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Something’s Cooking – The History of Food at Harrods

From Britain’s first escalator to a royal visit, the Harrods Food Halls have a fascinating history. Now the time is ripe for a ground-breaking transformation.

A revolution is on its way. A taste revolution. Over the next two years, Harrods’ historic Food Halls will be revamped into a forum for a world-leading range of products, delivered with unrivalled skill and service, all in the existing Grade II*-listed environment. The Taste Revolution is a transformation that began in November with the opening of the Roastery & Bake Hall, and the launch of a range of culinary

experiences. A new service, the Harrods Tea Tailor, guides customers through the flavour spectrum to create their own blend. Our master coffee roaster roasts and grinds fresh beans every day for more than 30 custom-blended loose coffees, which can also be enjoyed in the new Art Deco-style Coffee Bar.

Our in-house master baker, meanwhile, spent months perfecting the starter culture for his signature sourdough. Now he and his team at

The Bakery serve up 15 styles of bread – all freshly baked in-house – every half-hour. Customers can also discover the gold standard in honey, from the forests of Zambia to the orange groves of Spain – or, for something closer to home, our heather honeycomb is dipped in acacia honey collected from hives in the Shropshire hills. They can also travel the world through a new range of 60 spices, herbs and exclusive blends, from Himalayan salt and flavourful British parsley to roasted Kashmiri curry powder and ras el hanout made with pink rose petals. As the revolution gets underway, we look back at the history of the Food Halls, exploring how they’ve changed over the years, but finding that innovation has remained a constant.

Readers of the Chelsea Herald in 1884 would have been left in no doubt as to where to head for their weekly grocery shop. “Stretching… for a long way into the distance… a thousand and one articles of a heterogeneous nature but all of which meet in the storeroom of any well-ordered household” is how the newspaper described the Harrods Food Halls. The “pyramids of tea” and “mountains of coffee” of the paper’s enthusiastic description – alongside glycerine, plate powder and phosphor paste – might not be part of the store’s current display, but, well over a century on, the bountiful nature of the Food Halls remains undiminished.

Some changes, however, are afoot. In November, Harrods unveiled the first stage in a major restoration and redevelopment of the department – the first in more than 30 years. Yet in truth, it has been in a constant state of evolution since the store’s opening at its current location in Knightsbridge in 1849. What started as a humble grocery shop – founded by Charles Henry Harrod and specialising in tea, coffee, biscuits and soap – has grown to become a London landmark that continually surprises.

The Food Halls as they are today came into being at the turn of the 20th century. After the store was rebuilt in 1884 following a fire that completely destroyed it, a two-phase extension in 1901 and 1902 established the halls on an unprecedented scale, with three new rooms added. Since then, the Food Halls have evolved with the times. In 1924, they were extended to create a new room for fruit, vegetables and flowers, as well as a grocery and provisions hall, and in 1971 they underwent another major reorganisation and refurbishment with the grocery area renamed the Pantry. The halls then swelled again and were officially reopened by HRH Princess Anne in October 1983. Yet, despite this modernisation and evolution, the Food Halls wear their history on their sleeves. Their imposing and exquisitely decorated interiors – with marble floors and counters, tiled walls and high ceilings – have an Edwardian elegance that has long since been erased from most London food shops. And, just as food remains one of the central pillars of Harrods (despite its fully-fledged department store status), design has been the cornerstone of the Food Halls.

Back in 1902, pottery manufacturer Doulton & Co of Lambeth – which made the terracotta for the building’s grand exterior – was commissioned to decorate the meat and fish hall with glazed tiles. Its series of 20 medallions depicting medieval farming and hunting scenes can still be seen in the upper part of the hall (they were restored in 1984). The huge live fish tank behind the fish counter is also not your typical shop display. And, while Harrods may have introduced self-selection of products in the Pantry in 1971, its numerous counters ensure the tradition of customer service has not died out.

The department store might intrinsically be linked with luxury, but its Food Halls held a mirror to society in more challenging times. In 1917, the Harrods Food Bureau was established to help customers cope with wartime food shortages, with the store putting on a series of cookery lectures on such subjects as “Ways and Means with Macaroni”. Similarly, when food rationing was introduced during the Second World War, the meat hall was used by the Ministry of Food for demonstrations, with cook Marguerite Patten (who would later become one of the first TV chefs) employed to show customers how to make the most of rations.

Indeed, the history of the Food Halls is a history of firsts. In 1898, Britain’s first escalator, known as the revolving staircase, was installed in the grocery department. Four years later, an air-cooling system was fitted in the Food Halls, the likes of which had not been seen before. At the end of the 19th century, the store was even home to a chocolate factory. More recently, Harrods led the way when, in 1995, it opened restaurants including an oyster bar, rotisserie and pizzeria in the Food Halls, meaning customers could merge shopping and dining. Food trends have come and gone over the years. A Harrods Food News price list for the early 1960s, for example, lists delicacies “for the gourmet” such as fried grasshoppers, roasted caterpillars, fried silkworms and a barbecued sparrow on a skewer.

What has remained constant is the adventurous spirit of Harrods customers, always eager to try something new. Now they will have another opportunity.

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