1707 at Fortnum & Mason

Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 9040
Address: 181 Piccadilly, W1A 1ER
Cuisine Type: Modern European
Website: www.fortnumandmason.com
nearest tube station Piccadilly Circus, Green Park

What springs to mind when you hear the name Fortnum & Mason? Elegance, 18th century delicacy, the epitome of Englishness? Probably not David Collins’ brutalist ’70s style, all cream and brown, hotel-bathroom textured marble and hard angles. One can only assume that in choosing this style for its new basement wine bar the management is trying to get away from the traditional – so it’s curious that they’ve chosen to call it 1707, after the year the famous shop was established.

The service is also not quite what one would expect: having waited a good ten minutes for a bottle of champagne, we were presented with two glasses instead, and when we pointed out that in fact a bottle had been ordered, the staff seemed strangely flustered at the thought that two ladies might drink a whole bottle. When it finally arrived however, it was perfectly chilled and my companion – much more of a connoisseur than I can claim to be – declared it good value at £38.50 (Fortnum & Mason Vintage Reserve, 1999).

You don’t have to go to quite that price for a drink, though – there is a classy wine list (as one would expect) with most wines available by the glass or bottle, ranging from £5.25 to £13 per glass.

The food is tempting, mostly light dishes perfect for sharing. We tried the warm spinach and ricotta tart with autumn salads and walnut dressing (£8) – the former good if a little bland, the latter excellent with the walnut flavour coming through strongly. Smoked eel (£12) was a severe disappointment, however. I was expecting wafer-thin, translucent slices of this rich fish, but what was presented was a thick chunk of unfilletted eel. It was inedible, though the accompanying brandade and light horseradish cream were delicious. Our third dish was the highlight: a plate of charcuterie (£11), consisting of San Daniele ham (good), olive, tomato and parsley salad on toasted ciabatta (ditto) and white truffle salami (sublime). In fact the salami was so good – as thin as the eel should have been, wonderfully moist, and fragrant with truffle – that it made up for every other whinge.

Other dishes on the short menu include game pie with wild mushroom salad (£10), caviare at eye-watering prices and six “native” oysters for a surprisingly reasonable £9.

I suspect that 1707 is busier at lunch – we did choose a slightly strange hour to visit, about 5.30, which might explain the lack of atmosphere. But that harsh decor certainly didn’t help.

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