So far, summer 2009 has lacked sunshine in every sense. We’ve seen a generous onslaught of rain, we’ve lost the King of Pop and a perfectly coiffed Charlie’s Angel and the sound of someone sneezing on a tube is enough to send swine-flu-dreading commuters scuttling for cover. Our medicinal mood-booster? Ice-cream. Pure and simple. What can be more optimistic, especially in this umbrella-necessitating weather, than sitting down to a towering sundae, drizzled in chocolate sauce, chopped nuts and sugar crystals? Ancient Man used to perform sun dances to banish the clouds; at Smith HQ, we’ll put our faith in the gooey stuff.
In a mission to spirit up some warmth and cheer via several large ice-cream sundaes, I head to Fortnum & Mason’s Parlour Restaurant in Piccadilly, cagoule and brolly in hand. F&M is a British institution and rightly so, having built up a reputation for quality treats over the last 300 years. Many a day’s London browsing has ended with a quick recce in the Food Hall (the lavender- and rose-flavoured chocolate creams are dangerously addictive), but this is my first trip to the shop’s ice-cream-obsessed eatery.
Located on the first floor, the Parlour Restaurant (right) is a bright and airy space, popular with bag-laden shoppers, child-pacifying parents and couples craving a sugar hit. It’s decorated in the style of a ’50s Italian gelateria, with ice-cream-inspired decor in pistachio, vanilla and chocolate shades, scoop-and-sauce murals on the walls, glass lamps stained with a choc-ice effect, and a pretty raspberry-ripple curved bar. Having settled down in a breezy spot by the window (perfect for Piccadilly people-watching) we decide to check the Parlour Restaurant isn’t just a one-trick pony, by beginning with a non ice-cream starter.
I opt for Gresingham duck with quails egg on a herb bap, and my partner in (culinary) crime goes for a smoked chicken open-sandwich with anchovy (below). Both are delicious, washed down with a glass of crisp white Soave. This place may be designed with kids in mind (there’s even a Tots menu) but it’s got more than enough charm to keep adults happy, too. There’s not a cloud on the horizon. (My mood is most certainly on the up.)
Having polished off our baps, we settle down to the serious business of ice-cream selection. Given the menu (a love-letter to the frozen stuff), this is no mean feat. My accomplice goes for a Boozie Fruits cocktail sundae and after umming and aahing over a ginger, honey and vanilla number, I go retro and order a knickerbocker glory. I blame my nostalgic choice on the shop-window display – a tribute to the English seaside, complete with sand castles, a pearl-draped mermaid, a giant fake ice-cream and F&M treats scattered like plundered treasure across the kitsch beach. There’s even a soundtrack of waves and seagulls cawing away in the background. If you can’t make it to the Kent coast this summer, head here instead.
Our ice-creams emerge resplendent in their glass bowls, topped with straw-like conical wafers lined with chocolate and hazelnut praline. I reckon I’ve won – my glory by name, glory by nature comes scattered with sugar crystals and lashings of cream crowned with plump raspberries (right). My mood plummets again when it’s time to leave, so to restore good humour, we wander around the Food Hall, picking up some Gamekeeper’s Relish, beer mustard, chilli jam and marzipan fruits – booty enough to inspire a picnic, were we not already full to the brim with ice-cream.
There are yet more glamorous ways to picnic on F&M goodies this summer, too, when you book in to St James’s Hotel & Club. This stylish and dapper townhouse hotel in Mayfair (think exclusive gentleman’s club with a valuable portraiture collection, Murano chandeliers, decadent boudoirs and polished stone bathrooms) has developed three picnic packages bursting with tasty F&M treats that can be delivered directly to your preferred picnic spot – choose from nearby St James’s, Green or Hyde Park.
There’s nothing lowly about even the most basic package (catered for two), which includes overnight b&b, plus an alfresco feast of olives, ham or pork rillettes with crusty bread, poached salmon or chicken, mozzarella and tomato pie, salad, strawberries and mint, and a bottle of viognier (right), stylishly presented in a F&M cool bag with cutlery (£265). Pick of the ‘nics is the gourmet hamper package, including beef carpaccio, Scottish lobster, Blanc de Blanc champagne and a bottle of Chablis Premier Cru, delivered in a wicker basket with glasses, plates and cutlery.
And if the sun does refuse to shine, you can always enjoy your picnic hamper in the comfort of your luxurious, silk-wallpapered room back at St James’s Hotel & Club. Now if only the bods at F&M could think up a way of including an ice-cream sundae or two into those hampers, summer 2009 really would be la dolce vita…