Bejewelled with glittering lights and sparkling Christmas trees, London looks very glamorous at this time of year — like a bride before her wedding, or Cinderella on her way to the ball. There’s no better way to heighten this festive spirit than dressing up in your finery and going out for a Christmas afternoon tea. Indulge in delicious pastries and scones with a glass of champagne in hand, and the Christmas shopping frenzy will seem a million miles away.
Festive teas are now becoming as much of an institution as Christmas jumpers and repeats of Home Alone — and you’ll find dozens on the excellent Afternoon Tea website. Here’s a round-up of ones we’ve tried and can heartily recommend.
InterContinental Park Lane
What: Christmas Afternoon Tea by Paul A Young
Where: Wellington Lounge, InterContinental Park Lane, 1 Hamilton Place, W1J 7QY
Cost: £42 with a glass of Prosecco
Time: 1pm-5pm daily
Available until: 8 January 2017
This year the Intercontinental has teamed up with chocolatier Paul A Young to create an afternoon tea experience which, unsurprisingly, focuses on chocolate. Sandwich fillings include turkey with sage stuffing and clove mayonnaise and smoked salmon, crayfish and prawns in Marie Rose sauce. There's a warm Stilton, chestnut and walnut vol au vent (we do love a retro twist) and venison and winter vegetable puffs. It all sounds very warming and seasonal.
Of course, you'll be most interested in the chocolate, so after the scones, look forward to some really special creations from Paul, including a white chocolate water ganache infused with mincemeat served in a half single origin 65% Grenadian Kalingo cocoa pod. Why not? You can then move on to a smoked crackling embers tart, gingerbread pastry tartlet, single origin 72% Venezuelan chocolate ganache. It's clear that this will be no ordinary afternoon tea.
The Chesterfield Mayfair
Some of the spiciest, fruitiest, most aromatic and delicious mulled wine in London can be found at the bar in Chesterfield — don’t miss it. Afternoon tea delights include roast turkey and cranberry mayonnaise sandwiches, honey roast ham, cheddar cheese and tomato chutney sandwiches on onion bread, mulled wine macarons, cranberry and vanilla cheesecake, fresh fruit tarts and Yule log. Particularly gorgeous-looking are Christmas tree ‘chocolate pots’ and snowman cupcakes; and there’s also a special-blend Christmas spice tea that’s well worth trying. The afternoon tea is served in their elegant conservatory, which has a fabulously festive atmosphere.
Cutter & Squidge
Cost: £27.50 - £32
Time: 11am - 7pm daily
Available until: 31 December 2016
This popular afternoon tea venue has replaced their regular sandwich fillings with festive flavours for a Boxing Day vibe, so expect to find turkey, or cranberry and stuffing replacing the usual cucumber and ham and mustard (although we think it’s safe to say the meat is fresh, rather than leftovers from a previous meal). Sweet things seem to follow a more ‘anything goes’ approach but then, so do we come the festive season. Chocolate and orange macarons, gingerbread blondies and a dulce de leche and chocolate pearl 'Biskie' (basically 2 biscuits sandwiching a filling) are all very tempting.
The cosy English Tea Room here, complete with wood panelling and old fireplaces, was Queen Victoria’s favourite place to take tea in London. In recent years, it’s won a number of awards from the Tea Guild. At Christmas, there’s a lively buzz from a piano player and carol singers, and their traditional afternoon tea is served with a festive makeover. Christmas specialities include turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and watercress sandwiches, smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches, mulled wine and gingerbread macarons, mandarin and chestnut tarts, and a lavish selection of cakes and pastries. Don’t miss the scones, which are made to a 75-year old recipe. Service is unstuffy and hospitable, and you’ll be transported to another era.
Overlooking the stunning Christmas lights of Knightsbridge, the festive afternoon tea at this swish hotel is an amazing experience. Tea connoisseurs will love the large selection of white, green and black teas, including rare varieties such as gui hua xiang, silver needle and sugarcane black — we strongly recommend you try as many as you can. The many festive delights include sandwiches filled with slow-roasted Norfolk turkey, sage and cranberry; smoked salmon rillettes with pickled cabbage and creme fraiche; St. Tola goats' cheese with roasted pumpkin and red onion confit; Portland crab and avocado with curry mayonnaise and lemon roll, and more.
There are lots of sweet treats too, such as caramel-chocolate Christmas trees, Christmas figgy baubles, pumpkin cinnamon macarons, spiced gingerbread biscuits, mince pies and more.
The Gilbert Scott
The stunning, ornate-ceilinged bar of Marcus Wareing’s classic British restaurant is not the most obvious place for afternoon tea: it’s best known for its cocktails. The festive tea is great value, and includes sandwiches such as smoked trout with creme fraiche and dill, Stilton and leek tartlets, frosted parsnip cake, chocolate hazelnut yule log, mince pies served warm with brandy butter, and an option of a delicious mulled wine bellini. Oh and while you’re there, why not try their cocktail ‘The Londonist’? In our unbiased opinion, it’s simply the best.