Taking afternoon tea in the luxurious surroundings of a top London hotel has been a popular pastime for visitors to the capital since 1865. So, in no particular order here is our selection of ten of the best traditional afternoon teas in London.
I’m not going to pretend it’s cheap; the average cost for two is £108 (plus £20 to £24 for a glass of champagne each) and expect to pay an additional 12.5% service charge. Booking is essential and can be made online. Be aware that most venues will charge between £15 and £25 per person for bookings cancelled with less than 48 hours notice.
The iconic Ritz hotel has been serving afternoon tea since it opened in 1906 and is a popular destination for those wanting to experience that sense of heritage in the ornate surroundings of the Palm Court with its pastel shades, glittering chandeliers and elegant mirrors.
The tea starts with the ubiquitous (and unlimited) finger sandwiches which include ham and mustard, smoked salmon with lemon butter and cucumber & cream cheese. Raisin scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam follow and finally a selection of show stopping pastries and cakes such as lemon posset macaroons, pear tart and rhubarb & custard choux buns. A glass of Reserve Ritz champagne can be added if desired.
With the only certified Tea Sommelier in a UK hotel, the Ritz offers 18 different types of tea from its own blend of Assam and Chai spices to more fruity combinations such as spearmint and gunpowder green tea, passion fruit and orange, lemon verbena and a blend of Rooibos, calendula (marigolds to the uninitiated) and cocoa beans.
The ambiance is complemented by melodies from the resident pianist, Ian Gomes (‘Puttin’ on The Ritz’, no doubt). Dress is formal with gentlemen expected to wear jacket and tie. With extended service time to 7.30pm, guests can make a real evening of it, a pleasant alternative to a late dinner.
Cost : From £57pp (from £76pp with a glass of champagne)
Location : 150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR
Sittings : 11.30 / 1.30 / 3.30 / 5.30 and 7.30pm
Transport : Green Park tube station (Victoria, Jubilee and Piccadilly lines)
Brown’s Hotel opened as London’s first ever hotel in 1837. From there Rudyard Kipling penned many of his novels and Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, JM Barrie and Bram Stoker were also regular visitors. Alexander Graham Bell made the first phone call in Europe from the hotel.
The English Tea Room serves one of the most famous Afternoon Teas in London (unlimited), where Queen Victoria used to take tea. The stylish interior is a clever mix of both tradition – thanks to the original wood panelling, fire places and Jacobean detailed plaster ceiling and contemporary style, with Paul Smith lighting, fashionable fabrics and original artworks.
A choice of seventeen teas are on offer, including Brown’s own blend and the option of an iced fruit tea. The savoury selection includes Coronation chicken with apricot and onion seeds on a mini bagel, smoked salmon with picked fennel and caper butter on onion bread and a prawn cocktail on a potato bun. Sultana scones with clotted cream and jam are followed with a wonderful selection of pastries.
There is a tangy blood orange sphere, chocolate and coconut macaroon, the heavenly combination of a coffee and hazelnut cake and a pear and tonka (a seed used to impart a vanilla flavour) éclair.
For a healthier alternative Brown’s offer the “Tea-Tox”, a low-carb, low-fat makeover. Tomato, feta and mint sit on toasted gluten free bread, a creamy hummus and avocado puree is wrapped in a beetroot crepe and a Miso glazed salmon tops spinach bread. Fresh fruit with dips follow before the impressive top tier arrives.
Cost : From £55pp (from £65pp with a glass of champagne)
Location : Albemarle Street, W1S 4BP
Sittings : Noon to 6.30pm
Transport : Green Park tube station (Victoria, Jubilee and Piccadilly lines)
Art deco elegance is the hallmark of afternoon tea at Claridge’s. Subtle lighting, fresh roses, gentle piano music combine for a chic yet informal setting in Thierry Despont’s magnificent Foyer, inspired by the 1930s heyday of art deco.
Tea is served on fine, jade-and-white striped china original to Claridge’s. Teas have been selected to complement the food and have wonderfully evocative names such as “Guava Smoked Mountain Moto”, “White Monkey Paw Green Tea”, “Huntington Hand Rolled” and “Malawi Antler”.
The savoury selections are real winners. The twenty page “menu” gives the origin of each ingredient. From the Cotswold White birds combined with lemon thyme mayonnaise and gem lettuce on malt bread to the Clarence Court Duck Egg turned with home-made mayonnaise on fresh white bread with mustard cress. The highlight is the ever changing chef special such as a buttery sable biscuit sandwich filled with green peppercorn cream cheese.
The soft, warm scones are topped with Rodda’s clotted cream and a specially made Marco Polo gelée (favoured with bergamot and vanilla). Then come the pastries, fusing together orange mousseline with Manjari chocolate, lemon frangipane with blackberry compote and almond streusel and chestnut cream with vanilla Chantilly and a marron glace.
After 150 years they kinda got it nailed.
Cost : £60pp (from £70pp with a glass of champagne)
Location : 49 Brook Street, Mayfair, W1K 4HR
Sittings : 2.45 / 3 / 3.15 / 3.30 / 4.45 / 5 / 5.15 and 5.30pm
Transport : Piccadilly Circus tube station (Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines)
Afternoon tea at the Café Royal is pretty much a full sensory affair. Its afternoon tea is a partnership with perfumer Diptyque whose candles burn at the door and inspire the sweet trolley with aromas of rose, blackcurrant, lemon and vanilla.
The real attraction of the Café Royal is the setting, having been restored to its original Louis XVI detailing with high to low mirrors coated in gold leaf and draped with plush fabrics. Table 35 is where Oscar Wilde sat (the lounge is named after him) and at the far end of the restaurant the table for two was favoured by Winston Churchill and Diana, Princess of Wales.
The menu changes with the seasons. The Winter menu features an amuse bouche of a poached quince and goats cheese muffin followed by tea sandwiches with classic savoury fillings – Burford brown eggs with tarragon mayonnaise, smoked salmon with lemon crème fraîche and coronation chicken with golden raisins and coriander. Small but perfectly formed scones with clotted cream and jam come next.
The ‘delicacies’ include a chocolate and peppermint sandwich, quince and yoghurt tart, fig and mascarpone cake and a ‘pebble in the garden’ (your guess is as good as mine).
There are some 30 teas to choose from including the exclusive ‘Oscar’, a smoky Lapsang Souchong blend, the smooth and silky ‘Elizabeth Taylor’s Earl Grey’, blending three black teas with Italian bergamot oil and ‘Celestine’, named after the wife of the founder of Café Royal – a blend of Madagascan vanilla pods, roasted cocoa nibs and two Chinese black teas.
Those opting for the diptyque Afternoon tea also receive a gift of a signature Bales candle with notes of rose sweetened with blackcurrant leaves.
Cost : £45pp (from £55pp with a glass of champagne) – £60 and £70 with gift
Location : 68 Regent Street, W1B 4DY
Sittings : 11.30am to 7.30pm
Transport : Bond Street tube station (Central and Jubilee lines)
Website : www.hotelcaferoyal.com/afternoontea
Opened in 1931, the Dorchester retains its 1930s furnishings and ambiance despite being renovated in the late 1980s. Afternoon tea has been a tradition since it opened and is served in The Promenade and the Spatisserie.
The Promenade lobby is known as ‘the drawing room of Mayfair’, where you can settle down into one of the plush goose down cushioned sofas surrounded by apricot marble columns and huge lampshades throwing a golden glow on tables filled with classic afternoon tea favourites.
The unlimited sandwiches are as you would expect, but served on interesting artisan breads – smoked salmon with mustard on granary, roast chicken on basil bread, cucumber and cream cheese on a nutty caraway seed bread and egg mayonnaise with shallot confit on white.
No surprises with the warm scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam (plus a seasonal jam). The highlight is the platter of cakes and pastries. A new range of pastries were introduced in 2017 inspired by the floristry of designer Philip Hammond and the hotel’s close association with the Chelsea Flower Show. Treats include the Mayfair Rose, Apple Petal, Plum Bloom, Caramel Buds, Berry Blossom and Hazel Nut.
The tea selection is also unique and a real star. The Dalroch teas are grown in Scotland, 2400 feet up the Scottish Highlands and come served in a bubbly siphon which oxidises the water to give a perfect brew. The Dalroch Smoked White is best drunk without milk and is a soft fruity tea with hints of peat and smoked wood. The Dalroch White has a mild nutty flavour and notes of honey and heather.
Cost : From £58pp (from £68pp with a glass of champagne)
Location : Park Lane, W1K 1QA
Sittings : 1 / 1.30 / 3.15 / 3.45 / 5.30 and 6pm
Transport : Hyde Park Corner tube station (Central and Jubilee lines)
The sketch Gallery covers two large floors of a converted 18th century building in Conduit Street, just off Regent Street in Mayfair.
Turner Prize winner artist, David Shrigley, has transformed the Gallery at sketch as part of a long-term programme of artist-conceived restaurants. 239 of his irreverent illustrations line the restaurant’s walls, forming the largest group of original drawings by him ever exhibited.
The restaurant is decorated in shades of pink throughout and topped with a domed ceiling. Pink velvety scalloped chairs and booths, designer clad staff and Shrigley’s witticisms echoed on the Cavershall china all add to the setting.
The savoury finger starters include coronation chicken, duck egg mayonnaise and Scottish smoked salmon. But the real star is “Igor”, pumpernickel bread encasing a tomato chutney, baby gem lettuce and homemade mayonnaise, named after Pierre Gagnaire’s dog.
The scones are warm, fat and fluffy served with clotted cream, strawberry and fig jams. From the trolley comes a slice of classic Victoria Sponge or Banana Fudge Cake.
To finish, the Petis Gateaux includes little strips of liquorice marshmallow, a chocolate and coffee tart, a delightful Battenberg combining Lemon & Green Cardamon, a bitter orange and praline succès and a cheesecake of exotic fruits. There is an excellent selection of chai, fruit and vanilla teas.
A traditional afternoon tea in a non traditional setting.
Cost : From £58pp (from £72pp with a glass of champagne)
Location : 9 Conduit Street, W1S 2XG
Sittings : 11.30am to 4pm
Transport : Oxford Circus tube station (Central and Victoria and Bakerloo lines)
Fortnum & Mason is one of London’s most recognisable names having been established in 1707 by William Fortnum and Hugh Mason. William was a footman to Queen Anne and made a tidy profit selling half-used candles from the royal household, whilst running a grocery business on the side. He convinced his landlord, Hugh Mason, to be his associate and together they established the upmarket store in Piccadilly.
Fortnum and Mason are credited for inventing the Scotch Egg in 1738 and were the first store in Britain to sell Heinz baked beans.
They sell over 100 rare and exotic teas and afternoon tea is served in the elegant surroundings of the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon opened in 2012 by HM the Queen.
Tea is taken at a dining table or sofa while classics are played on the Steinway. Sandwiches are the usual selection (coronation chicken, smoked salmon, ham and mustard, cucumber and egg mayonnaise). Scones are fluffy and come with clotted cream and a wide selection of sweet toppings (lemon curd, raspberry, strawberry and wild blueberry jams).
Patisserie and cakes vary with the season but may include Victoria sponge, Battenberg (you can create your own Battenberg using Fortnum and Mason’s own recipe), rose éclair or Bakewell tart. There also offer a gluten free afternoon tea.
Cost : From £49pp (from £61pp with a glass of champagne)
Location : Piccadilly, W1A 1ER
Sittings : 11.30am to 7pm (6pm on Sunday)
Transport : Green Park (Victoria, Jubilee and Piccadilly), Piccadilly Circus tube stations (Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines)
Located near Buckingham Palace, The Goring was opened in 1901 and was the first hotel in the world in which every room had a private bathroom and central heating. During the First World War it became the headquarters of the Chief of Allied Forces and remains the only hotel in London owned and run by the same family that built it.
Afternoon tea on the Goring Terrace has become a dining experience in its own right. There is a wide range of teas to choose from including The Goring’s own Afternoon Blend of Assam and Darjeeling.
The three tiered stand starts with an assortment of freshly prepared sandwiches, the fillings depending on the season. This may include smoked salmon, guinea fowl and mushroom, egg mayonnaise or prawn and crayfish.
Freshly baked homemade scones served with Devonshire clotted cream and jams follow and to finish there is a selection of cakes and fancies. The items vary but will be a fun selection – a giant macaron, a blood-orange mousse dome, chocolate éclair, summer fruit tartlet, Eton mess or an exquisite trifle with vanilla cream, sherry and strawberries.
Cost : From £49pp (from £59pp with a glass of champagne)
Location : Beeston Place, Grosvenor Gardens, SW1W 0JW
Sittings : 3 to 4pm (Saturdays 1 to 4pm)
Transport : Victoria (Victoria, District and Circle lines)
Located in the heart of the West End, The Langham is where the tradition of afternoon tea first started in 1865 in the magnificent Palm Court with its marble floors, mirrored ceilings and lavender and sage leather chairs.
Some 30 tea blends are on offer, put together in collaboration with the Rare Tea Company and designed to complement each course of the ‘Afternoon Tea with Wedgwood’.
The finger sandwich fillings include the usual suspects but it’s the bread that makes for a more interesting mouthful. Burford Brown Egg is combined with marinated artichoke and served on rosemary bread, Beef Pastrami with ‘Albert’ sauce and watercress on onion bread and a classic prawn cocktail with iceberg lettuce on a potato bun dusted with tomato powder.
Following the scones with cream and jam there is a selection of pastries inspired by Wedgwood collections.
‘Spherically Challenged’ is a creamy coconut, liquid raspberry and Manjari (Madagascan chocolate) mousse. Caramelised puff pastry filled with vanilla mascarpone and strawberry coulis is ‘One In a Million’ and the creamy cheesecake with fig and blackcurrant compote, cinnamon and brown sugar sponge is the ‘Simply Shot’.
The Langham is also very child friendly and offers a Children’s Afternoon Tea with Hamleys. Sandwiches are in the shape of jigsaw pieces. Pastries include Aurelien the Penguin, a praline filled chocolate egg with almonds, a Polar Bear’s Paw of Lychee jelly, coconut ‘Artic’ meringue shards and Leki the Sea Lion, a choux bun filled with Ariga chocolate cream.
To drink there is fruit juice, hot chocolate or strawberry and kiwi tea. Each child gets a Hamleys teddy bear to take home.
Cost : From £55pp (from £74pp with a glass of champagne). Children’s afternoon tea (12 and under) is £29pp
Location : 1c Portland Place, Regent Street, W1B 1JA
Sittings : 12.00 to 4.30pm
Transport : Oxford Circus (Victoria, Central and Bakerloo lines)
Website : http://palm-court.co.uk/#/afternoon-tea/
The hotel first opened in 1815 as the Prince of Saxe Coburg Hotel in a pair of Georgian houses in Charles Street. When the area was redeveloped in the late 1890s the hotel reopened and in 1917 changed its name to The Connaught after Queen Victoria’s third son, Arthur, the first Duke of Connaught.
Today, Afternoon Tea is served in ‘Jean-Georges at The Connaught’. With its wall-to-ceiling windows, framed by colourful stained glass designed by Jean-Michel Othoniel, it’s the perfect place to watch the world go by as you enjoy a range of afternoon treats.
Tea begins with a surprise: a savoury amuse-bouche of black truffle brioche followed by finger sandwiches all with a slight twist on the British classics.
Cucumber is combined with Greek yoghurt flavoured with zingy lime and mint, ham and aged cheddar come with a Miso mustard mayonnaise and honey walnuts for some added texture. Egg mayonnaise is flavoured with a hint of winter black truffle or there’s a spiced coronation chicken with chopped nuts. The real star is the smoked salmon with a chipotle marinade complemented with spring onions and coriander.
Freshly-baked scones arrive with clotted cream and home-made strawberry jam and lemon curd and the finale of exquisite cakes and fancies. A miniature chocolate fondue with a dipping shortbread tops the stand. The pastries change with the season. Enjoy a rocher with hazel praline and milk chocolate, a refreshing lychee mousse with grapefruit crystallized rose, a scented bergamot mousse with lime cream and lemon confit and a coffee éclair with caramelised pecan.
The tea selection is delightful with the Earl Grey with bergamot and French royal blue flowers being a perfect partner to the sweet selection.
Cost : From £50pp (from £60pp with a glass of champagne)
Location : Carlos Place, Mayfair, W1K 2AL
Sittings : 2.30 and 4.30pm
Transport : Green Park (Victoria, Jubilee and Piccadilly lines)