Welcome to our collection of the best afternoon teas in London, updated quarterly to make sure you get the best afternoon tea deals of the moment. Check out our latest visits to Lyaness in South Bank for a fancy cocktail tea, and stay tuned to hear about our visit to a vegan afternoon tea.
What are the origins of afternoon tea?
Afternoon tea (here are our favourite afternoon tea recipes) was 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!
What’s the difference between afternoon tea and high tea?
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 (here’s a recipe for you), 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.
Where are the best afternoon teas in London?
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, The Ritz, Fortnum & Mason and Harrods; as well as quirkier afternoon teas at The Shard, Sketch and The Rosewood Hotel. Just click on the links at the foot of each review to read an even longer version. Bon Appétit!
Check out our best afternoon tea recipes here, including:
- Raspberry macaroons
- Strawberry éclairs
- Traditional scones
- Gin and tonic granita
- Classic Victoria spone
Here is our selection of the best afternoon tea in London:
Best traditional afternoon tea
Best luxurious afternoon tea – Claridge’s, London W1
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: Traditional afternoon tea £60pp, champagne afternoon tea from £70pp, children’s afternoon tea £30pp
Address: Brook Street, Mayfair, London, W1K 4HR
Best contemporary afternoon tea
Best afternoon tea for art lovers – The Mirror Room, Rosewood hotel, London WC1
Rosewood, London’s high-end heritage hotel, introduced its art afternoon tea in February 2017 to reflect the importance of art to the hotel. In the hotel’s Mirror Room, a plush room combining elegant, contemporary features, such as stylish lighting, mustard-coloured Chesterfield sofas and a stunning installation of unorganised mirrors (the clues in the name), with the building’s original character (marble sideboards, pillars and period windows). In a nod to the hotel’s Asian owners, oriental black and gold prints sit beneath glass on the black tables.
Traditional finger sandwiches were given modern twists that really delivered – sweet and creamy chicken with tarragon mayonnaise came on super soft basil bread; delicately truffled egg mayonnaise came on sweet caramelised onion bread, thinly sliced crisp cucumber with cream cheese hit the spot, while open-faced Scottish salmon with capers and keta caviar was slightly over powering with pickled shallots.
Light, warm and buttery scones (check out our scones recipes here) came with thick clotted cream, delicate homemade raspberry jam with elderflower and zingy lemon curd (make your own here). They were fluffy and flakey with golden tops and held well together in order to spread our accompaniments.
Pastry chef, Mark Perkins has taken inspiration from pop artists and Picasso’s Cubism to create his own intricate works of edible art. Miniature choux buns filled with raspberry cream were soft and moreish; Jivara rectangular chocolate tarts with caramel were airy and rich with thick crunchy short pastry; and mango macaroons were sweet, soft and chewy with a hints of lime.
Price: Art afternoon tea £58pp, champagne afternoon tea £68pp
Address: 252 High Holborn, London, WC1V 7EN
Best affordable afternoon tea
Best afternoon tea for instagrammable pictures – Dominique Ansel Bakery, London SW1
Renowned pastry chef and inventor of the cronut, Dominque Ansel opened his first London bakery in Belgravia back in 2011 and has now launched an afternoon tea, the concept behind which has been a year in the making. The theme follows the path of a seed that blossoms into full bloom, with the ‘shoot’, ‘bud’ and ‘flower’ being eaten along the way.
Small but varied loose-leaf teas from Camellia’s Tea House in London are on offer; including light and citrusy lemon verbena, classic English breakfast and Dominique Ansel bespoke blend exclusively curated for the bakery – light with subtle floral notes and a slight bitter taste
Highlights include tender steak tartare – delicately pickled and peppered, and came with smooth crème fraiche and thinly sliced red radish, and an airy vanilla mousse with bursts of zesty lemon marmalade and subtle notes of whipped basil that came on a crumbly, slightly caramelised cookie crumb, and delicate pieces of gold leaf.
Price: Signature afternoon tea £42pp, sparkling afternoon tea £55pp, splendid afternoon tea £80pp
Address: 17-21 Elizabeth St, Belgravia, London SW1W 9RP
Best alternative afternoon tea
Best Asian-inspired afternoon tea – XU, London W1
If you’re after an Asian take on afternoon tea, head to this stylish Taiwanese teahouse for a modern twist on the traditional tea ceremony. Thirties Taipei-inspired interiors create a space a Wes Anderson world away from its Soho location, boasting sleek leather banquettes, plenty of dark wood and a dedicated tea kiosk. The impressive tea list includes some that are rarely seen outside Taiwan – aromatic night-scented jasmine, handrolled on certain nights of the lunar cycle, and smooth, nutty Jin Shuan oolong. You can bump up your ceremony and kick off with a sparkling Hong Yu (ruby red) tea cocktail laced with XU’s blood orange and clementine-infused oolong gin.
Savoury dishes include miso and sweet potato taro dumplings bathing in a vibrant, grassy chive oil, golden girolle puffs and a bowl of silky-smooth steamed egg studded with roasted turnip cubes. The delicate sweet treats include jewel-like almond milk discs with a black sesame centre, traditional pineapple cake filled with winter melon jam, deep-fried glutinous cinnamon and peanut mochi finished with orange zest and a crunchy sugar coating, and peach-shaped bao with red bean filling. The highlight was a hei tang sponge cake made with molasses-like Taiwanese black sugar and topped with sesame seeds.
Price: Afternoon tea ceremony £32pp, sparkling afternoon tea ceremony £35-40pp
Address: 30 Rupert Street, London W1D 6DL
Best afternoon tea for vegans – Lele’s London, E5
What’s the vibe like? One Sunday a month this elegant east London café opens its doors for vegan afternoon tea. Cakes and jars of herbal teas are laid out on a bark counter at the centre, while vases of fresh flowers, pots of plants and vintage pottery brighten up the cosy tiled room.
What are the afternoon tea options? The changing menu is put together by chef-owner Valentina. On our visit, delicate plant-based sandwich fillings included lightly spiced grated carrot studded with raisins; fresh cucumber with vegan cream cheese; and chickpeas in creamy vegan mayo.
What are the scones like? 5/10.Warm savoury and sweet scones come next, the former super-cheesy with a hint of chives, and the latter served with a smooth citrussy lemon curd, raspberry jam and vegan cream.
And the sweet pastries and desserts?
To finish we indulged in warm, decadent chocolate brownies with peanut butter, light and fluffy carrot cake, vegan victoria sponge with jam, and a frangipane apricot tart. The star of the show was a fresh-from-the-oven lemon meringue tart – light and delicately sweet.
Price:£35 pp with a choice of tea, coffee or hot chocolate.
Address: 50 Lower Clapton Road, E5 0RN
More great traditional afternoon teas in London
Best fancy afternoon tea – The Crystal Moon Lounge, Corinthia Hotel, London SW1
Afternoon tea at The Corinthia is set in the glamourous Crystal Moon Lounge dominated by a striking Baccarat crystal chandelier, underneath an array of fresh flowers. The stylish lobby is relaxed and unstuffy with a grand piano playing in the background. Comfy leather chairs, funky stripy British bone china and low-lit chandeliers add an informal vibe to this modern room. Service is attentive and informative but not intrusive.
Traditional afternoon tea (£55 pp) comes with a choice of house blend teas served in three different strengths, including No 1 Aromatic, a delicate combination of flowery earl grey and soothing oolong; and No 3 Robust, a full-strength blend of assam, oolong and earl grey (stronger smoky notes with light tones of honey). Add a glass of refreshing Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée Brut champagne for an extra £10. Or go all out with the Laurent-Perrier rosé champagne afternoon tea at £75 pp, both served in Baccarat flutes.
A gold board showcases modern takes on classic British finger sandwiches – fine slithers of cucumber, light egg mayonnaise with mustard, smoked salmon with subtle hints of lemon curd, and salt beef with creamy horseradish on soft sundried tomato bread. The highlight was classic coronation chicken – crunchy, fresh and peppery, with plenty of chicken.
Light, fluffy scones with honeyed glaze tops are kept warm in a small wooden presentation box. Accompaniments include classic strawberry jam, moreish rhubarb and Tonka bean jam and thick clotted cream. Small dainty canelés kick off the sweet round (they were slightly overdone but packed a good kick of rum), followed by exotic passion fruit choux buns encased in a craquelin shell, a boozy trifle with crunchy apple and calvados chantilly cream, and a delicate dark chocolate brownie topped with a chocolate crémeux. The star of the show was a smooth praline and coffee parfait topped with a thin caramel crisp. An unusual addition to the afternoon tea are marshmallows delicately flavoured with Tonka bean, orange blossom and red apple.
Price: Traditional afternoon tea £55 pp, champagne afternoon tea from £65 pp
Address: Whitehall Place, Westminster, London SW1A 2BD
Best opulent afternoon tea – Hotel Café Royal, London W1
Afternoon tea at the historic Hotel Café Royal is taken in the opulent Oscar Wilde bar that opened in the mid 1800s and is housed between trendy Soho and affluent Mayfair (check out our restaurant guide to the best places to eat in Soho and Mayfair).
The familiar tea selection is peppered with more unusual flavours – rich and floral lychee and rose noir, caffeine-free organic rosebud; and an 1865 signature English breakfast tea, strong in taste and colour with a creamy, slightly bitter finish.
Highlights include free-range Cotswolds chicken sandwich with a creamy and zingy lemon verbena dressing and a violet and blackcurrant cassis tart, jammy and rich with a buttery, crunchy base and a delicate white chocolate topping.
Price: Spring afternoon tea £45pp, champagne afternoon tea from £55pp
Address: Hotel Café Royal, 68 Regent Street , London, W1B 4DY
Best afternoon tea with an impressive bar – The Goring, London SW1
At this historic 5-star hotel you can choose between two rooms to take afternoon tea. The opulent bar and lounge room is adorned with gold and burgundy wallpaper, gold gilt framed mirrors and sparkling chandeliers, while the brighter room has mustard yellow walls, large Georgian windows and Edwardian lounge chairs. Both rooms were run by extremely informative and attentive staff.
Traditional afternoon tea (£49pp) comes with a choice of Jing teas including the strong, slightly smoky Goring blend, and a floral oolong tea. Add a glass of refreshing Bollinger for an extra £10. Or go all out with the Bollinger rosé champagne afternoon tea that comes with fresh British strawberries and cream.
A vibrant pea purée amuse bouche topped with crème fraiche and a cube of smoked salmon started the afternoon tea. The brown seeded bread in the meaty ham sandwich was slightly dry, and the Wookey Hole cheddar with chunks of red onion was a little overpowering, but salty shredded chicken with fresh tomatoes on fluffy white bread and fresh salmon with crisp slithers of cucumber were better.
Warm with a soft middle and golden on top, the scones came with syrupy strawberry jam and thick clotted cream. For the sweet round, a soft choux bun encased in a craquelin shell was filled with whipped strawberry cream on a thick crunchy biscuit base, a dense lemon and poppy seed cake was topped with a dollop of zingy lemon curd and piped torched meringue; mini pistachio and raspberry loaf was moist and nutty; a sticky lemon macaroon with sweet tangy cream was incredibly moreish; and a silky dark chocolate tart with hibiscus had a crunchy bottom.
Price: Traditional afternoon tea £49pp, champagne afternoon tea from £59pp
Address: 15 Beeston Place, London, SW1W OJW
Best afternoon tea for tourists – The Ritz, Palm Court, London W1
The Ritz is as iconic as the Queen, and this institutional British hotel keeps up tradition by serving 350 afternoon teas every day. It’s only fitting that afternoon tea at The Ritz is a lavish affair; the formal dress code requires men to wear shirt and tie, doors are opened for you by folk in top hats, and the resident pianist, Ian Gomes, who flutters away most days during afternoon tea service, used to play with Frank Sinatra.
Afternoon tea at The Ritz is taken in the Palm Court, an area raised up from the rest of the hotel’s lobby like a marble-floored stage. The Louis XVI-style set is beautifully ornate, with pristine white tablecloths laid out beneath intricate chandeliers, giant palms and gold-gilt mirrors.
Choose from the 18-strong tea menu that has been curated and exclusively blended by The Ritz’s tea sommelier, Giandomenico Scanu. There are black tea blends, fermented Oolongs, herbal fruit teas and even The Ritz’s own Chai. We tried The Ritz Royal English, a classic black tea blend, combining aromatic Ceylon orange pekoe and rich Assam.
Price: Traditional afternoon tea £57pp, champagne afternoon tea from £76, children’s afternoon tea £35pp
Address: 150 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9BR
Best afternoon tea for royals – Fortnum & Mason, The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, London W1
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…
Price: Traditional afternoon tea from £49pp – add a glass of champagne from £13, children’s afternoon tea £23pp
Address: Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, London, W1A 1ER
Best afternoon tea for celebrity spotting – The Wolseley, London W1
The Wolseley is a glamorous affair – you could be taking tea across from a film star! The classic room has become an institution over the years, and a go-to for breakfast meetings when impressing clients. There are plenty of features reminiscent of the grand literary cafés typical of Vienna and Paris – gilt-framed mirrors and an ornate clock on the back wall, jazzy black and white marble flooring, and black pillars swooping up into the arched ceiling.
Choose a simple cream tea for £12.75, the ‘best of British’ option (quintessentially British cakes and sandwiches for £29.75), or go all out and order the champagne afternoon tea, complete with a glass of Pommery Brut Royal NV (£40).
Neatly cut finger sandwiches are made with various breads – succulent beef and horseradish on white, as well as cucumber (which was a little bland), smoked salmon on squishy brown bread, and Branston pickle on tomato bread. The coronation chicken sandwich was exemplary, with a lightly spiced curry mayo and plump sultanas.
Scones were pleasant and fluffy, but came on the stand with the rest of the sandwiches and cakes – by the time we got to them, they were a little less fresh than desired. Simple strawberry jam and clotted cream came in generous portions. A silky lemon meringue tart was finished with a shiny blow-torched meringue dome; well-spiced Dundee cake came packed with juicy fruit; and the sherry trifle included a fragrant vanilla set custard, topped with a tart, shiny sherry jelly. If you’re still peckish, the smartly dressed staff bring round trays of the tart of the day, on our visit, a large blue cheese and caramelised onion one, with a dark crunchy crust.
Price: Cream tea £12.75, best of British afternoon tea from £29.75pp, champagne afternoon tea £40pp
Address: 160 Piccadilly, St James’s London, W1J 9EB
Best afternoon for service – The Rosebery Lounge at Mandarin Oriental, London SW1
Afternoon tea at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park is taken in The Rosebery Lounge, a grand yet unstuffy dining room with high ceilings and a small, stylish bar offering a selection of wines and spirits, including Chêne Bleu Domaine De la Verrière rosé, Goose Island IPA and Hendrick’s gin. Speckled antique mirrors and contemporary abstract art line the walls, and individual metal coat stands (tree-like) are brought to intimate, low, dark-wood tables. Elegant chandeliers and large windows facing onto Knightsbridge high street make the lounge bright, and a rose and ginger scent infuses throughout the room.
We were greeted by a friendly and informative waiter who explained the options available: beer afternoon tea, teamaster’s choice, sake (read our guide to sake here) afternoon tea, mini afternoon tea (for children under 12) or traditional champagne afternoon tea. We opted for the latter, which came with R de Ruinart rosé champagne and R de Ruinart white champagne, both smooth, chilled and crisp, the rosé leaving slight floral notes after each sip.
Price: Traditional afternoon tea £53pp, champagne afternoon tea from £63pp
Address: 66 Knightsbridge Green, London, SW1X 7LA
Best afternoon tea for fashion lovers – The Bulgari Hotel, London EC1
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…)
Price: Classic afternoon tea £40pp, champagne afternoon tea from £49pp
Address: 47-48 St John’s Square, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 4JJ
Best afternoon tea for tropical surroundings – The Landmark London, NW1
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)…
Price: Winter garden afternoon tea £45pp, with champagne £52pp, chocolate afternoon tea £48, with champagne £63pp
Address: 222 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 6JQ
Best afternoon tea in Mayfair – The Drawing Room at Flemings Mayfair Hotel, London W1
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…
Price: Afternoon tea £34.50pp, champagne afternoon tea £48pp
Address: 7-12 Half Moon Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 7BH
Best pre-theatre afternoon tea – Thames Foyer at The Savoy, London W1
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.
Price: Traditional afternoon tea £70pp, champagne afternoon tea from £80pp, vegan afternoon tea £65
Address: 7-12 Half Moon Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 7BH
More great contemporary afternoon teas in London
Best afternoon tea with a twist – Sketch, London W1
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…
Price: Classic afternoon tea £59pp, champagne afternoon tea from £73pp, children’s afternoon tea £35pp.
Address: 9 Conduit Street, London, W1S 2XG
Best glamourous afternoon tea – Berners Tavern, The London Edition Hotel, London W1T
The glamorous dining room boasts high ceilings, opulent chandeliers, artwork lining the walls and comfy pink seats to accompany dark wooden tables.
Traditional afternoon tea is served with a selection of classic and alternative teas: darjeeling (smoky and smooth); green tea (light and delicate); and earl grey (strong yet floral). Berners Tavern afternoon tea is served without champagne at £39.50 pp, though you can opt for a glass of NV Ruinart Reims Champagne France Brut ‘R’ for £17.50.
Sandwiches include soft salmon topped with crisp thin curls of cucumber, miniature baguettes filled with chicken and meaty mushrooms, and creamy goat’s cheese and apple multi-seed scones. Scones proper are warm and fluffy with lightly golden shiny tops.
The sweet course delights, including rhubarb and ginger macarons, raspberry mousse with a delicate addition of pink peppercorns, and decadent dark chocolate tart with a sprinkling of sesame seeds and a citrussy yuzu curd.
Price: Traditional afternoon tea £39.50 pp (without champagne).
Address: 10 Berners Street, London W1T 3NP
Best for cocktail lovers – Lyaness, South Bank
Sky-hued walls, electric-blue banquettes, opulent gold accents and a view of St Paul’s creates a lavish setting for this boozy afternoon tea.
A sleek contemporary cake stand comes laden with crisp fennel sausage rolls, retro devilled eggs and sandwiches. The focaccia in the roast beef sarnie was a little too dense, but coronation sweet potato on walnut was a clever veggie alternative to the British classic, while tarragon mayo gave soft poached salmon on dark rye a punchy twist.
The sweet round was inventive and fun, with a selection of creative bakes. Standouts included upside-down cherry and pineapple scones, sunflower salt tea cake, and super-light strawberry and mascarpone éclair with a crunchy caramelised sugar base.
Kitsch teapots in pale lemon and turquoise hues serve Camellia’s Teahouse teas, but it’s founder Ryan Chetiyawardana’s cocktails that really impress.
Lyaness has created a collection of quirky, innovative cordials and liqueurs that form the base of all of the bar’s cocktails, including the complex, fresh and elegant drinks for their afternoon tea.
The smooth and rounded Glasshouse Spritz combined ‘Ultra Raspberry’ (made with fresh and dried raspberries, cacao nibs and mushrooms) with cherry-tomato gin, topped up with prosecco and tarragon salt on the side. A little like licking a salty stone, this had a slightly briny edge. Carter Cobbler, with Grey Goose vodka, green tea bianco and ‘Infinite Banana’ (cured and fermented banana) had banoffee tones with a slightly savoury umami edge, while Jasmine Gimlet used ‘Purple Pineapple’ (think souped-up pineapple cordial) with Bombay Sapphire and jasmine tea for a gentle, fragrant and floral cocktail with a silky mouthfeel.
Price: cocktails and tea £58 pp; champagne and tea £48pp; boozeless tea £38pp
Address: 20 Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 9PD
Best al fresco afternoon tea – Number Sixteen, South Kensington, London SW7
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.
Price: Traditional afternoon tea £22pp, champagne afternoon tea £35.50pp
Address: 16 Sumner Place, London, SW7 3EG
Best afternoon tea for cocktail lovers – Seymour’s Parlour, The Zetter Townhouse Marylebone, London W1
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.
Price: Traditional afternoon tea £35.50, afternoon tea with tea infused cocktails £43, champagne afternoon tea £45.50.
Address: Seymour’s Parlour, The Zetter Townhouse Marylebone, 28-30 Seymour Street, London, W1H 7JB
Best themed afternoon teas in London
Best afternoon tea for kids – The Ampersand Hotel, Science afternoon tea, London SW7
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…
Price: Science afternoon tea £39.50pp with champagne from £49.50, (vegetarian options available)
Address: 10 Harrington Road, London, SW7 3ER
Best Scandinavian afternoon tea – Nordic afternoon tea at Aquavit, London SW1
New York’s two-Michelin starred Nordic restaurant, Aquavit, recently opened in central London’s St James’s Market development. Plenty of London restaurants and coffee shops have taken design pointers from Scandinavia’s trendy minimalism, but there’s none of that here.
Stockholm’s (check out our foodie guide to Stockholm here) Martin Brudnizki has managed to create an intimate yet opulent feel to the high-ceilinged space using timber-paneled walls, polished brass, blue and burnt-orange leather seats and striking emerald green wall hangings. The focal point is the huge bar, topped with Swedish marble and lined with bottles of snaps, aquavit (of course) and other sturdy Scandinavian spirits. But shots at the bar are for another time, this visit was to try Aquavit’s Nordic afternoon tea.
We began with a selection of Swedish smørrebrød served on crisp sunflower-seed-studded rye bread baked at 6am that morning. Picture-perfect toppings for the open rye sandwiches included gravlax tartare, intense liver pâté and delicate venison tartare served with lovage. Shrimp skagen was a highlight, the Nordic version of prawn cocktail with punchy horseradish and dill mayonnaise covering plump little shrimp, topped with salmon roe.
Fika, the Swedish tradition of taking time out for coffee and pastries, is still rife in Sweden and Finland, and Aquavit has tapped into this idea for the sweet round of its afternoon tea. Where traditional English afternoon teas serve scones, Aquavit keeps it Nordic with semla buns – mini dough balls filled with almond and cardamom paste, and whipped cream.
Price: The Fika afternoon tea £27.50pp, champagne afternoon tea £39pp, the aquavit afternoon tea £65pp
Address: St James’s Market, 1 Carlton Street, London SW1Y 4QQ
Best afternoon tea with a view – TING at Shangri-La Hotel, The Shard, London SE1
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…
Price: British Summer afternoon tea £52pp, champagne afternoon tea from £60pp
Address: Shangri-La Hotel At The Shard, 31, St Thomas Street, London, SE1 9QU
More afforable afternoon teas in London
Best afternoon tea on a budget – Bea’s of Bloomsbury, London WC1
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…
Price: Bea’s signature afternoon tea £28pp, champagne afternoon tea £36pp, gold afternoon tea £34pp.
Address: 44 Theobalds Road, London, WC1X 8NW
Best riverside afternoon tea – OXO Tower, London SE1
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.
Price: Traditional afternoon tea £35pp, champagne afternoon tea from £45pp
Address: OXO Tower Wharf, Barge House Street, South Bank, London, SE1 9PH
Best savoury afternoon tea – High Chai afternoon tea, Cinnamon Soho
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 afternoon tea for two £25; champagne high chai tea for two £35
Adress: 5 Kingly Street, London, W1B 5pF
*Those afternoon teas marked with an asterisk (*) are limited edition teas, and may no longer be available.
Still in the mood for cakes? Check out our best ever afternoon tea recipes now, and create your own feast at home…
olive magazine podcast ep65 – Who will win the great scone debate? Jam or cream first?!
On this week’s podcast the team explore the British tradition of afternoon tea, sharing their favourites in London, and get into a debate on which is the right way to serve scones. (Psst, cream is the right way.)