Review: Afternoon tea at St James Restaurant, Fortnum and Mason

Pink champagne just out of shot.

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.

Gluten free scones available - how modern.

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?

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