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The hospitality, theatre, art and entertainment industries that are heavily reliant on tourism have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. As many restaurants reopen with a new duty to ensure the safety of staff and guests, I was excited to experience Afternoon Tea at Fortnum & Mason in London’s Piccadilly. Established in 1707, this iconic brand is internationally renowned for its stunning selection of teas, food and china. Upon arrival, I noticed that staff wore masks at all times and were even required to get their temperature checked with a thermal imaging camera before starting work.
The famous Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon was perched on the top floor boasting 82 different types of tea.
Arrival times were staggered for different bookings to prevent crowds in the reception area.
Tables were socially distanced from one another in the light-filled room and thoroughly cleaned with sanitiser between each use.
The live pianist played stunning tunes and set the tone for a relaxing evening of self-indulgence.
I opted for the classic Afternoon Tea, presented on fine china and beautiful silverware.
Placing my order, I felt safe knowing that menus would either be quarantined for 24 hours or disposed of.
The food tasted very fresh, particularly the salmon, which was produced in Fortnum’s smokery on the roof.
It also houses an allotment that grows herbs and vegetables to use in the restaurant and four working bee hives that produce delicious honey to sell in-store.
We sampled food from the savoury Afternoon Tea menu where traditional tea cakes had been replaced with mini portions of apple and pork sausage roll, duck mousse with rhubarb glaze, wild mushroom and truffle pâté, rabbit ballotine with pickled carrot and devilled eggs with caviar.
The coronation chicken, a twist on Rosemary Hume’s recipe minus the raisins, was utterly divine.
High Tea offered more substantial dishes like the famous classic scotch egg with piccalilli, invented by Fornum’s in 1738.
The Sparkling Tea served chilled in a champagne flute, blended from a fine selection of organic black, white and green teas, was surprisingly good.
Bottled together with organic grapes, the natural sweetness complements and enhances the flavours of the tea. Organic lemon juice is also added to give acidity and citrus character.
The freshly baked scones with lemon curd, cream and jam were perfection.
The afternoon kept getting better and better, as the cake trolley featured double fudge cake, lemon drizzle (a little too sweet for me) and Victoria sponge, which I took away in a doggy bag.
It was also nice knowing that everything was available to purchase from the store downstairs in case I wanted even more.
But how will Boris Johnson’s new laws prohibiting social gatherings of more than six people, which came into effect on Monday 14 September, impact the West End?
Fortnum & Mason is currently offering a 2-4-1 offer throughout September to encourage customers to return after lockdown.
More than 83,000 businesses signed up to The Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which ran each Monday to Wednesday in August offering Britons discounted food at restaurants, cafes and pubs, supported by taxpayers.
Simon Thompson, the Retail and Hospitality Director, of Fortnum and Mason and 45 Jermyn Street, said there had been “positive spending.”
“People have been seizing the moment and have enjoyed getting back into restaurants. The extension of terraces and pavements as well as the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme have all been a great success and have increased the number of people eating out. However, the road restrictions, parking and congestion charges are limiting people’s appetite, making it a harder experience for those commuting into the West End.”
“One of the key challenges being faced within the restaurant sector is the return of people back to traditional (and safe) working life. This includes meetings, lunches and events. Additionally, footfall within key institutions such as the Royal Academy is seeing a reduction in visitor numbers which overall affects area footfall. The difficulty will be trying to incentivise West End travel and spending and finding ways to encourage people to return to normal life to increase capacity.”
So how can restaurants get people to return into the West End?
Well, for starters, implementing robust health and safety measures while offering a high standard of service, and an incredible menu.
And this was served up in measures at 45 Jermyn Street, located next door to Fortnum & Mason.
As I walked through the revolving doors of one of the most exclusive restaurants in London, I was immediately greeted by a smartly dressed maître d’hôtel wearing a face mask.
The venue is the epitome of old-school glamour mixed with contemporary with an art deco interior, red leather booths and dim lighting.
All of the staff wore PPE, tables were more than two metres apart and the menus would be quarantined for up to three days.
To begin with, I selected the Raw Cornish Mackerel and Caviar Taco, which were soft and melted in my mouth. I was in heaven, so of course, quickly ordered another portion.
The star of the evening was the Beef Wellington, sourced from the award-winning Glenarm Castle Organic Farm in Northern Ireland, and served with dauphinoise potatoes and green beans.
The peppercorn sauce, which is flambéd at the table, is a welcome spectacle.
Expect all eyes on you as guests at nearby tables crane their necks to get a piece of the action.
This theatrical display made the evening even more special and was worth the hour wait, slightly longer if you prefer it medium.
The Beef Wellington was remarkable, I had never tasted anything like it before.
Despite being quite full at this point, I savoured every bite.
Spoilt for choice, I selected homemade chocolates and sorbet for dessert.
All the treats were freshly made before being served.
Overall, I felt safe eating at both restaurants and would happily venture back into the West End to dine out.
However, only time will tell how the public responds.
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