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Friday November 11 2022, 01:46am
Afternoon tea is a tradition dating back nearly 200 years, and Brits have it down to a fine art. The meal bridges the gap between lunch and dinner with a spectacular spread of sandwiches, sweet treats and cups of tea. Nowhere does them quite like London. Whether you prefer a traditional afternoon tea with white linen tablecloths, cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, champagne and freshly baked scones, or tea rooms with an arty twist, there’s one to suit in the capital.
Main photo: afternoon tea at The Platinum Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, Fortnum & Mason
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Best for storytelling
Travelling around the world can be exhausting — a much more leisurely way to explore is by getting comfortable in the regal surroundings of this Chelsea stalwart. Here, you’ll journey around the globe with delicate bites that reflect the sounds and flavours featured in the novel Around the World in 80 Days tucking into everything from New York inspired smoked salmon and cream cheese on mini bagels to soft petit beurre Natais biscuits; a nod to esteemed Head Pastry Chef Pierre Morvan’s who calls Nantes home. There’s plenty of theatre to look forward to — though the smoking forest looks almost too good to eat.
Price from £65
Family friendly Y
Best for a special occasion
Afternoon tea has been served in The Savoy’s pretty Thames Foyer since 1889. A pianist plays Adele and Fred Astaire numbers on a grand piano set under a stained glass dome and gazebo. Sandwiches elevate the classics and include English cucumber with green pea hummus and Scottish smoked salmon with chive and lemon cream. Warm scones are followed by chocolate fudge cake and seasonal fruit tartlets and paired with a choice of 30 teas, a glass of champagne, Nyetimber English sparkling wine, or JING Jasmine Pearls, a tea-based non-alcoholic fizz.
Price from £65
Best for high tea
Serving over 500 pots a day, this salon sits on the fourth floor of the St James’s department store. Expect white linen tablecloths laid with camellia china, a tinkling Steinway and a classic spread. Finger sandwiches include Suffolk cured ham with English mustard and Cotswold Legbar egg mayonnaise; followed by strawberry jam-topped scones and pâtisseries including rose eclairs. Sip Fortnum’s blanc de blancs fizz or bespoke tea blends as you dine. Upgrade to high tea for an additional savoury course such as lobster and truffle omelette.
Price from £70
Best for theatregoers
All pale pink walls, green marble, crystal chandeliers and gilded ceilings, the Grand Saloon lives up to its name. This showy space, in the heart of Covent Garden’s theatreland, is the setting for a Regency-inspired afternoon tea created by baker Lily Vanilli. It’s a playful affair — think madeleines topped with lapsang souchong glazed salmon, puff pastry sausage rolls, pink lemonade tarts and sticky toffee pud alongside warm scones. Rare Company Teas, Taittinger champagne and a roaming trolley proffering scoops of absinthe mint choc chip ice cream add another layer of lighthearted deliciousness.
Price from £49
Best for an American take
Served in the art deco-feel, bookshelf-lined Gatsby’s Room, this afternoon tea provides a dose of Stateside flavour. Bespoke artisan JING teas, including high altitude Red Dragon from Yunnan and organic Darjeeling, can be enjoyed with finger sandwiches filled with the likes of smoked chicken caesar and devilled egg and Reuben salt beef. Desserts include peanut butter and jelly chocolate macaroons and key lime and matcha religieuse. It’s a good vegan pick too, with pulled jackfruit sandwiches and cashew clotted cream available.
Price from £62
Best for an arty experience
British-Nigerian artist Yinka Ilori and his obsession with colour is what makes afternoon tea at this landmark Knightsbridge hotel really pop. Striking cake stands based on stacked and interlocking spheres — inspired by Ilori’s designs — are topped with sweet treats created by pastry chef and chocolatier Gianluca Fusto, who puts an Italian twist on his creations. You’ll tuck into the likes of buns stuffed with burrata and fig chutney and delicate orange biscuits served with a tangy compote and can take afternoon tea in the Italian-style living room, warmed by an open fire.
Price from £95
Family friendly Y
Best for regal glamour
The Goring is fit for royalty and, indeed, Kate Middleton stayed the night before her wedding. Afternoon tea is served in The Veranda, a fig-tree-filled and birdcage-adorned space which has an opulent indoor-outdoor feel. A seasonally shifting menu includes the likes of roast sirloin beef and horseradish and Coronation chicken sandwiches, warm scones, lemon posset and pear and caramel choux buns. Add in a glass of Bollinger Special Cuvée for extra sparkle, and watch out for themed teas — previous ones have included a Shetland pony motif.
Price from £60
Best for fashion fans
Every spring/summer and autumn/winter this afternoon tea, served in the Collins Room, gets a revamp, offering photogenic “couture cakes” riffing on catwalk favourites. Previous confections include Burberry trenches as biscuits, a tangerine-hued Oscar de la Renta gown as an apricot bavarois complete with meringue frill, and a Schiaparelli-inspired caramel sponge with Valrhona dark chocolate collar. This autumn’s will involve designs inspired by Ralph Lauren and Prada, and also includes canapés, sandwiches presented on yellow and lilac china, and a selection of loose-leaf teas.
Price from £75
Best for kids
You’ll find this dinosaur-themed affair just five minutes from the Natural History Museum, where Dippy the Diplodocus is back in residence. After descending into The Ampersand’s Victorian cellar arches, kids can play archaeologist, uncovering an edible fossil from a chocolate soil box and watch a raspberry and lemon crémeux “erupt” volcano-style. Scones become canvases thanks to squeezy tubes of passionfruit curd and unfussy kids’ savouries include mini hot dogs and T-Rex cheese straws. Adults are well catered for too, with quiches, mini brioches and cocktails such as the gin-based Dino Sour.
Price from £49.50
Best for surrealism
The Mirror Room in Rosewood London serves afternoon tea with a side of surrealism. You’ll want to have your phone out — incredible cakes and pastries based on Salvador Dali’s pieces including Queen of Hearts and Butterfly Windmills are so striking they’ll be the star of your Instagram feed. There’s also a chance to win anything from a glass of champagne to an overnight stay at Rosewood London if you catch a virtual butterfly through your camera app. Diners also receive a limited-edition NFT.
Price from £72
Best for spectacular views
Served on the 35th floor of The Shard, the afternoon tea at Asian-inspired restaurant Ting provides unrivalled views of London. It kicks off with a flavoured welcome tea, featuring dry ice — next up come smoked salmon and Burford Brown egg sandwiches, scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream and the likes of hazelnut and passionfruit cake. The pièce de résistance is a Shard-shaped pastry, rendered in tempered chocolate and filled with mousse or sponge. Each October Ting’s treats turn pink, supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with a portion of proceeds donated to Guy’s Cancer at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital.
Price from £69
Best for elegance
Founded as a tea room in the 1920s, The Rosebery is a vision in pistachio ice cream shades and calming Jenny Smith prints. Suspended cake stands come laden with finger sandwiches, pastries and freshly baked scones with seasonal jams such as lemon curd or wild plum. Delicate desserts such as jasmine and clementine crème brûlée, and plum and tonka tart shift with the seasons. Tea Master Isabela Castro helps diners choose their tea — options include Darjeeling First Flush from India and Apricot White from China. Wine, sake and beer pairings are also available.
Price from £68
Best for grande dame glitz
Just the ticket for traditionalists, the Ritz’s tea is served in the hotel’s former ballroom complete with chandelier and murals glinting with gold. The strains of Puttin’ on the Ritz on the harp or piano fill the air and a formal dress code sees everyone done up to the nines (tie and jacket required for men). Expect warm scones, pastries, cakes such as wild strawberry fingers with lemon verbena, and service as exacting as the precision-cut sandwiches on offer. As for drinks, sip champagne or raise a cup of loose leaf tea — Tea Sommelier Giandomenico Scanu curates a bespoke list, while decaf options keep kids involved.
Price from £67
Best for chocoholics
Good news — this cocoa-tastic afternoon tea, dreamt up in partnership with the Roald Dahl Story Company, doesn’t require a golden ticket. Feast on not-quite-as-it-seems salmon and beetroot macarons and spinach roly-poly, whilst sipping swudge chocolate milkshake or lemon sherbet tea. Other highlights include scones with snozzberry jam, candy floss pops, marshmallow treats, “fizzy lifting” champagne and a range of quirky cocktails served from teapots.
Price from £52
Best for something casual
For a more relaxed afternoon tea in London, make for this next-level garden centre in leafy Richmond. During summer the wild-at-heart Garden Afternoon Tea takes place in an outdoor courtyard, and a jasmine-filled greenhouse when the temperature drops. Seasonal tidbits bring out the flavour of top-notch, organic produce and are presented atop Florentine-style hand-blown glass cake stands. Nibble on red pepper tartlets with mascarpone, focaccia topped with fior di latte and nasturtiums, buttermilk scones and lemon polenta cake. While there’s a small selection of loose-leaf tea available, adding in a rose petal bellini feels in keeping with the bloom-packed surroundings.
Price from £45
Best for a Japanese twist
Once you’re settled into curved green velvet sofas in the David Collins-designed lounge, salmon, yellowtail, jalapeño and vegetable yuzu truffle canapes arrive to start this Japanese-infused afternoon tea. Next is shrimp salad roll and wasabi beef tataki on shokupan sando. Scones layered with raspberry mint jam nod to English traditions, but predominantly, the likes of yuzu macaroons and miso caramel éclairs champion Japanese ingredients. Teas include kabuse sencha and phoenix honey orchid oolong, and an innovative vegetarian menu is packed with avocado-tomato ceviche and mushroom-sesame tostadas.
Price from £55
Best for riverside flair
As you’d expect from an award-winning bar masterminded by mixology maestro Mr Lyan, the afternoon tea at Lyaness puts as much care into its cocktails as its tea list. Superior sips range from rum, rose and galangal fizz to cups of Earl Grey blend with Calabrian bergamot oil or earthy Hojicha from Kyoto. The combination of riverside location, electric blue banquettes and golden tables add up to a sultry space to enjoy plates of pickled cucumber, cream cheese and chive sandwiches, coconut panna cotta with honeycomb and freshly baked scones with blueberry lemon thyme jam, as boats glide by.
Price from £35
Best for pâtisserie perfection
Pastry chef Jessica Prealpato’s afternoon tea menu is inspired by Kew Gardens. Expect everything from nettle scones to lobster and caviar tartelle topped with a bisque cream. Wash it all down with your pick from a selection of teas from Mariage Frères, France’s oldest tea house, or upgrade to a glass of champagne for £10. An extra sweetener is the complementary ticket to Kew Gardens.
Price from £75
Best for tea lovers
You’ll need to be decisive at this Parisian-inspired tea house that’s taken over a listed Georgian townhouse in Covent Garden: there are close to 1,000 options on its tea menu to choose between. Head Chef Felix Richard is behind the afternoon yea menu and you can choose between a Covent Garden or Parisian option with exciting twists such as purple brisket-stuffed bao burgers and scones elevated with tea-infused jelly.
Family friendly Y
Price £33 for Parisian Tea, £39 for Covent Garden Tea
Additional reporting by Lucy Perrin
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