Friday, October 15, 2010

Food Hall, Glorious Food Hall

I’m am about to attempt to describe to you a couple of the various and amazing food halls London has to offer.  It’s hard to do though.  I really have nothing to compare them to.  The best assimilation is an amped-up Super Target or something, except that’s quite possibly the biggest insult I could make to the food halls.  Maybe it’s because I’m from a small country town that I have yet to see things like this in the U.S., but regardless, even if they do exist at home, the food halls here are very much part of the glitzy London food culture.

Essentially they are grocery stores inside of high-end and, in some cases, one-of-a-kind department stores.  But you can’t label them as grocery stores either.  Walking into a food hall, after browsing couture dresses and designer handbags on the floor above, is an experience that immediately causes you to stop and lazily meander around with eyes wide open and your tongue lolling out of your mouth in a very Homer Simpson-esque way.  They are, in short, absolute spectacles that could take hours upon hours to explore.  Encompassing vast amounts of space and themed rooms, they glorify food of all types as well as the whole restaurant and food service experience.  I will say, however that they are highly overpriced and I could probably find just as good of quality products at the local grocery store.  But to be fair, they definitely have unique items, and even though I didn’t buy much during my visits, the walkthrough was still absolutely gratifying.

Sadly, however, my pictures are limited.  A few of the places actually prohibit photography and also, I would feel like such a silly tourist snapping away.  Plus, no photo could possibly capture the feelings I experienced in these places.  They would lack the glitter of the lights and the reflections coming from thousands of shining food wrappers and tins.  They would not encompass the vastness of the rooms or bring about any sense of the smells or the feel of the packages in my hands.  Feel free to Google image, but first just try to let my words suffice.

So without further ado, I present, the food halls of Harrods, and, Fortnum & Mason, two of London’s most prestigious stores.  They are many others i.e. Selfridge’s, Marks & Spencer, and Harvey Nichols, but the forthcoming two are simply the best.

Harrods is one and only and the most famous of shops in all of London.  In terms of iconic, it’s up there with Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Harrods has a very valued reputation and their food halls reflect this.  This is where I walked in, and felt as if the room had suddenly turned into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.  This is the place where people huddle in little groups, excitedly squealing in delight and pointing at the beauteous objects to behold.  The ceilings are vast and the room’s decorations are whimsical yet old-fashioned with ornate, descending pillars, carved, wooden ceilings, and golden accents.  My favorite area was the patisserie, which further pulled me into my constant daydream where I become a famous pastry chef.  Perched in the display case were the most amazing works of edible art: éclairs with stripes of neon yellow and purple frosting, tiramisus constructed inside delicate chocolate bowls, slabs of crumbly fudge as big as my hands, and cupcakes with pristine, voluminous swirls.  I couldn’t resist from snatching a massive apple and cinnamon whoopee pie either, and I proudly carried it around with me for the rest of the day.  But this was just the start, and from this room, stemmed so many more.  Cheese rooms, meat rooms, international cuisine rooms with a mile-long displays of pre-prepared delicacies, and rooms with more teas and coffees than I could comprehend.  The bakery was also extraordinary.  All items were house made and the rows of breads, Chelsea buns, almond croissants, and danishes sent a heavenly buttery scent into the air, stimulating a steady flow of drool from my mouth. I left Harrods in a daze, disliking it only for its rather touristy nature and horrendous prices, but knowing that it was an experience I couldn’t miss.

And then, Fortnum and Mason.  This place is the most regal and admittedly pretentious of the food halls.  I felt underdressed and underage.  All around me were proper ladies and gentleman, speaking fancy words about fine tea and chocolates.  And all I wanted to do was run around and pick up all the elegant packages, much to the disliking of the salespeople.  Yet, I still really liked the place.  It’s decorated in a very majestic fashion with dark wooden furnishings, crystal chandeliers, and massive white and silver spiral staircases in the middle of the room.  The food halls have looming shelves of quality jams and honeys, a rainbow of sparkling biscuit tins, and golden vaults filled with coffee beans.  I ogled over endless arrays of tea sets and envied those sitting in the posh tearoom, the 50’s style ice-ream parlour, or the restaurant, where I heard a beautiful sound of violin music mingling with the clicking of china and silver. I walked out with an overly priced box of mocha biscuits (which are wonderful, by the way) but not feeling too guilty.  Like Harrods, there is only one Fortnum and Mason and their foods are specially made in England, only for them. 

The food halls are so spectacular because they take you back to childhood.  The towers of goods on shelves three times human height, the rooms filled with jars of retro sweets, the endless varieties of products that keep your eyes in constant swiveling stimulation, and, at this time of year, the loads of Christmas foods and decorations are just some of the factors that do this.  But regardless of the factors, I’m so happy these places are here for my viewing pleasure and I will miss them sorely.  In a way, they play the same role for me as Tiffany’s does for Holly Golightly.  And as amazing as I think it would be to be one of those people who actually do their grocery shopping there, I am perfectly put at ease by walking and staring in the magical food halls of London.

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