Once safely (and royally) ensconced in my accommodations at The Queen's favorite hotel, the Goring, I set off to explore a few of the other more interesting names on the roster of Royal Warrant Holders, that grand coalition of people and companies whose products and services buttress the royal patina "by appointment." At the top of my list was a bit of shopping at Fortnum and Mason, which was just recently graced by the first official joint appearance of Her Majesty The Queen, the Duchess of Cambridge (the former Camilla Parker-Bowles) and the Duchess of Cornwall (the former Kate Middleton) all dressed in shades of blue. Does it really get any more royal?
Known simply as Fortnum's to regular patrons, this emporium of high delights has supplied the royal household with the finest wares and treats since a royal footman (Fortnum) opened the store with his friend and landlord (Mason) more than three centuries ago in 1707. From truffles, cheese and tea (specially blended of course) to jewelry, perfume and high fashion, Fortnum's has served as the thoroughly elegant department store of choice for kings, queens and their titled flock since its inception. Still a fabulous place to be seen after all these years, afternoon tea at Fortnum's remains a treat to all savvy enough to book a reservation.
From Fortnum's, I made my way to Piccadilly and the Princes Arcade to sample the sweet confections of Prestat, which I can only describe as the ultimate sugar rush wrapped up in ribbons of fantasy and stamped with the royal seal of approval. At more than one hundred years old, this esteemed chocolatier has not only been awarded Royal Warrants by both Her Majesty the Queen, and the late Queen Mother, but was also notably a favorite of Charlie and The Chocolate Factory author, Roald Dahl.
Small in area, but outsized in whimsy and magic, all manner of chocolate commingles with everything from nuts, caramel and tropical fruit to Champagne, pink Himalayan sea salt and gin in this fantastical little shop where brightly colored packaging embossed with the symbol of the Royal Warrant fills every corner of the space. Meanwhile, the counters are chock full of delicate creations, including a variety of truffles, which the family of Prestat's original owner, Antoine Dufour, is credited with having created. That's right -- the very first truffle was the creation of the Dufour family (and perhaps of Antoine himself). And it was said to be so intoxicatingly delicious that it led Roald Dahl to formally express his predilection for the Dufour's recipe by declaring, "I also adore so-called truffles as Prestat makes them." With such high praise, is it any wonder then that the royal court has maintained such a longstanding affection for this precious chocolate shop?
The final stop on my Royal Warrant tour was in the Burlington Arcade at the Victorian era perfumer, Penhaligon's which, like Prestat, also holds two Royal Warrants from two generations of royals -- one from Prince Phillip and the other from Prince Charles. Venturing through the tiny store is like taking a trip down through the history of scent, particularly as many of Penhaligon's signature fragrances were created as much as (or more than) a century ago and as such reflect the sensibilities of a different time. If you have a hankering to smell the noblesse oblige of 1902, you need only pick up a bottle of the popular Blenheim Bouquet which made its debut in that year. Or flash forward a few years and try 1910's crisp, clean English Fern.
What makes the Penhaligon's experience special is the uniqueness of the fragrances which stand apart in the world of cookie cutter scents that populate the market today. Anything but ordinary, a Penhaligon's scent reeks of privilege and good taste and the wearers thereof feel a part of an exclusive club, membership to which can only be achieved by royal appointment, of course.
So again, I ask, 'Who needs a tiara to live like a royal?" As a commoner with no lineage to speak of, I managed to sleep, eat, shop and even smell like a royal in a single day. And they say, you can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse. Clearly the believers of that old wives tale are most unfamiliar with my favorite new saying 'When in London, do as the Royals do."
To find out more about Royal Warrant Holders, visit www.royalwarrant.org.