Afternoon tea is the best British dining revelation since the Earl of Sandwich started putting things between sliced bread. Our love of dinky cakes, load-bearing scones and crustless sarnies daintily displayed on a bone-china carousel has us weeping over its joyful tiers.
Getting ‘drunch’ at bottomless brunch nicely covers our AM buzz; now the best afternoon teas in London are following in its wayward footsteps – yes, times have changed since the seventh Duchess of Bedford retired to her room to eat pâtisserie in peace. Armed with the tiniest pastry forks and some Alka-Seltzer, we’ve sipped our way through the capital’s top five alcoholic afternoon teas…
THE OLD SCHOOL TEA: SCANDAL WATER AT THE LONDON EDITION
According to The London Edition hotel, in Victorian times, the refined ritual of high tea was a smokescreen for scandal-mongering. So, bring a roman-à-clef’s worth of pearl-clutching tall tales to the Punch Room’s wood-panelled environs, and don’t forget the smelling salts.
Pinkies up Guests sup on three snack, tea and punch pairings from five options. Savouries and sweets include Lincolnshire Poacher-laced shortbread, miso-glazed salmon sprinkled with sevruga, a dense buttery Eccles cake or biscuits iced with Earl Grey-infused buttercream – complemented by Rare Tea Co Japanese sencha, chamomile and jasmine blends.
Hair down Accompanying punches (handed down from history like a super-cool grandma) are potent: signature Milk Punch headily blends brandy, cognac and rum, and the Closer to God brings mezcal into the mix.
Any surprises? A silver cloche with two mini handmade muffins snug inside, buttered and warm.
Any drunken debauchery? Smashing several of your finest monocles in shock.
(£35 a person, 3pm–5pm from Friday to Sunday.)
THE LITERARY TEA: TIPSY TEA AT MR FOGG’S, MAYFAIR
You don’t need a balloon to get light-headed at this dapper, Jules Verne-inspired speakeasy. A faux blue plaque marks the entrance; once a theatrical server grants you ingress, it’s a curiosity shop of taxidermy critters, penny farthings and Union flags. Guests sit at battered tea chests, perched on elephant-foot stools and velvet wingbacks.
Pinkies up Chintz towers of naan-sandwiched chicken tikka, salmon- and cream-cheese-stuffed brioche, and crustless cucumber fingers are whisked over. To follow, mini mille-feuilles, truffles, a slab of lemon-drizzle cake and cream-lashed raisin scones. Afternoon-tea fundamentalists should steer clear – the only tea to speak of is muddled and infused into cocktails.
Hair down The single-serve teapots of gin and champagne cocktails last as long as Fogg’s globe circumnavigation (there’s a bottomless option for the brave). We gleaned three cups of marmalade-muddled Catherine of Braganza and cherry purée-splashed Belvoir Castle from each.
Any surprises? A shot of vodka with pineapple juice and ginger kicks off the tea, an audio-book of Jules Verne’s ballooning tome is played in bathrooms (don’t get too comfy), and a pianist gives Dylan and Velvet Underground songs the Cole Porter treatment.
Any drunken debauchery? I made a bad bet, and I’m ballooning off to Suez next week.
(From £38 a person; 2.01pm–4.01pm and 4.16pm–6.16pm on Saturday, 3.01pm–5.01pm on Sunday.)
THE DRESS-DOWN TEA: PROSECCO AFTERNOON TEA AT BRGR.CO
This King’s Road diner is a retreat for the McDonald’s-craving, but proud. Black-leather banquettes and exposed-brick make it a sight more stylish than the chain. This tomboyish afternoon tea eschews doll-size tea cups and fiddly cake forks, and it’ll make homesick Americans wave their mini flags with joy.
Pinkies up If Brit dignitaries visited Saved by the Bell’s the Max, this is what the diner’s magician manager might conjure up. Three mini burgers – salmon, chicken and slaw, and classic beef (a mix of bavette steak and brisket) – and a petite lemon tart and brownie are presented on a metal tray. Raspberry or lemon iced-tea is a fitting compromise after that, um, Boston ado.
Hair down Each tray is paired with a flute of prosecco with raspberry purée. Chase with a chilled caipirinha.
Any surprises? Artists decorate the cow’s heads hanging on the walls before they’re auctioned for charity. Past entries have been neon-light-strung and leopard-spotted.
Any drunken debauchery? You may actually make a pit stop at McDonald’s for dinner.
(£17 a person; daily, from 3pm–5pm.)
THE (CRAFT)ERNOON TEA: AFTERNOON TEA AT DRINK SHOP DO
Remember that preschool art class where a collective-fresh teacher (who wore ‘fun’ prints) said your sugar-paper, glitter-bombed crayon sketches were Renaissance-worthy? The mismatched chairs and pom-poms at Drink Shop Do will bring the warm and fuzzies back – with added booze…
Pinkies up Dine on Delftware-displayed sandwiches (ham hock and mustard, egg-mayo and chive, smoked salmon with horseradish). Daily-changing cakes range from salted-caramel brownies to Viennese whirls, topped with a nostalgia-nudging tier of corner-shop sweets: cola bottles, sugar mice, strawberry jellies and other schoolyard treats.
Hair down Add bottomless prosecco for £15 a person, or get some jugs out: we like the Broker’s gin-soaked Fruit Cup cocktail.
Any surprises? Closet crafters can let their (handmade, patchwork) freak-flag fly here. The Teas and Dos (for six people or more), put the ‘tea’ in ‘ero-tea-c’ with nipple-tassel-making and underwear-embroidering sessions.
Any drunken debauchery? It so happens, nipple-tassels make excellent hats.
(From £28 a person, for a minimum of two guests. Teas and Dos require six guests or more and a £10 deposit a person; must be booked a week in advance)
THE ECCENTRICI-TEA: SEYMOUR’S AFTERNOON TEA AT THE ZETTER TOWNHOUSE MARYLEBONE
Wicked Uncle Seymour – the fictitious host at The Zetter Towhnouse’s western outpost, named after the street the hotel resides on – doesn’t go in for minimalism; his rouged parlour is stuffed to the frescoed ceiling with carved antique chairs, candelabra, Persian rugs and portraiture.
Pinkies up Seymour’s polished up traditional pub grub, serving a piccalilli-smeared Lincolnshire pork pie, haggis-stuffed sausage roll and black pudding-packed Scotch egg. Scones are studded with brandy-soaked raisins, and desserts – piña colada tarts and kir royale jellies – will put you in high spirits. Wash down with classic and herbal blends.
Hair down Cocktail maestro Tony Conigliari devised the tea-themed cocktails: the Silk Road Gimlet with Keemun tea cordial and the 75 with elderflower and lemon notes and a slug of champagne.
Any surprises? If you’re abstaining, the Earl Grey- and Jasmine-infused lemonades are what happens when a master like Conigliaro is given lemons.
Any drunken debauchery? We’re sure Seymour has seen worse.
(£28 a person, plus £9.50 a cocktail; daily, from 12 noon to 5pm.)
Featured image courtesy of The Zetter Townhouse Marylebone