For more than a century, Marks and Spencer has been the quintessential British department store. M&S, as it’s fondly dubbed by fans, traces its roots to 1884, when Polish refugee Michael Marks opened a market stall in Leeds with the slogan “Don’t ask the price. It’s a penny.” Ten years later, he partnered with Thomas Spencer, and they opened their first shop in a covered arcade in Leeds. Today the chain boasts more than 1,400 stores worldwide and is as much a staple of life in the U.K. as tea and scones—both of which you can buy at M&S. The company added food to its offerings in 1931, and its first Simply Food stores opened in 2001.
If you’re like me, no visit to London is complete without a stop at an M&S food hall. (You’ll find most of them located downstairs in M&S stores.) After ordering a mini-fridge for my hotel room, I saunter into the food hall as if I’m in my own pantry. Delicacies abound. Here are just a few to sample:
VICTORIA SPONGE This luscious confection of whipped cream and strawberry jam layered with a sponge cake that would make Mary Berry proud is my all-time favorite. If you get a craving and aren’t near an M&S food hall, try the nearest petrol station! Not kidding. M&S has partnered with BP to offer more than 200 M&S Simply Food stores at BP Connect stores in the U.K. You can even look for the M&S logo right outside Heathrow Airport.
CREME PATISSIERE This delectable double-cream pastry filling comes in a pouch resembling an IV bag. You can actually drink from the bag—in the privacy of your hotel room, of course.
HONEY ROAST HAM CRISPS Imagine a potato chip that perfectly captures the sweet, salty, savory tang of holiday ham and you’ll get the idea of the flavor punch in this package.
WORCESTER SAUCE CRISPS Bring on the Bloody Marys!
MILLIONAIRE’S MINI BITES These addictive morsels come with an “extremely indulgent” warning on the label. Here’s why: crisped rice, shortbread, and caramel all covered in a layer of delicious milk chocolate!
CLOTTED CREAM RICE PUDDING My arteries start to clog just reading the ingredients, but I still enjoy the occasional indulgence. The rice is al dente and, instead of milk, M&S uses clotted cream that tastes like luscious whipped cream. I recommend eating it cold.
RICH TEA BISCUITS For lighter fare that can make anyone feel authentically British, treat yourself to a few of these tasty snacks on the flight home during tea service.