Several of London's high-end department stores are home to world-class food halls.
In England's thriving capital gastronomes can browse among caviar and truffles to their heart's content. One of the smaller food halls in the city is on the ground floor of Selfridges & Co., on busy Oxford Street.
Here you can find unusual groceries alongside a handful of great places to eat, including a traditional London pie shop, an outlet selling English bangers (sausages), and an Italian gelateria. For a more traditional experience, head to Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly, where old-fashioned curiosities, such as vintage marmalades, rose and violet creams, mustard recipes dating back to the Tudors and relishes like piccalilli and pickled walnuts are stacked high — and have been for over 300 years, since the founding of the store in 1707. Perhaps the most opulent of all is the sprawling series of halls, each the size of a ballroom, at Harrods, Knightsbridge.
Built in 1902, the halls retain many of their original features. Look out for the display of fresh seafood next to the oyster bar, where the fish is presented in blocks of color, much like an artist's palette; and don't miss the cavernous room full of tempting artisanal chocolates.
It is all about choice — where else can you find 15 different kinds of butter? Don't be shy to ask to sample a sliver of cheese or charcuterie before choosing one of the hundreds on offer, and make sure you take plenty of time to explore what must be one of the greatest temples to food in the world.
When to go: These stores become crowded just before Christmas and during the January sales. Food halls, bars and restaurants may operate different opening times to the rest of the store. Check websites for details.
Planning: You cannot eat your purchases in-store; if you get hungry, visit one of the restaurants. You can dress casually, but these stores may not admit customers carrying backpacks or large luggage items.
Websites: www.selfridges.com, www.fortnumandmason.com, www.harrods.com
Taking a Break
At Selfridges & Co., try the Moet Bar above the Chanel Boutique for classy nibbles, a glass of champagne, and a bit of celebrity spotting (it is a favorite gathering place for fashionistas).
Once you have filled your basket with goodies at Fortnum and Mason, visit St. James Restaurant upstairs for afternoon tea.
Try the Laduree tearoom, the charcuterie bar, oyster bar, sushi bar or tapas bar at Harrods — you can find them in the food hall alongside several other eateries.