It’s too bad that afternoon tea is so often viewed as twee or touristy — something you might do once a year, say, on Mother's Day, or with a friend visiting from out of town. In fact, it’s an elegant, timeless ritual that deserves to be preserved. ‘Ritual’ is the key word here — how many situations in our hectic modern lives truly have that sense of ceremony and occasion?
With so many terrible things going on around the world, afternoon tea might be one of the few times when you can slow down and revert back to a more innocent era, or escape into a fantasy world and indulge in much-needed ‘me time’. There’s nothing like the sweet sanctuary of a leisurely hour or two with friends, complete with voluptuous scones, gorgeous cakes, extravagant pastries, precision-cut finger sandwiches and a steaming pot of fragrant tea. Promise us, though, that you will switch off your mobile phone and really take time to savour every moment.
To celebrate the newly-revived annual Afternoon Tea Week (August 11-17), we’ve rounded up London’s top venues where you can enjoy ‘afternoon tea with a difference’ – the difference being either a quirky theme, unusual location, or global flavour (Thai afternoon tea, anyone?). From tea on a boat or in the Houses of Parliament, to ice cream tea or masala chai with Indian-spiced game meats, there’s something here for everyone.
QUIRKY THEMES AND SURREAL DREAMS
Children's Fictional Characters
What: Charlie and The Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea at The Lobby Bar in One Aldwych
When: 12.30-4pm daily
Cost: £34.50; £45 with glass of champagne or cocktail; £25 for children under 12
See your favourite bits of Roald Dahl’s ‘Charlie and The Chocolate Factory’ come alive – in an edible sort of way – while celebrating the popular West End musical. On the enchanting menu here are golden chocolate eggs, home-made candy floss, blueberry brioches, sandwiches and tarts. Teas are supplied by Covent Garden’s Tea Palace.
What: Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea in The Sanderson
When: 12.30-5.30pm daily
Cost: adult £38-£58; child aged 4-11: £30
It’s worth falling down the rabbit hole of your imagination to sample this high-concept tea curated by the design collective Luna & Curious. Surreal victuals include ‘tick tock’ Victoria sponge, a ‘jelly wonderland’ trolley of fruit jellies made in Victorian moulds, ‘drink me’ potion, sandwiches and scones. Much fun is to be had with menus hidden in vintage books, napkins wrapped in riddles, and crockery decorated with characters from the book. Curiouser and curiouser.
The Dorchester will host its annual Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea between 27-31 October with specially-themed pastries, scones and finger sandwiches, performances from English National Ballet School’s young dancers, and extracts from Alice in Wonderland.
What: 'Confessions of a Chocoholic' Afternoon Tea at the Podium Restaurant in the London Hilton on Park Lane
When: 2-6pm Monday-Friday; 12 noon-6pm Saturday-Sunday
Cost: £36; £46 with glass of champagne
Chocolate meets art in a choc-tastic afternoon tea that’s also a homage to pop art legends like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. You won’t be able to resist miniature chocolate fancies served on edible chocolate plates, and chocolate chip scones with chocolate praline spread.
The Carnaby restaurant at Courthouse Hotel serves chocolate afternoon tea that includes Nutella chocolate finger sandwiches and chocolate chip pound cake.
What: Ice Cream Afternoon Tea at the Dorchester
When: Until 31 August, daily between 1-6.45pm
I scream, you'll scream for this uber-swish hotel’s summery afternoon tea focused entirely on ice cream. Quintessential English favours of elderflower, Cox’s apple, honey and Earl Grey tea are served in miniature cones, along with sandwiches and pastries.
What: Afternoon Bee at The Chesterfield Mayfair
When: Until 28 September; 1.30-5.30pm Monday-Friday; 1-5.30pm Saturday-Sunday.
Cost: £34.50; £41.50 with glass of champagne.
To celebrate summertime and the importance of the honeybee — and inspired by thousands of bees that live on its rooftop — the Chesterfield is serving a honey-themed afternoon tea. Sweet and sticky treats include carrot cupcakes topped with honey and ginger cream dusted with pollen, and rosemary and honey macarons with chocolate ganache.
What: Musical Afternoon Tea at The Ampersand Hotel
When: Until 5 September; daily 2.30-5.30pm
Cost: £32.50; £44.50 with glass of champagne
In honour of the BBC Proms at the nearby Royal Albert Hall, this majestic hotel is serving classical music-themed tea featuring opera cake with ‘dark chocolate grand piano’, ‘double bass hazelnut sable’ and savoury French gougeres (which you rarely ever see on afternoon tea menus). At weekends, there’s live music from London Underground’s buskers.
W Hotel serves ‘rock star tea’ on a three-tiered stand made from vintage vinyl records. Cakes and pastries are named after iconic rock songs by Pink Floyd, The Clash, Jimi Hendrix and other rock legends – giving a new meaning to the Rolling Stones’ ‘Sticky Fingers’.
What: Pret-a-Portea at The Caramel Room in The Berkeley
When: 1-5.30pm daily.
Cost: £41; £51 or £57 with glass of champagne
The uber-trendy, fashion-centric Pret-a-Portea is the favourite of many a fashionista. The cakes and pastries here resemble the latest catwalk designs and the menu changes every six months to keep up with the changing fashion seasons. The edible 2014 Spring/Summer collection includes an Oscar De La Renta summer pistachio sponge cake dress topped with poppy seed parfait and edible flower, as well as a Victoria Beckham graphic geometric cherry and white chocolate mousse shirt. You won’t know whether to wear it or eat it.
Vintage And Burlesque
What: Vintage British Afternoon Tea at Betty Blythe
When: 12.30-4pm Monday-Friday; 1.30-6.30pm Saturday-Sunday. They’re closed between 18-27 August 2014.
Dress up in your most sumptuous Great Gatsby-esque finery to visit this cosy 1920s-style vintage tearoom, and enjoy home-made scones, cakes and finger sandwiches. Pretend you’re in a movie with Leo (or, okay, just an extra in Downton Abbey).
Sip on ‘cabaret cocktails’ and indulge in cakes, scones and finger sandwiches at Volupte where burlesque performers are guaranteed to liven up the far-from-genteel proceedings.
Men’s Afternoon Teas
What: Gents Afternoon Tea at the Sanctum Soho
When: Daily 3-5pm
The growing trend for ‘men’s afternoon teas’ — more and more venues are offering these now — is truly baffling. Perhaps it’s a way of luring men into a domain that they’d otherwise dismiss as “too girly” with its dainty finger sandwiches and candy-pink frippery. Or maybe men and women really do have different tastes in food and drink. More likely, it’s all just a marketing ploy. Whatever the logic, expect chunky portions of seared steak, lamb and potato hotpot, rabbit pasty, roast beef, and other macho delights at the 'gents afternoon tea’ here — together with a tankard of whisky and a cigar. There’s also a separate ‘high heels high tea’ (£35) featuring the likes of mini fish pie — presumably for the ladies.
Chiswell Street Dining Rooms serves ‘gentleman’s tea’ featuring Welsh rarebit and Patum Peperium Gentleman’s Relish’ on toast. The Athenaeum continues in a similar vein with a ‘gentlemen’s afternoon tea’ including steak and ale pie, wild boar sausage rolls and a dram of single malt on its macho menu. ‘The great British gentleman’s afternoon tea’ at the Reform Social & Grill in the Mandeville is also a refined affair with its 1940s and ‘50s vintage theme, plus Norfolk treacle tart, jam roly poly, and steak and snail sandwich on the menu. The no-nonsense ‘man’s afternoon tea’ at the quirky Drink, Shop & Do is altogether more down-to-earth with a menu suspiciously similar to a pub lunch: three doorstop sandwiches, savoury scone, pickles, pork scratchings, Yorkie bar and a pint of lager. Maybe it’s supposed to be all ironic and post-modernist?
What: Maids of Honour Afternoon Tea at The Original Maids of Honour
When: From 2.30pm daily
Cost: Several set afternoon teas ranging from £6.95 per person, to £48.95 for two; a la carte tea items individually priced
‘Maids of honour’ are delicious puff pastry tarts created during the reign of Henry VIII, made from cheese or milk curds. Located near Kew Gardens, this eighteenth century bakery and café sells tarts made to the original recipe, which remains a closely-guarded secret. In addition to the maids of honour, there are scones with clotted cream and jam, Edwardian tea sandwiches, home-made pies, steak pasties, sausage rolls and other traditional English delights.
What: American Afternoon Tea at Brgr.Co
When: 3-6pm daily
It was inevitable: the burger trend was bound to reach the afternoon tea sector sooner or later. A trio of American-style beef and cheddar, chicken Caesar, and lobster sliders are served with ‘tiny fries’, mini doughnuts, cheesecake, brownie and milkshake, along with flavoured iced teas.
What: Moroccan Afternoon Tea at Mo Café & Terrace at Momo
When: 12.30-5.30pm daily
Cost: £22; £32 with glass of champagne or cocktail
The sweet spices of the souk perfume Momo’s Moroccan afternoon tea, which includes ‘maghrebine pastries,’ cheese briouats, falafel and courgette dip sandwiches and more. Scones with fig and strawberry jam, and desserts like ‘crepe berber’ can be added at an extra cost. The teas are from the revered Mariage Freres.
Moroccan afternoon tea is also available at the long-established Maison Touareg, which serves home-baked orange blossom cakes with orange saffron marmalade and rose cream, Moroccan sandwiches, baklava, Turkish delight and fresh mint tea.
What: Chinese Gongfu Cha tea ceremony at the Teanamu Chaya Teahouse
When: 12 noon-6pm Saturdays and Sundays
Cost: £20 and £25
What Chinese tea master Pei Wang doesn’t know about tea isn’t worth knowing. Not only does he host extraordinarily educational (and delicious) tea tastings and master-classes in a secluded private home in Notting Hill, he also runs a weekends-only vegetarian tea-house with a tranquil Zen-like atmosphere. Two set menus are offered as part of the Chinese Gongfu Cha tea ceremony, encompassing home-made patisserie, brown bread wakame seaweed sandwiches and dim sum. Take your time to enjoy such pretty delicacies as lo mai fan lotus leaf rice parcels, and snow skin marzipan with guava. The freshly-brewed teas are truly special — and often very rare. This is hands-down one of the best and most unique afternoon teas we’ve experienced in London.
What: Afternoon Tea at The Magazine restaurant at Serpentine Sackler Gallery
When: Thursday to Sunday, 3.30-5pm
Cost: £25; £35 with matching sakes
The Serpentine Sackler Gallery opened in Kensington Gardens last year; and its Japanese food-loving chef Oliver Lange has just introduced a Japanese-influenced afternoon tea in the restaurant that was once a nineteenth-century gunpowder store. British ingredients are given a Japanese makeover with items such as home-made brioche with lobster and yuzu mayo, and yuzu tartlets. The tea is available with or without sake to match.
What: Game High Chai at the Library Bar at The Cinnamon Club
When: 8 September-31 October; 3-5.30pm Monday-Saturday
Cost: £20; £32 with glass of champagne.
Available throughout September and October this year, executive chef Vivek Singh’s menu will celebrate the British game season with spicy offerings rooted in India’s old (and now banned) hunting traditions. There are tandoori partridge and chutney sandwiches, Bengali-spiced grouse and beetroot puffs, Bombay-style venison burgers in cumin brioches, spiced carrot and ginger toffee pudding, and scones with pumpkin chutney. Teas are from Lalani & Co; and there’s also the option of Indian masala chai.
The Cinnamon Club’s sister restaurant Cinnamon Soho serves ‘high chai’ featuring potato bondas, Bangla scotch eggs, ‘bhangra lamb sliders’, tandoori chicken and chutney sandwiches, and ginger and garam masala cake. Daawat restaurant at the Strand Palace Hotel also serves Indian afternoon tea that includes cardamom chai made to order accompanied by the likes of achari prawn open sandwiches and traditional spiced ‘mathri’ shortbread.
What: Thai Afternoon Tea at Nipa Thai restaurant at The Lancaster
When: 2-4pm Friday-Sunday — but note that the restaurant is closed for refurbishment until 8th September 2014
Cost: £22; £31/ £32 with glass of champagne
Ever tried Thai afternoon tea? This lovely traditional restaurant serves a thoroughly modern Thai-inspired tea including Thai-style sandwiches, savouries, scones, cakes and pastries. Delectable morsels include chilli, avocado and green papaya wraps, mango scones with strawberry-basil jam or jasmine-orange marmalade, and banana and coconut rice doughnuts. The tea selection includes varieties from Thailand flavoured with lemongrass or ginger.
What: Le Tea en Rose at the Rose Lounge at Sofitel St James
When: 2.30-5.30pm daily
Cost: £30; £34 with a champagne cocktail
In this intimate pink-hued, rose-themed room, you can indulge in a French-inspired afternoon tea that includes a selection of luscious Parisian pastries. Other items like scones and finger sandwiches are more conventional; and there’s a wide selection of teas from around the world.
What: La Dolce Vita Italian Afternoon Tea at the Amaranto Lounge in the Four Seasons, Park Lane
When: 3-6pm daily
Cost: £34; £48/ £51 with glass of champagne
Enjoy ‘the sweet life’ with bruschetta, focaccia, fritto misto, cannolo siciliano and torta caprese at this Italian afternoon tea served in swish surroundings.
What: Afternoon Tea at The Modern Pantry
When: 3-5pm daily
Cost: £19.50; £24.50 with glass of champagne
Experience a multitude of international flavours all on one plate, in the setting of a listed Georgian townhouse overlooking St John’s Square. Chef Anna Hansen’s popular afternoon tea features such intricate fare as chia and mixed seed bread open sandwiches with quail’s egg, miso and wasabi cream cheese and macadamia dukkah; and cheddar, caramelised onion and turmeric scones with curry leaf goats curd. Seasonal teas are supplied by Lalani & Co.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION...
On The Bus
What: BB Bakery’s Afternoon Tea Bus Tour
When: 12.30pm and 3pm daily
Cost: £45; children (aged 6-11) £35
Hop on a double-decker Routemaster and enjoy the sights of central London for an hour and a half while partaking in a moveable feast of the sweet variety. There are French-accented macarons, pastries, mini cupcakes, scones, sandwiches and mini quiches; and the tour is organised by the beautiful BB Bakery in Covent Garden.
London's Highest Afternoon Tea
What: Asian Afternoon Tea at the Ting Lounge on the 35th Floor of The Shard
When: 2-6.30pm Monday-Friday; 11.30am-6.30pm Saturday-Sunday
Cost: £54; £62 with glass of champagne.
London’s highest afternoon tea is located 128 metres above ground level, giving stunning views over the city’s famous landmarks. The contemporary Chinese-style Ting lounge (the word means ‘living room’) serves Asian-inspired afternoon tea featuring coconut dacquoise with kalamansi curd and ginger and coriander-infused pineapple; matcha tea sponge with green tea cream and red beans; and savoury dim sum. There are over 30 teas created and blended by Camellia’s Tea House, including bespoke varieties such as white and jasmine tea with apricots. Classic English afternoon tea is also available (£49/ £57 with glass of champagne). The dramatic setting gives new meaning to the phrase ‘high tea’.
On A Boat
What: Tea Cruise by City Cruises
When: 3.15-5pm Wednesday-Sunday
Cost: £25; £33 with glass of champagne; £15 children (aged 5-12)
Glide along the Thames past London’s favourite landmarks, while tucking into scones with cream and jam, finger sandwiches and cakes.
Bateaux London has live music from a pianist and gives you the option of combining an afternoon tea cruise with a visit to the London Eye. And the party boat MV London Belle can be hired for afternoon tea cruises for large groups.
Tea With Politics
What: Afternoon Tea at the Terrace Pavilion at the Houses of Parliament
When: Wednesday-Friday until 29 August, then Wednesday-Friday 17 September-10 October; all Saturdays until October 25. 1.30pm and 3.15pm. More dates to be released.
Cost: £27.50, plus tour ticket
Did you know you could take tea with MPs? Well, okay, not quite — but you can take a historic tour around the Houses of Parliament, admire the magnificent architecture (not to mention the watertight security) and come within whispering distance of modern-day British politics… all this while doing the more important job of taking tea. The Terrace Pavilion gives beautiful views over the Thames, while the Parliament chefs enthral with their sweet and savoury creations.
Tea With Prayers
What: Afternoon Tea at the Café in the Crypt at St-Martin-in-the-Fields
When: 2-6pm daily
Cost: Items individually priced
Home to atmospheric concerts throughout the year, the café in the basement of this beautiful, centrally-located church serves an a la carte afternoon tea. Mix and match scones with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry jam, double chocolate fudge cake, and a selection of other classic cakes with a pot of tea.
Afternoon Tea Week takes place 11-17 August 2014.
And if you like your scones washed down with gallons of booze, check out our favourite Alcoholic Afternoon Teas in London.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital's top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.