Fortnum & Mason Hopes Bygone Era Can Feed Glamorous Future
Fortnum & Mason, the posh London department store that traces its history to 1707, has closed its Fountain brasserie after 60 years and plans to replace it with a destination restaurant oozing the old-fashioned glamour of a bygone age.
The new 45 Jermyn St. will be open from 7 a.m. until late and will accommodate as many as 113 guests at tables, booths and a long bar. The menu will move through breakfast options such as buttermilk pancakes through Dover sole and other traditional dishes, to modern options such as vegetable carpaccio with tarragon salsa verde. There will also be a late-night supper menu.
“To be a great destination restaurant, to feed a metropolitan crowd with cosmopolitan tastes, you’ve got to be able to cater to everybody,” said director Simon Thompson, previously of Alfred Dunhill and Caprice Holdings. “There has to be great hospitality, with professionalism and warmth.”
The Fountain was the ultimate dining destination when it opened in 1955. Guests from London and beyond converged to try the Knickerbocker glories and other sundaes from the first soda fountain in the U.K. It was the creation of Garfield Weston, the Canadian businessman who acquired Fortnum & Mason in 1951.
“It’s not an easy conversation to go to the grandchildren of Garfield Weston, the guy who bought that site, put the restaurant into the site, named the restaurant, bought the soda fountain and say, ‘Let’s change the name and start again,’ ” Thompson said. “But it was an instant unanimous yes.”
The new restaurant is scheduled to open in late October. Head chef Lee Streeton formerly worked at Brown’s Hotel, Daphne’s, Le Caprice and The Savoy. The designs are by Martin Brudnizki, whose projects include the Ivy in London and Soho Beach House in Miami.
It will feature burnt-orange leather banquettes in the center, booths set against the front and back walls and a marble-fronted bar serving both classic and innovative cocktails. Thompson said there will be a focus on wine, with moderate prices that reflect Fortnum’s buying power and international connections.
The man behind the project is Ewan Venters, who took over three years ago as chief executive at Fortnum & Mason, which is known as the Queen’s grocer. He came to prominence on the food scene in his former job as director of restaurants at Selfridges & Co.
It was Venters who persuaded chef Pierre Koffmann to come out of retirement in 2009 and open a temporary restaurant on the roof of that Oxford Street department store. That pop-up was supposed to last a few days but was extended three times after Selfridges said it received 10,000 calls and 8,000 e-mails seeking tables.
“Simon and I have been working on 45 Jermyn St. for three years,” Venters said. “We are creating a destination in its own right. And the beauty of it is that it is one of the great restaurant locations in the West End. It’s a corner site on one of the most famous streets in London.
“The London restaurant scene has seen a lot of openings where everything has been pared back. There is a really interesting opportunity for 45 Jermyn St. to do the antithesis of that: Not stuffy, not overtly formal, but bringing back glamour.”
Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines.