Sipping a chilled glass of Sancerre at the Sea Grill counter at Harrods, I watched patiently as the wild bass I had just chosen from the nearby fresh fish counter was expertly sliced open by the chef. Twenty minutes later, having made friends with the elegant Burberry-clad woman from Barcelona seated next to me, I was happy I had taken the waiter’s advice to have it grilled, rather than steamed or pan-fried. My fish arrived lightly crisp on the outside and beautifully flaky on the inside, stuffed with lemon slices and thyme.
Whenever I come to London this is always my first stop,” said my Spanish neighbor, savoring a taste of her bouillabaisse. “And then … I shop!”
Unlikely as it may seem, Harrods and a handful of other large department stores in London have made eating as important a part of one’s retail experience as bargain-hunting. Once a haven for women of a certain age taking a chicken salad break before heading back to the dressing rooms, these store restaurants and food halls have now become destinations themselves. They are particularly popular during the January sales when a respite is needed from the crowds taking full advantage of the deep discounts.
One such restaurant, the Fifth Floor, on the top level of Harvey Nichols, has even earned a solid review in Zagat’s London guide as a place “where a chic crowd can always count on a good modern British meal.” It now attracts a healthy crowd of business executives, who during sale time can’t resist checking out the prices on the Paul Smith suits downstairs.
Here are some of the hottest department-store dining spots in London right now:
With 28 bars, cafes and restaurants spread over roughly a million square feet of store space, Harrods makes it hard to decide where to eat. A good place to start is the elegant Food Halls on the ground floor, a gastronomic haven with 12 specialty areas, including sushi, oyster, and cheese bars.
Though not inexpensive, it is a treat to sit on a stool at any of the counters and watch as Knightsbridge’s finest residents (and their maids) shop for that evening’s dinner party. One favorite is the Rotisserie, where you can tuck into a flame-roasted half chicken, piece of duck, or herb-crusted lamb and marvel at the Royal Doulton tiles that line the walls of the meat and fish hall.
Those seeking a more elegant lunch should head to the top of the store and secure a table at the Georgian Restaurant, where the focal points are an Art Nouveau skylight and the all-you-can-eat carvery – roasts with all the trimmings, salads, and an array of decadent desserts. An à la carte menu is also available. At afternoon tea, the presence of a piano player only adds to the traditional ambiance. A three-course lunch for two with wine costs.