Welcome to our collection of the best afternoon teas in London. Afternoon teawas apparently introduced to Britain in the 1840s by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who complained of hunger during the late afternoon… something we can relate to! And in case you didn’t know, there is a difference between afternoon tea and ‘high tea’ – the former is taken in the late afternoon (between lunch and dinner) and involves cakes, scones, cream and sandwiches; while high tea is a substantial evening meal, usually entirely savoury. A traditional afternoon tea is often called ‘high tea’ in other parts of the world though, which probably explains the confusion.
We think we’ve eaten more scones, clotted cream, finger sandwiches and cakes than any other food magazine, and after careful consideration we’ve settled on the below as our favourite London afternoon teas. This round-up includes reviews of classic high teas at luxury London destinations such as Claridge’s, Fortnum & Mason and Harrods; as well as quirkier afternoon teas at The Shard, Sketch and The Ampersand Hotel. Just click on the links at the foot of each review to read an even longer version. Bon Appétit!
Fortnum & Mason, The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon
Head to Fortnum & Mason for a traditional London afternoon tea, taken in an elegant salon opened by HM The Queen to mark her Diamond Jubilee. Expect crisp white linen and duck egg blue chinaware, with matching padded seats and smartly dressed waiters. The ceilings are a little low, but decorated with pretty chandeliers.
A word of warning: if your tea is booked for Saturday afternoon, chances are you’ll have to wait before your table is ready. Sometimes it’s just five minutes, but one experience had us hovering in the reception area outside the lifts for over half an hour. Having said that, a (small) wait is worth it for pitch-perfect finger sandwiches – not a curling corner in sight, and filled with the usual suspects, only far more luxurious: rare breed hen egg with cress, and rare roast beef with Café de Paris butter. Thick slices of soft smoked salmon, available in Fortnum’s food hall downstairs, are also excellent…
Seymour’s Parlour, The Zetter Townhouse Marylebone
Inside a Georgian townhouse, just behind Oxford Street, lies a secret drinking den that exuberates the eccentric charm of the Zetter Townhouse’s ficticous owner, wicked Uncle Seymour. Seymour’s Parlour is more front room of curiosities than hotel bar: trinkets clutter a cabinet that spans one side of the room, portraits adorn the wine-red walls and crystal decanters filled with bright orange liquid dress up antique wooden tables.
The room has a hushed atmosphere with intimate lighting that creates secluded corners to settle in to. Dapper Italian waiters take your order, and shake brilliant cocktails at a little bar tucked into one corner. We kicked off afternoon tea with a tea-infused cocktail created by pioneering mixologist Tony Conigliaro…
Tea has been an integral part of Japanese culture for centuries, with the first documented evidence dating back to the 9th century. Only fitting then, that Sosharu, Jason Atherton’s modern Japanese restaurant in Farringdon, tips its hat to this.
If you’re expecting a traditional tea ceremony though we’re afraid to say that you will be disappointed. Instead, the team here have taken the great British tradition of afternoon tea and given it a distinctly Japanese twist. Kick things off with a Wabi cocktail, a refreshing mix of matcha, shochu (a Japanese spirit) and Pernod lifted by prosecco and fragrant jasmine before choosing from a small but interesting selection of teas including kukicha with cherry blossom and classic sencha…
The Luggage Room is a speakeasy-bar-cum-afternoon-tea-lounge hidden underneath the London Marriott hotel in Mayfair. The award-winning bar has won favour with tourists and socialites alike and the 1920s prohibition-inspired low tea menu, which, launched in March 2016, hopes to match this level of success and popularity.
Much of the draw comes from the setting and theatrics of it all: to gain entry we had to knock three times on an unimposing black door on the corner of Grosvenor Square and wait to be received by a maître d’. After taking our coats and stashing them in a secret cubbyhole, we were then led down a softly lit corridor papered with prints of antique luggage stacks, and out into the lounge. The décor here is grand but refined: white canvas and brass details (mimicking the design of hard front vintage suitcases) decorate the walls of the low slung, dusky room….
If you delight in all things traditional, then afternoon tea at London’s TING is not for you. But if you’re open-minded, enjoy Asian food and would prefer to gaze across a sparkling city rather than a Victorian dining room, then you can’t get much better than TING at Shangri-La hotel, one of six restaurants in The Shard.
Initial impressions of TING (on level 35) are magnificent: the lift doors open onto a spectacular and uninterrupted panorama of London, dominated at first by St Paul’s Cathedral. Low tables and armchairs are sensibly arranged to soak up as much of the view as possible – we took three hours over our afternoon tea, so unique was the experience…
Founded in 2008, Bea’s now has three branches across the capital; but it’s the original Bloomsbury branch that’s still the best in our opinion. Things at this bakery-cum-café are far more casual than most London afternoon tea destinations, which makes it feel less of an occasion, but does allow you to relax a bit more. If you can, try to get a table at the front of the café – tables at the back feel a little isolated and, due to the proximity of the open kitchen, can be a bit noisy.
Bea’s is perfect for anyone with a sweet tooth. While a selection of mini baguettes is included on the stand, the famed sweet offerings such as the obligatory scones with clotted cream and jam, and more exciting cupcakes (flavours vary), soft, wobbly fruity mashmallows, delicate and crisp mini meringues and a trio of gooey brownies (including the infamous killer brownies with peanut butter), outshine them by a long way…
**Bea’s of Bloomsbury is now called Bea’s Cake Boutique
The Ampersand Hotel, science afternoon tea
Just a stone’s throw from the Science and Natural History museums in South Kensington, it’s easy to see where The Ampersand got their inspiration from for this whacky afternoon tea – the perfect treat for budding scientists.
The room we take tea in is part English drawing room, part French tea salon, and comes adorned with comfortable sofas. As for the food, everything is made in-house – there’s a meticulously decorated raspberry cake planet with a white chocolate planetary ring, and moreish hazelnut and chocolate cake with a sharp mango mousse volcano. There are also chocolate dinosaurs and a citrus cocktail served in a laboratory beaker, to add to the Dr Jekyll experience. Portions are generous too, very welcome after a morning spent museum-hopping…
With its light, airy interior and simple white furniture, The Modern Pantry has none of the stuffy old-fashioned atmosphere that you may associate with afternoon tea in London. Thanks to chef Anna Hansen’s imaginative, innovative menu, this relaxed, friendly venue has already become a firm favourite among the trendy Clerkenwell food scene.
This year, with help from patissier Jennifer Moseley, the afternoon tea menu has been revamped and improved. Although the interior is crisp and minimalist, dainty floral china adds a traditional note and a nice contrast to the modern flavours of the food.
While the sandwiches and scones may look like your normal afternoon tea staples, you can expect the same unusual flavours that you may find on the main menu, such as chia and mixed seed bread open sandwich with quail egg, miso, wasabi cream cheese and macadamia dukkah; and darjeeling and pink peppercorn scone with liquorice jam and green tea and toasted black sesame dacquoise…
Aside from the other-worldly surroundings, the highlight of afternoon tea at Sketch has to be the tea itself. Waitresses scoot golden tea trollies around the room, each one stacked with glass jars of aromatic loose leaf teas – there are at least 40 to pick from, including whole rosebud, matcha, white peony and Taiwan red jade. Feel free to sniff before you choose, and refills are complimentary.
Sketch’s new caviar afternoon tea begins, as expected, with a spoon of rich, creamy Oscietra caviar (from Russian sturgeon) – vegetarians get little pearls of cold cauliflower as a clever substitute. Even more enjoyable was the accompanying take on boiled egg and soldiers: a 63 degrees egg yolk nestled inside a deeply flavoursome ‘egg white’ made from comté cheese mornay. Utterly indulgent, and one of the most exciting, innovative ways to kick off an afternoon tea that we’ve ever seen…
Afternoon tea at Harrods, particularly the champagne afternoon tea, is not for the faint-hearted: expect an extra THREE courses on top of the usual finger sandwiches, pastries and scones.
Opt for Harrod’s Rose Brut NV to start the afternoon, a rich and fresh Champagne with a delicate pink hue. Overall, the food was quite safe; nothing wildly impressive, but definitely generous – the North Atlantic prawns in our king prawn cocktail were some of the biggest we’ve ever seen. The finger sandwiches were made with pretty much the same bread throughout (a bit disappointing), but the afternoon was saved by huge, fluffy scones served with zesty homemade lemon curd…
Marmalade sandwiches, marmalade jam and white chocolate marmalade tea cups: not the typical line up for afternoon tea, but just the thing to please Paddington Bear at his tailor-made tea at the Athenaeum Hotel.
The classic afternoon tea included a collection of Paddington’s favourites in a traditional setting. Sandwiches were delicious (particularly smoked salmon, made with wild Scottish oak-smoked salmon) and, although initially skeptical, a ham and marmalade filling really worked, with the clementine marmalade adding a welcome sweet and citrusy note.
Scones were a little hard, but the chunky homemade jam made up for it, while a chocolate teacup filled with orange and white chocolate mousse was clever and deliciously sweet. Shame we didn’t have room for the extra cakes wheeled over to our table after the plates had been cleared.
Star of the show: ham and marmalade sandwich, smoked salmon sandwich
Scone rating: 6/10
Perfect for: big kids (and bears)
Price: Classic afternoon tea £29.50; champagne afternoon tea £39.50 – £44 (depending on which glass of Champagne you choose)
To celebrate Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, Aqua Shard has given its iconic space a nostalgic makeover. London’s own great glass elevator whisks you up to the 31st floor of The Shard where Quentin Blake’s famous illustrations of childhood characters are stencilled on floor-to-ceiling windows, offering breathtaking views of the capital.
If you arrive hungry, don’t fret – nibble on your edible menu hidden inside a gigantic storybook while you wait for a glass of champagne. Choose between Veuve Clicquot Yellow label champagne or sweeter Veuve Clicquot RICH, served over ice with cucumber slices for a refreshing twist.
Don’t fill up too much, as the array of sandwiches, cakes and sweet treats stacked in your own bespoke glass elevator tiered cake stand would satisfy anyone as much as a trip to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory would. Though some items are a little lacking in flavour, they are certainly creative. Chicken and mushroom golden puff pastries have feet sticking out to create Mr Twit’s bird pie; The BFG’s breakfast egg sandwich comes on squishy sundried tomato bread; and a perfectly spherical meringue peach is worthy of James himself, filled with peaches and cream and complete with a tiny edible stalk and leaf.
This tea is definitely one for sweet tooths – the extravagant Roly-Poly bird choux bun has delicate coloured sugarwork for wings; chocolate mice filled with strawberry and pistachio sponge sit in a tiny mouse trap; and a white chocolate crocodile egg contains a bright green jelly crocodile. There’s even a homemade strawberry jam jelly worm sitting on the scones plate to pop on top of golden raisin scones, alongside Jersey clotted cream and sweet strawberry jam.
Crockery is bespoke and hand painted with Quentin Blake’s illustrations and Roald Dahl’s famous quotes. A delicate Willy Wonka smiles up at you from the bottom of your tea cup as you are given a serious dose of nostalgia – rhubarb and custard tea tastes like the real thing and super smooth strawberries and cream tea sparked us to reminisce about childhood sweets for a good ten minutes.
Price: £45 per person; or £58-69 per person with a glass of champagne
The Bulgari Hotel
As we arrive a capped doorman stands back to allow a smartly-dressed young couple to leave, followed by their designer suitcases… Knightsbridge’s Bulgari hotel attracts a rich and glamorous clientele.
Afternoon tea is taken in the lobby lounge, a slick modern space with a check-in desk that doubles as a display of gold-leaf topped pastries and Alain Ducasse chocolate. The room oozes luxury, heavily scented with Bulgari fragrance. We’re shown to a seat by a huge, low, coffee table in front of the fireplace, beneath a huge black and white poster of an Italian film star (though there are tables and chairs set up if you prefer to sit up straight).
Classic afternoon tea and the signature London afternoon tea are offered. The former includes sandwiches, scones and three pastries per person. The signature tea is very special: along with dainty cucumber and egg mayo sandwiches there are beautiful tartines, with toppings such as confit tuna and taggiasca olives, a nod towards chef Alain Ducasse’s love of Provencal (the renowned French chef opened the London outpost of his Saint Tropez restaurant Rivea in the hotel last year…)
Towering palm trees, giant orchids and an elaborate glass roof – you may mistake the Winter Garden atrium at The Landmark London for a luxury hotel in Dubai. But comfortable armchairs, soft lighting and crisp white tablecloths brings a bit of British to the table, and helps provide the perfect setting for a chocolate afternoon tea.
Adding to the elegance of it all, the William Edwards chinaware is adorned with an elaborate gold pattern and trim and the teapots are kept on a beautiful bespoke stand next to the table. The Landmark London has a variety of special blend teas – the Landmark Blend has a subtle sweet hint of Bourbon vanilla, while the Winter Garden Blend is a more traditional and aromatic afternoon tea blend (we highly recommend both)…
The new drawing room at Flemings Mayfair hotel is seriously stylish: teal velvet banquettes; fresh graffiti roses on the table; travel and fashion books artfully arranged on bookcases either side of an original marble fireplace; and beautiful, hand-painted wall panels depicting early views of India. It’s cosy too, with only eight-or-so tiny ebony wood tables laid out.
It’s a rare blend of classy and comfortable, with exquisite service to boot (never once were we left in need of anything), that makes this one of our best afternoon teas in London. We were here to try the Ruinart Rosé afternoon tea – sandwiches, scones and cakes, with half a bottle of golden pink Ruinart on the side (Michael Kors’ favourite bubbly, apparently). East India tea is also served, the best of which was a heady, aromatic whole rosebud blend recommended by our waitress. It’s worth asking if they have any tropical blend in, too – a punchy tea with a pleasant bubblegum aroma. Unlike most herbal teas, both really do taste as good as they smell…
Brown’s Hotel on Albemarle Street is how we imagined Bertram’s Hotel (the fictional setting for Agatha Christie’s 1965 detective novel, At Bertram’s Hotel) to be. Indeed, one could well imagine that novel’s sleuth, Miss Marple, sitting in a corner of The English Tea Room, shrewdly observing her fellow guests.
As such, Brown’s Hotel is probably the best place in London to host an Agatha Christie-themed quirky afternoon tea. Its tea room, where Queen Victoria used to dine, dates back to the 19th century and is beautifully clad in original dark wood paneling, antique fireplaces and chandeliers. Shame about the bizarre contemporary art on the walls… completely out of place, we thought. Still, Brown’s is a cosy place to enjoy afternoon tea, and staff encourage guests to take their time – sandwich and cake refills are complimentary (a rarity nowadays), so the length of your stay depends on your appetite…
The Thames Foyer room at The Savoy is the perfect setting for afternoon tea. A glass-domed ceiling floods the room with natural light and an impressive gazebo encasing a stone fountain full of pink flowers and greenery takes centre stage, to form an elegant winter garden. Tiny silver vases of pink roses are popped on the white linen clothed tables, too, along with traditional crockery and silverware.
Start with a glass of Champagne – rich Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV with a long finish, or step up and with a coppery pink Moet & Chandon Rose NV with zesty, wild strawberry notes. The extensive tea menu can be overwhelming, but the waiters are on hand to guide you to the best blend for you.
The Savoy Afternoon Blend combines Ceylon and Darjeeling in a crisp, refreshing tea with a hint of citrus. For something a bit different, though, try white peony & rose – a pretty brew of white tea buds and leaf with whole rose buds that add a subtle hint of fragrant Turkish delight. Lemon verbena with whole leaves is aromatic, with lemon zest pungency and mint-like freshness.
The Dorchester’s lobby, The Promenade, is known as ‘the drawing room of Mayfair’ – hotel guests flutter through in elegant attire, long-time residents settle in to their favourite spots with a paper, and tourists tuck into the legendary London afternoon tea. Though a bustling thoroughfare, the intimate seating areas allow you to enjoy afternoon tea in peace, reclined on one of the plush goose down cushioned sofas. Marble columns line the room, while huge lamp shades cast a golden glow onto white linen table cloths crammed with afternoon tea classics.
The Dalreoch tea selection, grown 2400 feet up in the Scottish Highlands, is the star of the show here, brought to the table to infuse in a syphon. The unique oxidisation technique gives the tea a consistent brew and provides a bubbly spectacle at the table.
This particular Dalreoch tea selection is exclusive to the Dorchester – Garrocher Grey infuses flowers from the New Orleans Monarda plant with Scottish black tea to create a fragrant, smoky Earl Grey alternative. Dalreoch White is light and fruity, with peachy notes, and Dalreoch Smoked White has a delicate sweet-smoky aroma that is the perfect accompaniment for smoked salmon sandwiches…
OXO Tower Wharf is one of London’s most famous landmarks, noted for its iconic branded windows and sky-high restaurants. It’s hard to find the entrance if you’ve never been before – head to the pavilion in the middle of the building, then catch the lift up to the 8th floor, for the restaurant. Enjoy stunning views on your way to your table, that stretch all the way from Waterloo Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral.
The atmosphere is considerably formal – think leather seats and slate tables with crisp ironed white tablecloths, and a slanting glass roof to make the most of those beautiful views. Afternoon tea menus are carefully explained and although the selection of sandwiches and cakes seems endless, portions here are dainty so it’s possible to try everything.
Sometimes we just don’t fancy scones, jam and cream. One of the best afternoon teas in London for savoury palates is the high chai tea at Cinnamon Soho, an inconspicuous little cafe on Kingly Court. It doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of The Savoy, but it’s comfortable enough and the service is friendly.
Start with a cinnamon bellini with warming apple pie aftertaste. A tandoori chicken and chutney sandwich was quite literally that – spiced, juicy filling inside what looked like two slices of Hovis. Not something we’d usually choose, but delicious despite the blunt presentation and a great match for our ginger and cardamom Masala chai tea.
A bombay potato bonda with green chutney was cleverly spiced (you could really taste the mustard seeds) with a strong curry leaf flavour and subtle sweetness. Bangala scotch egg was just as accomplished; we loved the lightly pickled quail’s egg, spicy crumb coating and punchy kasundi relish on the side. A juicy bhangra lamb slider with turmeric mayonnaise was also excellent.
Instead of the usual four-or-five cakes, there were only two ‘sweets’ for this afternoon tea: a heavily scented ginger and garam masala cake, and a spiced scone with apple and fennel chutney. The former was satisfyingly squidgy, dark and crammed with fresh spices, while the scone was a new take on something that’s usually so plain. For us, Cinnamon’s high chai tea is a great success – and at £25 for two people, it’s good value too.
Price: High Chai tea £15 per person; champagne high chai tea for an extra £8 per glass.
Afternoon tea has been a ritual here for almost 150 years and this luxurious redoubt for the rich and royal (no flip-flops, no intrusive photography), has turned it into an art form. In the stunning art deco lobby, guests are treated to a parade of perfectly rectilinear finger sandwiches, warm scones and beautiful, tweezer-precise cakes, delivered to linen-clad tables by staff who operate as smoothly as a Swiss timepiece.
Every detail is exquisite. Corn-fed chicken on rye comes with truffled mayonnaise. Chocolate choux are made with fine Valrhona chocolate. Claridge’s even stresses the heritage of the cucumbers (English, organic) which, dressed with chamomile-infused buttermilk, go into its version of that summer classic: cucumber sandwiches. Rare Tea Company expert Henrietta Lovell curates Claridge’s menu of loose-leaf infusions.
Price: from £58pp
Not unexpectedly, when Balthazar – a New York-take on a classic Parisian brasserie – does afternoon tea, it brings the glamour. This summer, in a very Ab Fab collab with cosmetics brand Bobbi Brown, its patisserie has been restyled by its pastry chef, Regis Beauregard, to mimic BB’s best-known products. BB’s shimmer bricks are represented as champagne-infused rhubarb with orange and ginger cream.
Its skin foundation stick is now shortbread with passion fruit consommé topped with a chocolate-encased praline mousse. You can also add a Bobbi Brown cocktail (tequila, lemon and lime, finished with gingerbread liqueur and soda), or pick-up a 25th anniversary Bobbi Brown lipstick, Vintage Red (£20).
Price: from £27.50pp
British afternoon tea only dates to 1840 (its invention is credited to a peckish Anna, the Seventh Duchess of Bedford), but the Chinese have been eating bitesize dim sum with tea for thousands of years. Soho’s slick Yauatcha offers a bang up-to-date interpretation of dim sum. One where dishes such as BBQ venison puffs (think: posh sausage roll) and its long prawn and bean curd cheung sun rolls are followed by vividly artistic patisserie laid-out like jewellery in display cases.
Don’t miss the raspberry delice, ‘chocolate pebbles’ or Yauatcha’s seasonal macarons. The tea menu starts in the relatively familiar foothills of jasmine green and camomile but ascends in complexity to rare, partially-oxidised blue teas, such as the Oriental Beauty. Dim sum from £4.20.
Number Sixteen, South Kensington, London
As soon as you step through the door of this pristinely manicured mid-Victorian white townhouse, hidden just minutes from South Kensington tube station, co-owner Kit Kemp’s bold statements make themselves known. Textiles in the suite of drawing rooms range in colour from pistachio and pink to stylish yellow and purple, with unique artwork throughout – a huge wall-mounted birdcage marks the entranceway, books line the walls, and hand painted puppets guard the honesty bar stocked with spirits, wines and bubbles.
Continue through to The Orangery for afternoon tea in a terracotta-walled room with tribal statement vases and artwork, brightened by sunshine bursting through floor-to-ceiling French windows. If it’s a nice day, make the most of No.16’s hidden garden oasis and enjoy afternoon tea perched on pale green garden furniture under elegant white parasols. If you’re lucky enough to bag the tiny gazebo, you can look back on the garden, complete with stone fountain bubbling away in the rectangular fish pond.
Vases of white flowers dress the tables and Kit Kemp’s personalised Wedgewood crockery adds a bit of fun, with dancing mythical creatures from her favourite Indian fabric that literally look like they have been stitched on to teacups and saucers. The summery selection of sandwiches and cakes offers something a bit different to traditional afternoon tea. Thick-cut honey roasted ham with refreshing dill coleslaw comes on black rye bread; beautiful courgette flowers are coated in a crisp and light tempura; and herbes de provence chicken fills a squishy glazed brioche bun.
Pastries are pretty and dainty – a hint of violet adds depth to a creamy lemon-filled choux profiterole, rose cupcakes are subtly floral and the silky raspberry pannacotta provides a pleasantly tart finish. For afternoon tea in one of London’s most tranquil secluded spots, Number Sixteen is the ideal retreat from a busy London. £22 per person, without alcohol or £35.50 with a glass of champagne.
*Those afternoon teas marked with an asterisk (*) are limited edition teas, and may no longer be available.