45 Jermyn Street. The Fountain Room gets a facelift.
I once bunked off a school outing to that London. We were meant to be seeing the Treasures of Tutankhamun at the British Museum. My partner-in-crime Jacques, so much more sophisticated, not to mention three years older, took one look at the snaking queue and suggested hot chocolate and an ice-cream sundae at Fortnums. I’d never been and it sounded unbelievably glamorous to my provincial ears. I was 13.
He hailed us a cab (so grown-up! so exciting!) and we were transported to the warm fug of the Fountain Room, where it was love at first sight. Sat at the counter, tucking into a Knickerbocker Glory, a whole new world opened up, right there and then. I suspect that it was this particular outing, its frisson of insubordination making everything taste so much better, which triggered my northern-girl love affair with the Big Smoke, a love which has continued undimmed to this day.
The Fountain Room was a place I returned to many times, most recently for business breakfasts and whilst it wasn’t particularly fashionable, I think it’s fair to say that they did the best boiled eggs and soldiers in town, duck-egg blue, to match the decor, served with a long-handled teaspoon, so much better than your standard stubby one. Trust me on this. You can buy them here.
But as much as I liked its unreconstructed and unfashionable vibe, the Fountain Room was really quite tired and in need of a makeover. Someone else thought so too.
The current incarnation is certainly a bold departure from the Fountain Room of old. It has had the Zellweger of all makeovers. It’s unrecognisable. It’s now a “proper” restaurant, rather than a posh caff for ladies who lunch, up from the Home Counties. In naming it 45 Jermyn Street I imagine there was a desire to mark it out as a separate venture from F & M, as a restaurant in its own right, although liberal use of that distinctive Fortnum’s blue-green in the decor anchors you quite firmly to the mothership.
Because I know you like to know, I am dining with bankers, S and G. Not Steve and Gerrard again, (see here), but other delightful chaps who lend money on property developments.
Yes, I really am a lawyer, foodperson who asked me recently in Noble Rot. As if anyone would pretend to be a property lawyer, just for the craic.
My clients are both fairly food-forward which is fortunate and they are not fazed when I take out my iphone to photograph their lunch.
We are here for no reason in particular so we need a bottle of wine. A very helpful sommelier chooses us a very reasonable Riesling and offers me a taste before I commit. A chatty waiter gives one of our party some holiday tips. The staff are polished and friendly.
The menu looks promising and I order Grilled Bones with Parmesan and Parsley Salt, which has something of the St John about it, description-wise. In presentation it is also rather nose-to-tail, comprising three marrow bones sitting on a circle of greaseproof paper, on a wooden tray, oiliness seeping out. This causes one to realise, in case one did not already, exactly how much actual fat there is in a hunk of limpid, gelatinous marrow. I would ditch the paper.
Served with a small mound of light-as-air grated Parmesan and a smattering of the bright green parsley salt, it presents a minimalist invitation to treat. I do like it, in its uncompromising simplicity.
Späetzle with Dorset Blue Lobster and Sea Aster comes in two sizes, at £14 and £21.50 respectively. I choose the starter size for my main, because we are at that break point in the wardrobe cycle.
The späetzle, little pasta twists, come in a slightly gloopy sauce and if there is but a single tablespoon of lobster in that portion, I would be surprised. It is not sufficiently warm and is claggy. I suspect that it would be better as a side dish. The sea aster sprinkled over the top adds little as the rest of it is too heavy and the delicate flavour of the aster is all but lost.
Others ordered Calf’s Liver, with Bacon and Bubble ‘n’ Squeak and Launceston Lamb, Pan Haggerty and Salsa Verde. The liver comes piled high, interspersed with rashers of bacon. Lamb comes in generous rounds and the Pan Haggerty (potatoes, onion and cheese) is served in a perfect brick. Chips are lukewarm. There seems to be a tendency towards the tepid.
I am not really in the market for dessert but by pretending to consider ordering, I trap my colleague into choosing the bang-on-food-trend Pistachio Cake with Orange and Mascarpone Ice Cream. It is crumbly, fridge-cold and too dry. It does not taste freshly-made.
The Summing Up: Fortnum’s the brand has been given a massive makeover and it was inevitable that the frumpy, fusty Fountain Room would also be swept up and packaged into something approaching a modern restaurant. With a menu designed not to scare off its traditional client base, whilst also attracting some younger blood, it seems to have fallen between two stools; a little racy for the shire dwellers and a little staid for the townies.
That wouldn’t matter so much if the food was top-notch, but whilst the menu looks solid, the cooking doesn’t quite deliver the goods and there is little here to set it apart from its immediate competitors. I really liked the room (glamorous, comfortable) and I loved the bar (so grown up! such good cocktails! a USB plug! ) and I would very happily come back for drinks, but the food isn’t quite enough of a draw to make me want to return for that alone, although they do still have that Knickerbocker Glory on the menu, so I might be persuaded. Jacques? Are you with me?