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Battle of the food halls: Harrods vs Fortnum’s.

by Andrea on September 15, 2010

Fortnum and Mason is famous for its hampers - but is it better overall than Harrods?

I’m always amused by the way we use binary questions to try to define people.  Britney or Madonna?  HP sauce or tomato ketchup?  Paris or LondonTravelodge or Premier Inn?  Chelsea or Arsenal?

So I naturally also have to ask: Fortnum and Mason or Harrods?  We’ve already mentioned both in our shortlist of London’s best department stores.  But which one is better in the food department?

Let’s look first at what Fortnum’s has on the plus side.  It’s a store that started with food and has a strong tradition of creating its own preserves, biscuits, teas and coffees.  It’s famous too for its fabulous hampers.

I particularly like its range of marmalades, including some very dark and quite bitter blends – far from the sugary bright orange confections on sale in most supermarkets.  Stem ginger shortbread and ‘rose biscuits’ are a pretty convincing reason to spend a bit of money on yourself.

Fortnum also does British food really well – English mustard, great cheese, etc.  And if you have a sweet tooth, its ice cream parlour serves sundaes with a twist: with some unusual flavour blends including the famous “Beekeeper” for example – one of the best ice creams in London.

I love the "beekeeper sundae" at Fortnum and Mason which is one of London's most famous ice cream sundaes (image credit below)

For serious cooks, there’s a whole area given over to cooking equipment and cookbooks as well.  On the downside, the staff can occasionally be a bit distant and nothing you get in Fortnum’s is ever going to be cheap.

So what about Harrods then?  Hot spots include the paper-thin carved Iberico ham and the sheer range of food.  Apparently you can actually buy HP sauce here, though I don’t know why you would want to.  From patisserie to steak, from chocolate to cheese, it really has it all.  The presentation is also incredible – there are even sculptures made out of fish!

Shopping at Harrods is a theatrical experience – not least due to the prices!  You can see wagyu beef that costs £89 a kilo, caviar, oysters, and £1,000 wines.  You can spend nearly twenty quid on a sandwich!

Want to spend nearly £100 on a gourmet burger? Harrods is the right place to do so! (Image credit below)

In terms of gifts, Turkish delight and chocolate score quite highly at Harrods.  There’s also a very fine gelato stand – probably your best bet for titillating the taste buds if you’re popping in mid-afternoon.

What factors are against Harrods?  It’s often suffocatingly busy and has some occasionally heavy-handed security guys.

I think the choice between London’s two heavyweight food halls ultimately comes down to what you want to experience and buy.

If you go to Harrods, you’ll see foodie bling – caviar, oysters, the lot.  If you go to Fortnum’s, the atmosphere is more of reticence and understatement and it’s definitely got a British rather than global feel.

If you’re visiting London and love food, you should probably visit both.  It’s an experience – even if you don’t buy anything!  But if you twisted my arm, Fortnum’s probably wins for stocking the products I really love to buy.

Mind you, I did ask a foodie chum ‘Harrods or Fortnum’s?’ while I was writing this post.  His answer? ‘Oh, I always shop in Selfridges’!

A top hotel near Harrods:  the impeccable Egerton House, currently one of the top 3 London hotels on TripAdvisor.  Do try one of Antonio’s martinis.

Book direct with the Egerton House Hotel at the best guaranteed rate

The Stafford is a great hotel for unwinding with a good glass of wine after a long day spent in the foodie's paradise at Fortnum and Mason!

A top hotel near Fortnum and Mason: the wine-lover’s favourite London hotel, the Stafford London – just a short walk from Fortnum’s.

Check the best rate for The Stafford from 30+ hotel booking sites

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Photo credits: Stafford London hotel (Kempinski), Fortnum and Mason, gruntzooki’s photostream, milchpuder’s photostream.

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