When in London—and when this damnable virus disappears—I never fail to visit that most British of all thoroughfares, Jermyn Street, at the edge of Piccadilly and between St, James and Duke Streets. Fortunately, after a crushing period of closure, the shops and restaurants are re-opening this week, which is great news for anyone already in London.
Here, within two short blocks, the full panoply of British goods may be found in more than two dozen shops, galleries and restaurants, in addition to one of the world’s most famous cheese shops, Paxton & Whitfield (established 1797), whose artisanal offerings with names like Fosseway Fleece, Lincolnshire Poacher and Caerphilly Gorwydd caused Winston Churchill to declare, “a gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton & Whitfield.” So does everyone else who knows the store.
Jermyn Street, which dates back to 1664 when Charles II authorized Henry Jermyn, the Earl of St Albans, to develop an area close to St. James’s Palace, is also home to one of my favorite restaurants, Wiltons (opened in 1742), whose very proper post-Edwardian ambiance offers a very seasonal Anglo-French (or is it Franco-Anglo? ) menu of dishes like Scottish salmon, roast mallard, pheasant, quail and grouse. Currently Wiltons is offering a hamper that includes foie gras in Madeira Aspic, Smoked Salmon, sevruga with Mother of Pearl spoon, almond biscuits and a bottle of their own label Chablis, Red Burgundy or Champagne.
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For shoes and superb leather goods is Edward Green, favored by Ernest Hemmingway and Ralph Lauren. Its Galway boot was first crafted in 1836, which—as everyone should know—has a signature arrowhead stitching, in twelve different styles.
And, though they still cannot be imported into the US, the very best Cuban cigars are sold at Davidoff at No. 35, including rare and vintage stocks. This Christmas, Davidoff is offering a gift package of their 40th anniversary edition cigar and whisky culled from a limited edition of 300 numbered boxes of cigars, and 179 bottles of a Glenrothes single bourbon cask, distilled in 1980 and bottled in December 2019.
Most of the shops have been here for ages, from Crockett & Jones to Turnbull & Asser, whose shirts have been on the back of several James Bonds. Indeed, Crockett & Jones has announced a partnership with the producers of the next James Bond movie, No Time to Die, to produce the JAMES, a limited edition wholecut Oxford shoe. For women’s shirts, the exquisite materials and workmanship entirely done in the U.K. are to be found at Emma Lewis.
In 2010, Jermyn Street, owned by the Crown, bought out several properties, including the beloved 22 Jermyn Street boutique hotel, which passed through three generations of Henry Togna’s family. “I finally sold back the lease to The Crown, which should have been a blow,” he says, “having spent decades living and working there and creating one of the first and most lauded boutique hotels in London. But it was time. Yet every inch of Jermyn Street is etched in my memory beginning with the Walls Sausage Shop, its interior still preserved; with centuries old businesses like Floris the perfumer; and Paxton & Whitfield the cheese monger. Yet for all the urban renovation, the rich history of Jermyn Street as the purveyor of gentlemen’s bespoke shirts survives and thrives.”
Many Americans, including myself, feel very much the same way, although on my early visits to London, when even a strong American dollar precluded me from having my shoes made at Lobb or waistcoats at Favourbrook, I could only peer in the windows with envy at the zephyr-like linen shirts, heavy silk regimental neckties, hunting boots, clothes brushes and walking sticks. Later on, when I could afford some of those items, I knew that most of them would last me a lifetime because of the quality of the wool and leather (largely Italian), and, although I was hardly a regular customer at any of the stores, I always had the feeling of being welcomed back by a salesperson with a measuring tape draped around his neck. Sometimes he would remember “that Shepherd’s check tweed” I’d purchased ten years before or the covert top coat with the felt collar.
Very well priced are the modern tweed suits and jackets at Harvie & Hudson’s at No. 96-97, where suits are currently on sale for £356 and jackets at £280.
There is always a myriad of gifts to buy at Fortnum & Mason, famous for its tea hampers, biscuits, chocolate truffles and marmalades, most available for shipping. (London shopkeepers hate saying no, or if they must, do so in the nicest possible way.) At Christmas-time the place is as festooned as anything Charles Dickens could dream up, and it’s a lot easier to shop here than at the madhouse of Harrods. Floris, at No. 89, is a crucible of romantic aromas, which includes exotica like its Honey Oud and Bergamotto di Positano. One whiff puts me in mind of Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady or Valerie Hobson in Great Expetations.
Alas, although Jermyn Street is now happily re-open for business, Americans like myself cannot yet go there without a 14-day quarantine, though I can still order anything I like, from here or in London. I think a two-week quarantine at The Ritz around the corner, with room service, would be easy enough to bear with a hamper from Fortnum & Mason or the delivery of some Christmas presents straight to my room. For a list of Jermyn Street shops and information go to: www.jermynstreet.net.