Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Hunt for Queso Fresco: Harrod's

A commenter recommended that I try Harrod's when looking for Mexican food.  I don't often think of Harrod's.  First of all, as an American, I'm not used to thinking of food halls in department stores.  Shopping malls have restaurants and prepared food stalls, but not grocery stores.  For my American friends, most of the department stores have actual grocery stores. Harrod's, Harvey Nichols, and Fortnum and Mason have the more famous, fancy ones.

So I often forget about Harrod's even though I live very close and one of my school pickups is almost a stone's throw from the "Jolly Green Giant," Harrod's is a large, beautiful department store with dark green awnings over the doors and most shop windows.  In five years though, I've been maybe a dozen times, and then for the 50's diner with good hamburgers.  I also get Krispy Kremes for school birthday celebrations there, though I don't technically go inside.  KK has a walk in stall on the outside.

This morning's trip reminded me why I don't often go to Harrod's even when I do think of it, besides the fact that I am not a fashionista or even a big shopper.  I don't like going there.

I finished with Cupcake's swimming award presentation (Go Cupcake!), which was nearby, about 9:40.  The Scottish Church is maybe a 2 minute walk from Harrod's.  When I got there, no one was around.  Usually there is a line to get into shops when they open since moms and nannies finish school runs by 9:15 or so, earlier for primary school children.  Peter Jones, for instance, opens at 9:30, so there are people waiting to get in, often with cups of coffee.  Anyway, no one was waiting at Harrod's which means they were either already open, or the posh shopper set starts later.  So I checked the opening hours on the door to the food hall.  Opens at 9, it read.  It was 9:45.  I went in.

The first section of the food hall is the bakery, sweets, and tourist items section.  I looked around for cheese and produce.  They were in the next section, though the doors labeled "Fire Doors;" I thought it strange that they were closed, but I find lots of British health and safety recommendations strange.  About that time a Harrod's guy came through with new baked goods, and I let him pass and went on into the rest of the food hall.

I checked out the produce, which is presented well.  Harrod's has a pretty grocery store.  No Mexican peppers of any sort, though.  I headed over to the cheese, searching for a fine feta.  I need queso fresco, and most feta is too salty and crumbly to be a good sub.  I thought I might find a creamier feta though.  No luck.   I tried the dairy section too, thinking I might at least find Monterrey Jack.  (I found shredded at Waitrose, but wanted a block.)  I walked around the rest of the store checking some of the prepared stuff to see if anything might work.  I was a tad annoyed that of the many workers bustling around, no one had offered to help me, or made any acknowledgement of me at all so I could ask.  About then a lady behind the counter called to me.  She called me over, and I assumed she was going to ask if she could help.  Here is the conversation, not rude, but slightly clipped.

She: "Do you work here?"
Me:  "No."
She:  "Are you a customer?"
Me:  "Yes."
She:  "You aren't supposed to be in here yet.  We are not open."
Me:  "Oh.  I'm sorry.  I checked the door.  It said 9."
She:  "That's just the first section.  We don't open until 10.  Can't you see that we are still stocking and preparing?"
Me:  "Thank you.  I'll go."

Everyone was ignoring me because they were still stocking.  I didn't think much of it though.  Best I can tell, shops don't do inventory or cleaning or window displays after hours.  (Actually, The Gap has their people come in early to do the window displays sometimes.)  All that stuff is often done during shopping hours.  For inventory or seasonal changeout, it isn't strange to have a smaller shop close for a day or two for those things.  What got me though, was that the whole tone of the thing was that it was my fault, that I was encroaching.  Once I got home, I realized that when she did her little 'we're not open bit' it must have been less than 5 minutes to 10.  I'd walked in at 9:45 and managed to look round carefully in the whole place before she questioned me.

This is the kind of thing that Americans simply don't get.  Stores, especially high end ones, don't take the attitude that something is the customer's fault, unless they don't like being in business.  Nothing drastic.  People just won't shop there if they are treated like it is a privilege to shop there.  Think of the Big Mistake bit from Pretty Woman.  I've got a culture comparison to make with that first scene too, but later. Almost time to pick up the Things at nursery.

As for Mexican food, I'll head to Borough Market tomorrow.  AT, the Taqueria guys run the Mexican spice shop at the market.  Sadly they are out of pablanos and tomatillos until next season.  I can get the salsa though and use that.  And decent corn tortillas.  I'm sure I will find a cheese I can use.  A soft asiago if nothing else.


Anonymous said...

That is appalling! Sorry for the must write to the Customer Services Manager about that. I'm a Brit and am really cross to hear you were spoken to like that. We need to complain more about the service we now get in this country. It used to be legendary for all the right reasons. Now it sucks as you chaps would say. I could write something really controversial about why it has become so, but I will tell you in person tomorrow night instead!

AHLondon said...

M&M? This doesn't sound like Foxy. But no other Brits that I know of tomorrow night. If you don't sign in, I don't know its you sometimes. I have a hunch about your controversial point, and wonder if it fits with my story.

Marietta said...

Leslie...don't laugh but queso fresco and queso blanco are REALLY easy to make yourself. Whole milk, limes and cheesecloth.
here is a good recipe.

Sarah B said...

Oh man, I can just envision that I will be spending half my life in London trying to find Mexican food ingredients...

Keep me posted!

AHLondon said...

Sarah, there is hope, just not for fresh. Post coming. And Marietta's homesicktexan link--we'll have to check that out.

Anonymous said...

I am a mexican american as well living in Bromley just outside of London and so miss queso fresco. I make all my own mexican food at home as my mom was one of the best mexican cooks. If you or anyone else can tell me, where I can find it, I would great appreciate it,

AHLondon said...

I never found it. They started having Jack, but I never saw QF. Check with at texpatsabroad. I'd refer you to my sidebar, but I accidentally deleted it a few weeks ago and haven't had a chance to get it back up. The Sarah B link above should work. That's her. She talks with Anne Taite at jumped the pond who also hunts for Mexican.
Gotta fix my sidebar...