London institution has opened its first store outside the UK
London institution Fortnum & Mason has opened its first store outside the UK. Penelope Walsh takes a tour.
Fortnum & Mason is one of London’s most famous department stores for luxury food items and that quintessentially English affair of afternoon tea. It is also one of the world’s oldest, having first opened its doors in Piccadilly, London in 1707. Now, this institution has come to our shores, and the opening of an outlet in the emirate marks its very first store outside of the UK.
Like the original, it’s a multi-level shrine to luxury food, with both dining and retail areas, located in an iconic central location (in this instance, under the watchful eye of the Burj Khalifa).
While the store has long enjoyed royal patronage in the UK (holding two royal warrants, one from the Queen and one from the Prince of Wales), Jonathan Knight, CEO of Al Khayyat Investments Retail Division, which brought the franchise to Dubai, explains the origins of the store have a royal link. ‘Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason worked within the royal courts in the Georgian era. It all started from making candles. Queen Anne would never allow a candle to be lit more than once. So of an evening, the candle would be extinguished, and they were just getting thrown away. Mr Fortnum then collected all the candles and reshaped them. He soon found there was quite a lucrative opportunity to resell them.’
From this canny bit of recycling, a candle shop opened in Piccadilly, which later expanded into selling groceries. The Piccadilly department store was the only Fortnum & Mason until November 2013 and the launch of a small store and dining space in London’s St Pancras train station. So how did the new store come about? ‘We started talking with Fortnum’s in May last year. We were looking for new brands that would work well in this market (we have about 11 franchise brands currently in our portfolio). They are a big family business, owned by the Weston family,’ Jonathon tells us. ‘Fortnum & Mason already has a fabulous awareness here among Emirati nationals who holiday in London. We’ve seen a lot of transactions in hampers, so people from Dubai were going to the trouble of shipping hampers all the way over here.’
Set in a standalone retail space outside The Dubai Mall and facing The Dubai Fountains (you can locate it by looking out for the huge teapot-shaped topiary outside), the new store occupies three levels, each with a different concept from the original Fortnum & Mason store in London. On the ground level, you’ll find the retail space, selling a selection of products made especially for Fortnum & Mason, from traditional English jams and condiments (from piccalilli to lemon curd), to a selection of fine teas from around the world.
There is also a small room dedicated to a range of candles, as a nod to Fortnum & Mason’s origins. Upstairs on the first floor is the tea salon, with a terrace directly opposite the Burj Khalifa, serving breakfast, afternoon tea and high tea. High tea (as opposed to afternoon tea), Jonathon explains is served later, and offers a selection of hot savoury dishes, instead of finger sandwiches.
‘We’ve tried to recreate the tea salon in London, with the same type of furnishings, carpet, ambience and marble. The beautiful counter is made from tiles, hand-made and shipped over from the UK. There is great workmanship in the UAE, and a lot of the joinery and so on has been done here. But we felt the heritage of the brand had to shine through. This is the first standalone store outside the UK, so trust had to be built up and we were adamant that whatever had to be brought over to maintain the heritage of the brand, we would do,’ says Jonathon. Examples of this, he explains, include the staff uniform (‘the traditional house coat’) and training (‘all done by the UK’).
He reveals: ‘All of the design was done by Fortnum’s UK-based design agency and the menus are an edit of what you would expect to find in the London store. This is a restaurant made for you to be able to experience tea and take your time. Upstairs, we’ve got the ice-cream parlour, which is going to be extremely child and family-friendly.’
Here, the Englishness continues with fun and colourful pastel illustrations on the walls of English kings and even the lion and the unicorn (the traditional symbols of the union between England and Scotland) enjoying an ice-cream sundae. While the ice-cream is made on site at the store, the ingredients, we’re told, will all be brought in from the UK. ‘The ice-cream is English,’ Jonathon emphasises, ‘that is the ingredients and the way we churn it. English ice-cream is churned much more than say, a gelato, so you get a much, much richer ice-cream.
Very creamy. Beautiful.’ Fortnum & Mason, next to The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 388 2627).
Lap of luxury: fine English fare in Dubai
Prestat Chocolates This luxury confectionary boutique may have been opened by Frenchman Antoine Dufour, but it boasts a royal warrant, and has been operating in London for more than 100 years, since at least 1902. Prestat claim involvement in the invention of the chocolate truffle (thought to have been first created by Dufour’s brother) and is best known for this element of its confectionary selection. Lafayette Gourmet, The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 440 4050).
Whittard’s of Chelsea First launched in fact on London’s Fleet Street, Whittard’s of Chelsea has been specialising in a selection of fine tea and coffee (and all the attractive accessories needed to prepare this at home) since 1886. Festival City Centre, Festival City (04 232 9383).