Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Sparkling Occasion

One of the things I love about being The 21st Century Housewife© is that it gets me invited to some very cool places. Last night Fortnum and Mason, the iconic London department store at 181 Piccadilly, were hosting a ‘by invitation only’ Christmas Preview Evening. It was being held in their beautiful St James’s Restaurant on the fourth floor of the store. Fortnum and Mason is an amazing place at any time of the year, but at Christmas it becomes nigh on magical, so I was very pleased indeed to be invited.

Once my name had been checked off the guest list and a glass of champagne pressed into my hand, I was free to wander through the wonderful displays of ideas for Christmas 2009. Everything was beautifully organised on tables so that you could pick things up and look at them if you wished. There was an easel with a book of Christmas correspondence cards to look at, and table after table of hampers, gift ideas, delicious treats and decorations. Hampers were available at all price points, from a gorgeous little “Flavour of Afternoon Tea” hamper at £35 to the breathtaking “Windsor Hamper” at £1000. The afternoon tea hamper contained one of the cutest baby fruitcakes I have ever seen. There were also several good value hampers in a more mid-price range including the “Regal Hamper” at £100 and the “Family Christmas Hamper” at £200. These included practical products you would definitely use including wines, teas, cakes, jams and chutneys. Fortnum and Mason are also offering several wonderful hampers and boxed sets of Christmas tipples, including a Champagne Tasting Box at £110 containing four bottles of different champagnes and a Provence Box with two bottles of red wine and two of white at £40. I was also very taken with The Connoisseur Case which might sound expensive at £400, but is actually very good value as it contains a dozen bottles of excellent wines (including Gevrey-Chambertin and Pommerol), champagne and even a nine year old single malt whiskey.

There were some lovely gift ideas for those “hard to buy for” folk on your gift list including musical tins of yummy Christmas biscuits with an actual wind up music box on the bottom priced at only £9.95. You could buy a Heather Honeycomb in a Frame for under £20 or “The Window of Sides”, a luscious selection of nine sauces - from mint to Cumberland - to enjoy with your Christmas meats and cheeses - at around £35. If you were feeling slightly more extravagant there were silver and china tea sets and a Tea Presentation Box containing almost more kinds of tea than you could imagine. Witty gift ideas included a Paul Smith Union Jack design umbrella, not to mention some Beefeater and Guardsmen rubber ducks. For the ladies on your list there were limited edition Lulu Guinness purses at £65 and a myriad of gift sets containing lovely lotions and potions. You really could tick just about everyone off your gift list here, and stock your larder full of delicious Christmas provisions too!

I think my favourite thing of the evening, which really appealed to the child in me, was the beautiful Advent Calendar which you can see above. Made of wood, and painted to look just like the Fortnum and Mason store, its little doors have real wooden handles. No one could resist peeking inside. You can choose to buy it empty or full, and there are even refills available so that this beautiful calendar can be used year after year. I’d buy it full as the treats inside were so beautifully presented and included miniatures of the traditional blue Fortnum and Mason boxes filled with sweets.

As I meandered through the displays, I was offered canapes by waiters and waitresses wandering amongst the guests. I tasted baby scones, mouth-watering fudge and melt in the mouth shortbread flavoured with rose water. Later on I was offered more savoury things such as huge stuffed olives and tiny oat biscuits flavoured with herbs. All of the foods being offered were part of the Christmas range. My glass was constantly kept full; many thanks to the kind people at Fortnum and Mason for their generous hospitality.

I am almost certain I could complete virtually all my Christmas shopping at Fortnum and Mason and I have planned a return visit very soon. They do offer internet shopping, but I would encourage you to go along in person if you live anywhere near London or happen to find yourself there! The store is so beautiful and they have so much on offer for the festive season (and every other season for that matter!) it is well worth a visit.

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