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From traditional to quirky, the best afternoon teas in London

By Maurice Shasha  //  Wed 6th March 2019
Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, first came up with this British tradition back in the 1800s, and London’s top hotels have specialised in afternoon tea pretty much ever since.
London afternoon teas
There’s nothing more quintessentially British than a spot of afternoon tea. But over the past few years this most refined of meals has exploded in popularity. These days you can find afternoon tea in London at just about every high-end hotel and café, leading to lots of establishments putting a quirky and unique stamp on this traditional occasion.

But with so many afternoon teas out there so how do you choose? Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday 31 March, so we’ve pulled together an ultimate guide to the best options across the capital.

For the traditionalists

Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, first came up with this British tradition back in the 1800s, and London’s top hotels have specialised in afternoon tea pretty much ever since.

The Palm Court at the Langham, just off Regent Street, is where it all began in 1865. Its classic tea includes speciality sandwiches, scones and pastries all served on Wedgewood china in opulent surroundings – and there’s a tea sommelier too.

The Ritz, Piccadilly, is an icon of afternoon tea taking, and an obvious choice, but be ready for the formal dress code and heavy tourist count. Desserts are what The Ritz excels at – try the rhubarb and custard choux or the belle époque pear tart.

The English Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel, Mayfair, promises a brew for every palate served alongside deliciously creative dishes; teeny bagels topped with coronation chicken or pumpkin and ginger eclairs, for example.

The Savoy on the Strand is another classic choice. Tea is served in the light-filled Thames Foyer, with luscious cakes and a beautiful selection of teas. Children are welcome – there’s even a Tiger Who Came to Tea-themed option.

Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly, is recommended for impeccable service and patisserie sweet treats too beautiful to eat.

Global options

For a break with tradition, look out for the many tea options, influenced by world cuisine.

Indian High Chai at The Gallery, The Lalit London takes its inspiration from India, the home of great tea. This former school, decorated with stunning cobalt-blue chandeliers, is the setting for a tea based on Indian street food – think quail scotch eggs and cardamom-spiced scones washed down with a selection of world teas or Indian Masala Chai.

Momo, Mayfair, offers a Moroccan afternoon tea featuring syrupy pastries, and bite-sized treats, such as crisp toast with aubergine and tomato puree. There are earl grey macarons and date scones with quince jam – the perfect accompaniment to mint tea. The restaurant has been closed for refurbishment - expected to reopen February 2019.

Aquavit, St James, has a Nordic-inspired tea – a must for Scandi fans. Its ‘Fika’ menu is all about taking the time to appreciate things. Try the open sandwiches with gravlax, shrimp skagen, and venison tartare, before moving on to Swedish cardamom buns and cookies – served with tea or bubbly.

For a celebration

Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour, Covent Garden. While most afternoon teas come with a champagne option, Mr Fogg’s is a boozier affair. Pick from the list of champagne and gin cocktails, infused with speciality teas. But there’s plenty of food to soak it up, from full-to-bursting sandwiches to oozing brandy snaps and squidgy brownies.

For bookish nostalgia

One Aldwych’s, Covent Garden - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea. This extravagant feast is as theatrical as Willy Wonka himself, from the dry ice cocktail that greets you. The main event is the sweet selection, from bubblegum panna cotta and mystery-flavoured candyfloss to a cheesecake-filled chocolate egg. It’s a memorable treat for kids of all ages. Note, One Aldwych is also closed for a refurb until 9 April 2019.

Cutter and Squidge’s Hogwarts-inspired Potion Room, Soho, is perfect for wizards. In this immersive experience you concoct potions then indulge in an afternoon tea, which includes roast chicken dinner sandwiches and knickerbocker glory bites.

For arty types

The Gallery, Sketch, Mayfair. With its velvet scalloped chairs and eclectic prints and drawings by Turner Prize-winning artist David Shrigley, Sketch gives an original take the indulgent afternoon tea. Dine on caviar, Comté cheese paninis and hot chocolate and caramel fondants on tableware by the artist himself.

The Mirror Room, Rosewood London, Holborn. Voted best contemporary afternoon tea two years running, The Mirror Room’s offering includes 20th century art-themed confections, drawing on the likes of Andy Warhol’s soup can and Jackson Pollock’s drip art for inspiration.

Tea on the move

B Bakery afternoon tea bus tour. Jump aboard a vintage Routemaster at Victoria or Trafalgar Square for afternoon tea that doubles as a London tour. Enjoy finger sandwiches, profiteroles, croque monsieurs and cupcakes, while taking in the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, The Royal Albert Hall, Downing Street and more. A great option if you have visitors, and there’s a vegan option.

City Cruises
afternoon tea cruise. Enjoy sandwiches, clotted cream scones and cakes while watching London’s landmarks glide by. There’s unlimited tea and coffee and an on-board bar for additional alcoholic and soft drinks during your 90-minute cruise with commentary.

Mother’s Day treat

Hotel Café Royal’s Oscar Wilde Lounge afternoon tea is another luxurious classic. Its fragrant dishes are inspired by a collaboration with French perfumer Diptyque – look out for a rose-infused choux pastry and the orange blossom cake, alongside traditional sandwiches - egg and tarragon mayonnaise, smoked salmon and coronation chicken. Some tea options come with a Diptyque candle to take home too.

DIY tea

If you fancy yourself as a pastry chef, you can have a go with the Ultimate Afternoon Tea course run by The Cookery School, Little Portland Street. Learn to craft your own speciality sandwiches and indulgent cakes, then tuck in to your creations with tea or sparkling wine. Courses are £125 per person.

Prices for most afternoon teas listed range from £40 to £60 per adult, or £70 including champagne. Mother’s Day is peak season for afternoon tea, so make sure you book ahead.

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