Not content with the plain finger sandwiches and scones of old, London has mastered the art of a themed and novelty afternoon tea. While the dainty snacks and sweet treats are still very much in place, many experiences now transport diners to the worlds of their favourite books, characters and musicals.
London themed afternoon tea at The Dilly
Where better to start a collection of themed afternoon teas in London, than an afternoon tea themed on London? Fancy hotel The Dilly (previously Le Meridien — which served the now-defunct Peter Rabbit afternoon tea), unveiled a menu based on our fair city in spring 2023, with sweet representations of Big Ben, a red phone box, a black cab and a tube roundel, all elegantly presented on a silver stand, in the venue's light and airy Terrace restaurant above Piccadilly.
From first hand experience, we can say that the food is top-notch — the rich and creamy chocolate cremeux Big Ben with salted caramel centre definitely makes the top three things we've ever eaten in London — and the London theme is made the more charming by the use of crockery designed by House of Cally, adorned with whimsical illustrations of north London landmarks. One that's sure to please the tourists, but a treat for Londoners too.
London themed afternoon tea at The Dilly, 21 Piccadilly, W1J 0BH.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea at One Aldwych
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Candy floss, chocolate milkshakes and character-themed menus all feature in this Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea, based on Roald Dahl's imaginative children's book. It was one of London's original themed afternoon teas, and has been running for several years now, with occasional tweaks and updates made to the menu.
The chefs behind it have been pretty creative — think 'snozzberry' jam to top your scones, a 'Not quite as it seems beetroot macaron' and 'Fizzy lifting lemonade posset'. There's even the option of a chocolate tea to wash it all down. Scrumdiddlyumptious.
Peter Pan afternoon tea at Aqua Shard
Inspired by the adventures of Peter Pan on the island of Neverland, Aqua Shard serves up sweet and savoury goods on a tea stand inspired by the grand pirate ship the Jolly Roger, surrounded by dry ice for extra theatrical chutzpah. It uses motifs from J.M Barrie's classic novel, Peter Pan, including a Tinkerbell cookie sprinkled with gold fairy dust, a chocolate cake designed to resemble the entrance to the Home Under The Ground where the Lost Boys live, and a gummy crocodile submerged in a raspberry and rooibos jelly. You're faced wuth a toss up between ogling the beautifully presented food, and the views of London from 31 floors up.
£2 from each Peter Pan afternoon tea is donated to the Great Ormond Street Hospital charity.
Peter Pan afternoon tea at Aqua Shard, Level 31, The Shard, SE1 9RY.
Mad Hatters afternoon tea at The Sanderson Hotel, Fitzrovia
You're invited to a Mad Hatter's Tea Party at the Sanderson Hotel. The Alice in Wonderland afternoon tea takes you beyond the rabbit hole, with savoury and sweet treats served on charming crockery, all themed on Lewis Carroll's ultra-imaginative books.
Said crockery is loaded with creations like the Caterpillar Swirl, Tweedle Brothers and Mad Hatter themed sandwiches, a Minion's Macaron, a Mad Hatter's Opera Cake, and a 'grow me, shrink me, bring me back' potion.
Note: Fancy dress is not allowed — although you may well end up leaving with a Cheshire Cat grin on your face.
Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea at The Sanderson, 50 Berners Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 3NG.
Art afternoon tea at The Rosewood, Holborn
Mirror Room at The Rosewood in Holborn has been serving its Art Afternoon Tea for a few years now, switching it up every so often to reflect a different artist — often coinciding with a current London exhibition. Van Gogh, Dali and Banksy have been saluted in pastry form in the past, but as of summer 2023, it's David Hockney.
That translates as classic British flavours combined with iconic US desserts as a nod to Hockney's life in Yorkshire and Los Angeles. Each pastry is named after a Hockney artwork, so you can munch your way through The Arrival of Spring, The Splash, A Bigger Picture, Bigger And Closer, and Spring Cannot Be Cancelled.
The Mirror Room itself had a Hockney-inspired makeover, incorporating colour, props, and whimsical nods to the artist's personal style including his statement yellow crocs, flat cap, and glasses.
David Hockney art afternoon tea at The Rosewood London, 252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN. Keep an eye on the website of the next incarnation of the art afternoon tea.
Secret Garden afternoon tea at Kona
Tucked away in a colourful but private courtyard, Kona has a regularly changing rota of themed afternoon teas. Past incarnations have included Sherlock Holmes, complete with pipe and deerstalker, and a Candy Striped Carousel (Mary Poppins) theme with food served on a mechanical carousel (honestly one of the most charming and joyous afternoon teas we've had in London — and we've tried a lot) .
A Jasmine Indian afternoon tea is a permanent fixture of the menu, but if you're in the mood for something a bit whimsical, it's always worth checking what's currently on. As of summer 2023, it's a Secret Garden afternoon tea, with Frances Hodgson-Burnett's novel represented through pastries and savoury items, including a chocolate key within a layer of biscuit soil and edible flowers, and a chocolate pudding with its own flowers blooming out of an edible pot.
The Secret Garden Afternoon Tea at Kona, Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences, SW1E 6AF
Alice at The Franklin afternoon tea
West London hotel trio The Gore, The Pelham and The Franklin, all belonging to the Starhotels Collezione group, usually have a themed afternoon tea going on, often based on current exhibitions at the nearby V&A Museum — past menus have covered Winnie the Pooh, Frida Kahlo and Christian Dior.
As of summer 2023, The Franklin has an Alice in Wonderland themed afternoon tea, offering an imaginative twist on what a modern-day Alice might have eaten after falling down the rabbit hole, from a fluffy bun filled with crab meat to a caramel cupcake decorated with a white rabbit and caterpillar.
Check The Pelham, The Gore and The Franklin websites to see which afternoon tea is currently being offered at each venue — the presentation is always playful and creative, and the food always top-notch.
Alice at The Franklin afternoon tea, 24 Egerton Gardens, Kinghtsbridge, SW3 2DB.
Prêt-à-Portea fashion afternoon tea at The Berkeley
Similar to The Rosewood's art afternoon tea, The Berkeley's fashion-centric Prêt-à-Portea is a permanent feature, but has a makeover every few months to celebrate a different designer, fashion house or collection. For summer 2023, it's an edible 'capsule collection', featuring sweet renderings of Loewe’s Anthurium dress, Hermès’ tasselled bucket bag, and designs by Zimmermann and Thom Browne. There's also an homage to late designer Vivienne Westwood, in the form of a biscuity representation of her face and iconic red hair. She'd be honoured, we're sure.
Prêt-à-Portea at The Berkeley, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, SW1X 7RL.
Shakespeare afternoon tea at The Swan
Pub/restaurant The Swan makes the most of its position right next to Shakespeare's Globe, with a Shakespeare-themed afternoon tea served overlooking the Thames. We've previously tried the Midsummer Night's Dream offering, though from August 2023, it will be replaced by a new Macbeth afternoon tea, with a distinctly Scottish and murderous flavour — think haggis, apple and beetroot quiche tartlet; Scottish beef and horseradish cream brioche navettes; and Tonka bean cremeux filled lollipops topped with (what else?) a chocolate dagger.
Shakespeare afternoon tea at The Swan, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT.
Wizard Afternoon Tea at The Wizard Exploratorium
Located in Soho, the Wizard Exploratorium — sister venue to Dalston's The Cauldron potion bar — offers a wizard-themed afternoon tea that's more interactive than your average sarnies-and-scones experience.
Pick your magic wand on arrival, then use it to cast spells to control your tea stand and open your locked puzzle chest, which contains your ingredients, including two teas that you brew yourself. After all the hard work, enjoy scones, sand-witches and desserts from a regularly changing menu. It's afternoon tea meets molecular gastronomy, aimed at witches and wizards of all ages — though note it's completely unrelated to, and unaffiliated with, the Harry Potter Wizarding World.
Wizard Afternoon Tea at The Wizard Exploratorium, 26 Greek Street, Soho, W1D 5DE.