The shorter, dark days of winter have us longing for a leisurely Afternoon Tea—so comforting, cozy and all-around a decadent and delicious treat. Any London winter itinerary is incomplete without at least one (and ideally a few) Afternoon Tea on the schedule. Here are three to try, depending on your desired mood.
Gorgeous: Hotel Café Royal
Like stepping inside a jewel box, the gilded and mirrored Oscar Wilde Lounge in the Hotel Café Royal, is one of London’s most idyllic settings for Afternoon Tea—a live pianist helps set the mood, too. That’s not to say families would feel out of place here; in fact, we saw a few on our visit, and the well-behaved children just added to the charm. Fun fact: The room dates back to 1865; formerly known as the Grill Room, it was renamed in honor of the hotel’s famous patron Oscar Wilde, though David Bowie and Mick Jagger also used to party in its former incarnation.
The current menu is a tribute to one of the most beloved British monarchs, Queen Victoria, featuring dishes, ingredients and production techniques that came into fashion during her reign some 200 years ago. Think: Pork pie, roast beef sandwich with “Albert sauce” and, of course, Victoria Sponge. It’s a robust menu with an amuse-bouche, five types of sandwiches, plain and sultana scones, and a gorgeous plate of pastries, plus a hand-picked selection of over 25 exclusive tea blends and infusions, and choice of four Champagnes by the glass.
Cozy: The Egerton House Hotel
In the shadow of Harrods, on a quiet, unassuming residential street in the heart of Knightsbrige sits the five-star Egerton House Hotel, part of Red Carnation Hotels. Originally two townhouses built in 1843, now a quaint 33-room hotel with the most charming and attentive staff. Afternoon Tea is served in the hotel’s lobby, which was formerly one of the main reception rooms of the original homes, the vibe is traditional with plush sofas and chairs in rich velvets, marble accents and cozy fireplaces. A stone’s throw from the Victoria and Albert Museum Science and Natural History Museums, Egerton House is a good one to know about for a bit of post-culture respite.
No matter who you are dining with, there’s a menu to suit: Traditional, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, children’s teddy bear tea and even a tea service for dogs featuring meatloaf, biscuits and dog-friendly ice cream (love it!). As we were on two feet and not four paws, we opted to try the vegan and traditional menus. We were blown away by the sandwiches—particularly the smoked salmon, which is served on a Cape Seed loaf (the staff says the recipe is from Red Carnation president and founder Beatrice Tollman) was the best we’ve ever had—and, believe us, we’ve had a lot! Scones were served warm, followed by an ample selection of pastries. The vegan menu was equally delicious, and we even preferred the fruit-studded vegan scones to the traditional version. Wide choice of teas in conjunction with Jing, a modern English tea company with a strong Asian influence, as well as a variety of champagnes and a full bar are available.
Eco-Delicious: Belmond Cadogan Hotel
Not even a year old, the stunning new Belmond Cadogan Hotel is already a beloved hangout for the local, well-heeled Chelsea set. The Afternoon Tea, served in the hotel’s pretty lounge off the lobby, which feels like sunshine—a beautiful room in warm shades of yellow and grey with cozy, hooded chairs for parties of two and open booths around oval tables for bigger groups.
Belmond has partnered for all of its food and beverage with chef Adam Handling, one of the most talked-about young stars in the London culinary scene for his modern interpretations of traditional British cuisine and his commitment to sustainability. In fact, general manager Klaus Kabelitz, popped by our table to say hello and informed us that the hotel now has zero food waste. Chef Handling has opened a new restaurant nearby in Chelsea, Ugly Butterfly, which uses all the leftover ingredients from the Belmond and his two other restaurants in London, and repurposes the food into Michelin-star worthy meals that change daily based on what comes in. How clever is that? Back to the meal at hand: Afternoon Tea at the Belmond includes sandwiches on a variety of different homemade breads (malted, onion, white, caraway—some pillowy, some with bite). The fillings skewed traditional (think: roast chicken, smoked salmon, cucumber, ham and roast beef). The pastries change seasonally; we loved the cuboid Battenberg cake, tart lemon loaf and the chocolate mousse, not to mention the light-as-air scones served with clotted cream and jam. Food is complemented with an interesting choice of teas from white, green, oolong and black, an impressive range of single-origin coffees, and also an option for free-flowing champagne from Lallier, Ruinart or Dom Perignon.