OK, there wasn’t just tea, I admit it. There were four of us celebrating the end of a major project, and there was pink champagne. It didn’t start well – we were half an hour late for a 5.30pm booking, and they had given away our table. We were determinedly unfazed and ordered champagne from the second class sofas, and I think our exuberance melted the steely demeanour of the front woman. She granted that she had found us a table, in a part of the restaurant with perhaps a dozen empty tables. I’m glad we persevered rather than turning tail on principle, as I might have done had I been on my own. What saved it, apart from our determination to Have a Good Time, was that there was a delightful waiter with trademark Fortnum mint green tie (traditional) and perky gelled hair (maybe less so), who decided to adopt us and coddle us a bit.
And I take some coddling, as I can’t in general eat afternoon teas. All fruit and no dairy or gluten makes Caroline a dull girl, as they say. No problem. He brought out a gluten free menu, and a dairy free menu. We had a little to-ing and fro-ing trying to interpolate between the two, but upshot was the first afternoon tea I have ever eaten without disastrous consequences. I had scones. I had sandwiches. They weren’t perfect, but they existed, which is unspeakably better than I had expected. And they didn’t throw us out when we overstayed our welcome.
So, although the welcome was less than effusive, I will be back for afternoon tea. I might choose to take it in one of F&M’s four other venues – the St James being the ‘most famous’ and ‘formal’ of its places to eat. After all, one can’t imagine that the others are exactly downmarket, can one?