Stylishly (but not too stylish) revamped by leading designer David Collins, the buttery of F&M is one of the most genuinely ‘London’ of all institutions; the key points of its traditional appeal – straightforward dishes, solid cooking, and friendly service – have survived the relaunch surprisingly well; it anything, it now seems more popular as a lunch venue than it ever was.
It’s easy to get misty-eyed about how shops used to be – anyone remember the Harrods subscription library? – but it’s difficult to be too critical of Fortnum & Mason’s proprietors, who have recently lavished a fortune on turning it into an only slightly shinier version of what it always used to be. Some say the place has lost its former charm – we suspect, however, that in a few years people will think it’s looked like it now looks for the past three centuries. Well, not exactly, but you know what we mean.
This old-and-new synthesis is nowhere more in evidence than in the famous Fountain. With its own entrance from Jermyn Street, this semi-detached ‘buttery’ – though this archaic term is no longer officially used, it still seems appropriate here – has always had a bit of a reputation as a comfortable and relatively reasonably-priced rendezvous in a mega-handy location.
The Fountain’s recent wash and brush up at the hands of arch-restaurant designer David Collins has done nothing to diminish this appeal, and the place seems as busy as ever. On the food front, this is less a snack destination than it used to be but the fare is still English and comforting. Our lunch included the likes of ham hock terrine, fish soup fish cakes and some very good chips. Everything was of a consistently high standard. Bread and coffee were also very satisfactory.
Service is no longer by English matrons, but the young East Europeans who’ve replaced them have an unaffected desire to please – all part of an experience which, if hardly haute cuisine, is difficult to fault.