Best afternoon tea in London? It’s a subject every city-dweller will have an opinion on. We’ve selected our favourite London tearooms, so let us invite you to share with us that oh-so-British concoction, the traditional afternoon tea: a brew for two, served with a selection of cucumber-filled and strawberry-topped snacks. England expects every man to do his/her duty and comment on their favourite tea spots. So without further ado, here is our pick of the top 10 afternoon teas in London…
THE CLASSIC: Tea at the Ritz
The quintessential mid-afternoon dining experience in London’s most venerable institution. This is the gold standard for finger sandwiches and scones. Don a jacket and tie (or silks and pearls) for this lavish day out: The Ritz’s afternoon tea is served in the opulent Palm Court (pictured above), all gilded edifices, heavy curtains, marble pillars, mirrored walls and fronded palms. Pull up your butter-yellow chairs and sit down to a traditional spread: 18 types of loose-leaf tea (lemon verbena, chocolate-mint rooibos…), sandwiches plump with smoked salmon and lemon butter, chicken and tarragon mayo, cucumber and cream cheese, plus other favourites and elegant little sweet treats. Slather your raisin and plain scones with Cornish l=clotted cream and strawberry jam as a pianist hammers out Puttin’ on the Ritz. If the song speaks to you, champagne teas are available too.
Also try: L’oscar hotel, whose Saint and Sinner afternoon tea nods to its former incarnation as a baptist church. Swathed in velvets, embellished with peacock feathers and swagged to the hilt: this stay very nearly matches the Ritz for opulence and we appreciate the pun-ny nature of the menu (devilled-chicken sandwiches, devil’s food cake…) will raise some wry smiles.
THE QUINTESSENTIALLY BRITISH: Sanderson
Style Starck contrasts; statement interiors
Setting Off-the-beaten-track Fitzrovia
One of the original London boutique hotels, the Sanderson brought Ian Schrager and Philippe Starck’s idiosyncratic design vision to the capital back in 2000. Equally attention-grabbing, the Sanderson’s Alice in Wonderland-themed Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea at Suka adds a pinch of Blumenthal-style weird and wonderful to old-world tradition.
Don’t miss… temperature-changing blueberry lollipops and meltingly delicous chocolate pocket-watches: eat me!
The bottom line Tea, £25 a person. Add prosecco for £6; Pommery, £9.50.
Also try: The Connaught hotel‘s strawberries-and-cream Wimbledon tennis-themed tea in Mayfair is also a winner for us: £35 a person.
THE ASIAN-FUSION TEA: Blakes
Style Orient excess
Setting Secluded SW7
Who says afternoon tea has to be British? Blakes hotel’s Oriental take on afternoon tea can be lingered over in the opulent Chinese Room, or the calming Japanese garden. There’s a playful mix of Asian and Anglo touches, including sandwiches served Bento box-style in a clear Perspex cube, and scones accompanied with those British stalwarts: strawberry halves and thick cream.
Don’t miss… The imaginative sandwiches – we heart the beef and chilli horseradish, and the chicken and ginger.
The bottom line Blakes afternoon tea, £19–£26 a person.
Also try: Build your own afternoon tea at Yauatcha, where ravishingly good-looking staff serve equally beautiful pastries and a mind-boggling array of leaf teas. Of course, there’s also plenty of divine dim sum, if you’ve room…
THE POST-SHOPPING PITSTOP:
Dean Street Townhouse
Style Art-house hideaway
Setting Sociable, sexy Soho
Weary shoppers: put bags down and your feet up at Dean Street Townhouse: this quiet little haven is just minutes from the buzz of Oxford Street, but you’ll forget all about boutiques and bargains when faced with the hotel’s menu. Sandwiches and cakes are served on envy-inducing blue-and-white crockery, and the sous chef is clearly having fun – his little cakes and biscuits are divine.
Don’t miss… The bursting-at-the-seams-with-cream éclairs.
The bottom line Afternoon tea, from £15.75 a person.
The Metropolitan London
Style Heights of fashion
Setting Park-side Mayfair
With its prime Hyde Park Corner setting, exquisite Japanese food at Nobu and a members’ bar with a big-name waiting list, the Met is a byword for style in the city. Ever leading the charge, the Met has kindly decided to give our waistlines a break with its Afternoon De-Light – complete with no-bread sandwich options and fruit infusions. All the pleasure, none of the guilt…
Don’t miss… the low-cal, high-impact Ultimate Iced Tea and ‘Eco-tinis’.
The bottom line Afternoon De-light, £27 a person.
Also try Combine your tea treats with spa pampering at the Baglioni Hotel in Kensington; spa tea packages start from £125.
THE ART-TEA TYPE: Sketch
Style Bohemian-luxe parlour
Setting Conduit Street townhouse
Known for its curious interiors, pop-up art shows and fashionable clientele, Sketch is a fantastical dining spot with patisserie to die for. The Parlour’s all-day dining menu includes both set afternoon tea and a creative à la carte collection of sandwiches, cakes and teas, so even the fussiest tea-taker can select the right blend. The tea menu includes a classic Indian chai, cucumber-and-melon flavoured Silver Needle white tea; and vintage puerh tea.
Don’t miss… Sketch’s signature cake collection includes the Liz Taylor (a raspberry macaroon marvel) and a fruity mango éclair.
The bottom line Set menu, £27 a person (tea for two, £52).
Also try Art lovers can take a fabulous French-themed tea after taking a turn around the Wallace Collection‘s Continental paintings, furniture and porcelain, in the beautiful Wallace Restaurant. Parisian tea, from £24.50 a person.
Style Gardener’s World
Setting Green Green Park
With aptly titled Evergreen Tea – including orange-blossom scones – and Regents Park Honey tea – fêting the efforts of local bees – served in its Garden Room, this is the tea to take your green-fingered family members to.
Don’t miss… The Athenaeum’s own-blended rose-petal tea, or the extremely rare hand-sorted leaves of Keemun Hoa Ya A tea. They even have a Laduree blend, which, we assume, is made for macaroons…
The bottom line Afternoon tea, from £28.50 (speciality teas cost extra)
Also try South Kensington hideaway Number Sixteen has a lovely garden courtyard (pictured above left), a lovely location for an alfresco afternoon feast.
TEA A LA MODE: The Berkeley
Style Well-heeled and colourful
Setting Handy for Harvey Nichols
The Berkeley’s now-famously fashionable Prêt-a-Portea takes seasonal cues from the catwalks for its cake colours and designs: S/S 2011’s stylish sources include Miu Miu, Victoria Beckham and former Gucci golden boy Tom Ford.
Don’t miss… your favourite tea pieces: the menu changes every six months, so get the Marc Jacobs-style jumpsuit cake and Roger Vivier ‘belle de nuit’ stilleto biscuits while they’re hot…
The bottom line Prêt-a-Portea, from £36.50 a person.
Also try Join a sitting for Claridge’s afternoon tea, and chances are you’ll catch style journalists meeting their interviewees and fashion editors catching up over cakes. Make sure you look the part: this is a no-scruff zone and the setting is a beautiful as the people in it.
FOR MR SMITH: The Wolseley
Style Marbled magnificence
Setting Palatial Piccadilly
Real men take tea, too – well, they take savoury snacks with whisky on the side (see below). The Wolseley has the James Bond school of old-fashioned glamour down pat, and service is unerringly excellent, too. Dress the part, boys, and book in advance. To truly feel like James and Q, opt for the champagne tea, and team your nibbles with slender flutes of Pommery Brut Royal NV. The perfect father’s day treat.
Don’t miss The berry-bright home-made jam.
The bottom line Tea at the Wolseley, £21–£29.75 a head.
Also try The Mandeville Hotel, Marylebone, where a largely savoury teatime spread is served with whisky on the side (£26.50 pp).
THE CONNOISSEURS’ CHOICE:
St James’s Restaurant,
Fortnum & Mason
Style Debonair deli
Setting A jump from Jermyn Street
With more than 70 teas on the menu, and savoury snacks inspired by a century of menu archives, this picnic-perfect Piccadilly institution is the go-to choice for gourmet tea-totallers. Excellent staff can guide you through the menu and advise on the most suitable teas to match your finger-sandwiches, canapés, blinis and madeleines.
Don’t miss… the beautiful table settings, with silver tea strainers and trademark aqua-blue porcelain.
The bottom line Fortnum & Mason Classic Afternoon Tea, from £34 a person.
Also try The Dorchester in Mayfair is another high-falutin’ high tea experience – with a huge menu of single estate and tea blends (including a special 80th anniversary one) and views of Nelson’s Column to boot: The Dorchester’s Traditional Afternoon Tea, from £38.50.
Inspired? Check out our pick of the best boutique hotels in London…