boxes. Available in four sizes and filled to the brim with luxury handmade chocolates, this is memorabilia worth savouring.
Where: 1 The Royal Arcade, 28 Old Bond St, Mayfair.
Open: Monday-Saturday, www.charbonnel.co.uk.
Queen Victoria began the affair with this company during the 1830s, when tea drinking was at the height of fashion. Every monarch since has continued the tradition. During the same period, the then British prime minister, Earl Grey, received a distinctively flavoured tea as a diplomatic gift from abroad and commissioned the tea house to re-create it. Twinings delivered a blend infused with the aromatic peel of the bergamot orange, and so the delicious Earl Grey tea was born.
The shop, with its grand entrance, is one of the oldest in Westminster, in operation since 1717. It stocks a wide variety of teas and collectables such as cups and teapots, and teatime accompaniments such as biscuits, cakes and chocolates. A small museum showcases the history and flavours of tea. Where: 216 The Strand, Westminster. Open: Monday-Friday, 9.30am-4.30pm; www.twinings.co.uk.
Carluccio’s Caffe Market Place
Guess what? Prince Charles is a truffles man. He also has strict sustainable environmental policies to which his official suppliers must adhere. And just to prove he’s not a fuddyduddy, the prince has embraced a very 21stcentury tradition: the celebrity chef-run food joint, namely Carluccio’s.
This chain of Italian food cafes and delis, owned by television food presenter Antonio Carluccio, serves delicious authentic Italian cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The penne giardiniera is a spiced-up dish of Pugliese penne with zucchini and deep-fried spinach balls, combined with chilli, parmesan and garlic.
But would the prince go for the subtle pungency of black summer truffles or the sweet white chocolate truffles in a jar? Sorry, Carluccio won’t reveal. Where: 8 Market Place, Westminster. Open: Monday-Friday, 7.30am-11pm, Saturday, 10am-11pm, Sunday, 9am-10.30pm; www.carluccios.com.