Afternoon tea is quite possibly the most British of all institutions. But once in a while, an egg and cress sandwich and a scone need a little jazzing up. These are the current best afternoon teas in the city, from the traditional to the innovative.
The Best Afternoon Teas in London
The OXO Tower has been a recognisable London institution since it was built in the 1900s, but what’s inside it is by no means antiquated. The OXO Tower Restaurant has tapped into the undeniably huge spike in demand for plant-powered food by launching a vegan afternoon tea, available throughout the month of January. Being a non-vegan myself, I was intrigued to taste vegan food and being an afternoon-tea lover, I was equally intrigued to find out if it would be as good as the classic afternoon teas I had tasted. The verdict? It is just as good, if not better.
As well as my perfectly chilled glass of prosecco, I went for the ‘Thirst Quenching’ tea, which is a blend of strong green tea bursting with hints of pineapple. The creativity behind this menu is clear and appeals to vegans and non-vegans alike. If you’re not completely stuffed from the array of sandwiches on the first tier, which includes homemade ‘cheese’ and pickle and golden beetroot with aged balsamic in rosemary Russian rye bread, continue on with the second tier which holds an ‘avocado shot’ made with creamy avo and almond, chestnut and mushroom ‘sausage’ rolls, and Bajis packed with flavours I’d never tasted before. All this is to be enjoyed with the homemade piccalilli, and a minty-coconutty dip. The sweet selection includes scones with clotted ‘cream’ and jam, mini lemon ‘meringue’ pies which I found largely lighter and fluffier than the desert’s non-vegan counterpart, and about three other delightful treats. To top it all off, the view from the OXO Tower Restaurant, along with the ultra-friendly staff, make this afternoon tea experience a memorable one. I might not be turning fully vegan just yet, but if I could have this vegan afternoon tea every day, it certainly would make the change a whole lot easier (and yummier!). The OXO Tower Restaurant’s Vegan Tea is available until January 31st and is priced at £45 pp (including a glass of prosecco). Book your table by calling 020 7803 3888, emailing [email protected] or booking online at harveynichols.com. Reviewed by Kerri Stolerman.
After their ‘Tale as Old as Time’ themed tea sold out completely in 2018, Town House at The Kensington is launching their new tea, ‘London Landmarks’, with places available to book from January 3rd. The tea takes inspiration from historic and iconic London landmarks such as a telephone box, Big Ben, The Gherkin and The Shard, with treats including a rhubarb mousse, lemon curd tart, bridge rolls and more. £42 per person or £54.50 with a glass of Champagne – find out more and book via townhousekensington.com
For the Autumn/Winter season Balthazar has launched a selection of cakes representing winter’s most exquisite blooms. The Balthazar x FLOWERBX Afternoon Tea features the prowess of Head Pastry Chef Régis Beauregard, who transforms winter florals into cakes, with the expertise of FLOWERBX CEO, Whitney Bromberg Hawkings. In addition to the cakes, a selection of traditional, freshly prepared finger sandwiches will be served, including cucumber, mint and homemade hummus; smoked salmon and lemon crème fraîche; and lobster prawn roll. Buttermilk scones with Devonshire clotted cream and homemade strawberry preserve, along with exquisite floral sweet treats, will follow. From £29.95 per person.
World-renowned for its iconic High Tea, The Savoy is constantly updating its menu to ensure its guests enjoy the very best of the season. Served in the magnificent Thomas Foyer and accompanied by live piano music, The Savoy’s afternoon tea is a London classic with its seasonal cakes and pastries created by executive pastry chef Ludwig Hely. From £65 per person, daily.
Served since 1910, Afternoon Tea at The Goring in Victoria is particularly special. As the only hotel to hold a Royal Warrant from HM The Queen for hospitality services, you can be absolutely certain that everything upon your visit will be impeccable. The afternoon tea is classic in style, reflecting The Goring’s dedication to tradition as the only luxury hotel in London still owned and run by the family that built it. Why mess with perfection? Expect dainty and delicate finger sandwiches, homemade scones and pastries, and unparalleled service. Enjoy your tea in the garden during the summer months for a quintessentially English experience. From £49 per person, every day.
The team behind the afternoon tea in the elegant Chinoiserie at Jumeirah Carlton Tower in Belgravia have been awarded the coveted number one spot in ‘Afternoon Tea of the Year 2018’. The competition process had stringent timings and, due to the fact that they didn’t have access to a freezer, even involved the team biking their sorbet from their hotel kitchen to the competition’s headquarters – dedication to the cause. It is easy to see how they nabbed their prize – the mouthwatering Symphony Afternoon Tea is not only a feast for the senses but also a clever concept, fashioned on the four movements of a symphonic orchestral experience. It was further inspired by the resident harpist who serenades guests in the Chinoiserie as they enjoy the afternoon tea.
All the traditional trimmings have been given a twist, beginning with a selection of savoury cones filled with beetroot hummus or the Indian spiced chicken and mango and followed, not by the classic triangular sandwiches, but treats such as a Brioche bridge roll with Loch Fyne smoked salmon and duck egg mayonnaise. Of the delicacies, our favourite was the Sicilian pistachio éclair with cranberry compote. The famed sorbet that was rushed across London ends the experience to soothe your palate with coconut and lemongrass. Ask your server which tea pairing they recommend, or go for the 90 minute bottomless Laurent Perrier champagne accompaniment. Can’t decide? Drink your tea, then your champagne. True British luxury. £39 per person, or £49 per person for 90 minutes of bottomless champagne.
You can’t help but feel that you’re a ‘someone’ from the moment you step inside the classic and timeless Wolseley, which is a British institution in itself. Where better, then, to enjoy a ‘Best of British’ Afternoon Tea? The Wolseley recently launched just that – featuring individual Victoria Sponges and Sherry Trifles alongside traditional scones with clotted cream and homemade jam. You won’t find jazzed-up finger sandwiches, either – they stick to the classics for a reason. Traditional fillings of Coronation Chicken, Beef and Horseradish, Cheddar and Pickle, and Smoked Salmon are delightfully nostalgic while being of unquestionably superior quality to what you grew up on. A place so good, AA Gill wrote a whole book about it – and this new Afternoon Tea is another excellent (and delicious) chapter in The Wolseley’s ever-glorious repertoire. From £29.95 per person, daily.
Just around the corner from the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Circus, the Hotel Cafe Royal’s classic London Royal Tea, is a welcome escape set within the opulent Oscar Wilde Bar. The menu has been curated to represent afternoon tea through the ages. Highlights include the traditional Battenberg and macaroons inspired by the London Underground. The hotel has collaborated with diptyque for a special afternoon tea, which comes with a glass of champagne and a Baies candle. Available from £42 per person, from midday until 5pm.
The High Palms High Tea at The Landmark is an afternoon tea with a twist. It isn’t served in the afternoon and isn’t focused on the quintessentially British cucumber sandwiches and scones we are accustomed to. Instead, this is a more substantial, warm evening meal (served daily between 6-10pm) that draws upon Middle Eastern influences (think lamb kibbeh with cous cous, pomegranate and tahini sauce) and is accompanied by a choice of iced teas (the hot variety is also available). The lemon chicken is melt-in-mouth and a particular highlight, and the assortment of desserts is the cherry on top, because why choose one when you can have all three? From £55 per person. 9 July to 2 September.
Art lovers can’t miss the highly visual and colourful afternoon art tea at the Rosewood. Served in the beautiful ‘Mirror Room’ restaurant, each item in the tea is influenced by Pop Art artists such as Andy Warhol and the abstract figures of Cubism. The Cubism & Pop Art Tea features creative twists on three classic pastries; a 1970s Black Forest Gateau is transformed into Warhol’s iconic Campbell soup can, a blue banana cheesecake mirrors the work of Roy Lichtenstein, and sitting upon a biscuit base is a decadent spotted treat, an ode to the great Yayoi Kusama. The tea is almost too good to eat… almost. From £50. Mon-Sun 12-7pm.
Set in the gorgeous light-filled (and velvet armchair-scattered) Drawing Rooms at the Ampersand Hotel, the hotel’s new take on the famous Science Tea launched earlier this year. A grown-up twist on the neighbouring Science Museum-inspired menu, this new addition includes a cocktail flight, and is to be served between 6pm-9pm Thursday to Saturday.
Drinks on offer include Darwin’s Draught – with Lalani & Co Earl Grey infused Chase vodka, Kamm & Sons, cucumber, apple and ginger – and Marie Cure-All – Lalani & Co Premium Genmaicha infused rum with Aperol, Antica Formula & Amer Picon – all suitably scientifically presented, in smoking teapots and the like. This is a novelty afternoon tea done really, really well, with seriously good food (the cheddar and thyme scones served with truffle butter are the star) and a really clever drinks menu. £49.50 per person, www.ampersandhotel.com.
If you’re looking for a child-friendly afternoon tea option in London, look no further than the Chesterfield Mayfair’s The Original Sweet Shop Afternoon Tea. With pastries and cakes the flavour of retro sweetshop favourites, delicious chocolate-chip scones and a host of savoury treats, it’s a must-try for both adults and children with a sweet tooth. Highlights include the Coca-Cola slice, the enormous peanut-butter cup and the fizzy apple mousse. And of course, the trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the retro sweet cart manned by the in-house Candyman who will help young guests fill a bag with old-school penny sweets and pick-and-mix favourites. Younger guests can enjoy the afternoon tea served alongside a milkshake or tea, priced at £21.50. Adults can opt to add a glass of something sparkling with the Champagne Tea (£47 per person), including a glass of brut, rosé or white label Lanson Champagne. For £40 per person The Original Sweet Shop Afternoon Tea is served with loose leaf or flowering tea, coffee or hot chocolate. To book, email [email protected], visit chesterfieldmayfair.com or call the hotel on 0207 491 2622.
Another classic afternoon tea spot on the London scene is The Dorchester on Park Lane. Serving one of the finest in the city for over 85 years, head pastry chef Sarah Barber is constantly adding new treats to the menu. Their Traditional Afternoon Tea features a signature Dorchester blend tea as a palate cleanser, then to follow a selection of sandwiches on artisan breads and delicate pastries and scones to finish. The hotel is renowned for its beautiful floristry, which serves also as inspiration for new creations such as the Mayfair Rose mousse and Berry Blossom compote. It’s by far one of the prettiest High Teas in town. From £60 per person, daily.
The departure from British tradition is a very welcome change at COMO The Halkin, where the afternoon tea has been given a distinctly Basque twist. Finger sandwiches are replaced with a variety of ‘pintxos’ (Basque tapas) that reflect the skill of the Michelin-starred kitchen of Ametsa with Arzak Instruction, featuring savoury foams, the creamiest croquetas you’ll ever have and a delightful miniature waffle topped with a perfectly fried quail’s egg. The second serving gets even better, as the table is filled with a selection of beautifully presented desserts that are almost too good to eat, and handmade melt-in-the-mouth chocolates. The menu is sophisticated and beautifully thought out, as is the tea selection which includes a memorable Jasmine Pearls green tea. Available daily. From £34 per person
Whilst you sit in the grand Rotunda in the company of London’s élite, the staff at The Four Seasons Trinity Square make it so you don’t have to lift a finger. From the moment you walk in the grand entrance you’re greeted by blissful live piano music, awe-inspiring architecture and highly attentive staff. The newly-launched Heritage Tea is inspired by the buildings’ history as the old Port of London Authority and begins with a refreshing palate cleanser. From then on, the champagne is chilled, the tea is hot, and the decadent food served on themed crockery adds to the alluring journey. This classic London landmark is the height of elegance, and with its beautiful food (as pleasing on the eye as it is on the palate), Champagne buzz and light chitter-chatter in the background, it makes for a most soothing and comfortable afternoon that could easily turning into evening… The Heritage Afternoon Tea is available daily, from £35 per person
The French pastry chef Dominique Ansel, of cronut fame, has produced an afternoon tea that traces the path of a flower from savoury, earthy flavours at the bottom to sweet, flower-like delicacies at the top. As well as warm, freshly-baked scones with jam and clotted cream fashioned into the shape of a strawberry, you can also expect avocado and feta mousseline on squid ink choux and steak tartare atop brioche toast. Then, delight in the lavender meringue with chocolate petals and brown butter financier found at the top. Choose from a selection of teas or indulge in a glass of champagne, and if you feel like really pushing the boat out, order the Splendid afternoon tea which comes with butter-poached Canadian lobster rolls and caviar blinis, too. From £42 per person. Thursday-Sunday 12-4pm.
Tradition lies at the heart of this establishment as one of the oldest hotels near to Buckingham Palace – and its afternoon tea is no exception. Served in the Game Bird room, expect immaculate, old-school service from the charming team who are particularly knowledgeable on their wide selection of loose teas (we recommend the White Apricot). Small touches are key: there are both plain and raisin scones, the teapots and jugs are perfectly-polished silver and the sandwiches are crustless (of course).
The fillings transport you back to childhood picnics – cucumber and cream cheese, roast beef with horseradish and egg mayonnaise. Their selection of top-tier delights includes The Stafford’s twist on the Jaffa Cake and a feather-light strawberry and cream macaron. Moët by the glass is the cherry on top of this classic hotel that gets afternoon tea just right. From £36 per person
An institution since 1707 and still one of the best, Fortnum & Mason’s iconic afternoon tea is an absolute must-try. It’s finger sandwich, cake and scone heaven, with trademark eau de nil china and the biggest selection of fine teas you will ever see. Tea experts are on hand to help you choose – and be sure to pick up a pack to take home, too. Available for £44 per person (£48 with Rare tea). 181 Piccadilly, London W1A 1ER.
Truffled egg mayo sandwiches? Rhubarb and tonka bean jam? Irish coffee éclair? All our favourites with a twist. Corinthia London has just launched their new afternoon tea menu, served amidst glorious fresh flowers and to the sound of the grand piano in the Crystal Moon Lounge. Make sure you keep a lookout for Nigel, the charming Crystal Moon Lounge Manager who can tell you the story behind the bespoke William Edwards teacups and the red crystal in the heart of the chandelier.
The experience begins with the antique champagne trolley being wheeled over to your table, and continues in the same sumptuous style until the very end. Having gorged on sandwiches then scones with cream and jam, you probably won’t be able to fit in all of the cakes and delicacies. Luckily, your delightful waitress or waiter will box up any that you can’t finish and you can trot off, a Corinthia bag full of goodies swinging by your side. Traditional afternoon tea from £45 per person.
The latest place du jour for the fashion crowd happens to house the prettiest afternoon tea out there. So pretty and thoroughly pink the interior (by India Mahdavi) is a confection of dainty scalloped chairs and plush banquettes, witty bespoke ceramics by British brand Caverswall in collaboration with David Shrigley, and over 200 illustrations jostling for space on the dusty pink walls. Every bit the Marie Antoinette dream you imagine, Sketch embodies her famous saying, ‘let them eat cake’ with its afternoon tea menu. Featuring caviar and quail’s egg sandwiches, and all too beautiful pastries, Sketch is a must visit parlour of pink and frivolity. Corset and humongous wig optional. Daily, from £58, 11.30-3.30pm.
The NYC export opened in London’s St James’s Market late last year, but now it’s launched a Nordic Afternoon Tea. Expect an array of fika, open rye bread sandwiches and Swedish pastries including semla (cardamom buns), punsch-roll (crushed cookies and punsch liqueur with marzipan and chocolate) and delicious teas and Swedish coffees from Johan & Nystrom. From £27.50. Mon-Fri 3-5.30pm, weekends 3.30-6pm.
For an afternoon tea with a difference, fall down the rabbit hole to Sanderson’s Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea. A little gimmicky, but in the best possible way, this fun afternoon tea offers delicious teas (which are also available to purchase) named after Lewis Carroll’s characters, from Alice to The Queen of Hearts; delicate patisseries and cakes; excellent savoury options with a difference (the parmesan croque-monsieur was a highlight) and lovely, crumbly scones. There’s also a host of themed cocktails and drinks to be enjoyed with your tea, in case you needed any further persuading. From £48 per person (excluding service and dependent on choice of drink accompaniments). Available daily.
Head to Dandelyan, the award-winning bar at Mondrian London, for a unique afternoon tea with a botanical twist. Their new Wyld Tea is made up of 4 delicious courses comprising of finger sandwiches, savoury bites and retro cakes paired with exclusive botanical themed cocktails. And so pretty, too! Thursday – Sunday, from £35 per person.
Desperately needing a breath of country air and a finger sandwich simultaneously? The English Country Garden Afternoon Tea at 108 Pantry is the ticket. It launched last year on 1 March to mark the first day of spring with grass meadow serving boards, terracotta pots, edible flowers and fork and spade fashioned cutlery. Smoked salmon served on Guinness bread, lavender pannacotta served with sparkling wine jelly and chocolate and rose opera cake… Bet you wouldn’t have guessed that there’s also a gluten-free menu. Daily 3pm – 6.00pm, from £32 per person. BL
Try not to pocket the handsome crockery at this new opening, or lose your dignity asking for a goodie bag with the abundance of elaborate cakes. Palm Court at the majestic Principal Hotel on Russell Square, is polished splendour at its best, a vast atrium alive with plants and flanked by two charming courtyards. The expected rituals of afternoon tea are performed with traditional panache, steering guests through classic to exotic teas, a truffle potato soufflé, a light sandwich trio, scones and puddings. Contemporary twists on old favourites, from matcha scones to beetroot bread play to the wellness crowd while the old-timers can expect mouth-watering cream teas and a selection of puddings resembling more ‘work-of-art’ than pastry. In colder months, their warming open fire will be a welcome pairing. From £39 per person
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