London's 10 Best Afternoon Teas

TĪNG Restaurant, Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London

by The Daily Telegraph, March 15, 2016

The ritual of afternoon tea owes its origins to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. As a young women in the early 1800s she lived during a time when it was common to eat only two main meals a day, with breakfast scheduled early in the morning and dinner occurring late in the evening. Weakened and irritated by hunger pangs each day, she decided to schedule time to take tea and snack each afternoon.

This private ceremony was firstly done furtively in her bedroom, but over time well-heeled acquaintances joined her and the practice was perpetuated. Nowadays tea rooms and  hotels in London  and throughout the country offer permutations of this centuries-old tradition. Plenty are pretty much indistinguishable but quite a few offer something unique. Below are some of the capital's best afternoon teas for those who want to experience something special.

Best for healthy indulgence: Brown's Hotel's Tea-Tox

The historic Brown’s Hotel, where Queen Victoria used to take her tea, caters to the modern world of dieting and health obsessions with a lighter take on traditional afternoon tea. Served in the elegant  English Tea Room, the low-carb, low-fat, low-sugar spread is more indulgent than it sounds, maintaining rich flavours while using healthier substitutes such as fruit, low-fat crème fraiche and chocolate made with sugar-free xylitol. The open-faced sandwiches, including smoked chicken with a dollop of guacamole, are light but satisfying, and balanced with refreshing palette cleansers such as fruit sorbet and lime apple jelly. Scones might be the only glaring omission, but you won’t miss them too much with healthier treats such as flourless - but flavourful - dark chocolate and zesty yoghurt-topped orange cakes. The meal pairs nicely with the silver needle white tea, a delicate infusion of cucumber, melon and other fruit flavours. 
Reviewed by Soo Kim 

Top treat: the smoked mackerel with a soft-boiled quail’s egg on a chicory leaf is a wonderful blend of savoury and smoky flavours
Address: Brown's Hotel, Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BP
Days and times: daily from 12pm-6.30pm
Cost: £47.50; champagne afternoon tea £55 
Check availability:  Brown's Hotel, London

Read more:  the best hotels in central London

Best for traditional afternoon tea: The Ritz

Afternoon tea has been served at  the Ritz  since its 1906 opening and that sense of heritage is partly why it remains so popular today. Served with precision in the hotel's ornate Palm Court, the tea includes the requisite finger sandwiches with smoked salmon, roast ham et al,alongside fresh raisin and apple scones and cakes on a tiered cake stand. Service is assured and seamless if occasionally a touch perfunctory - perhaps an inevitability when staff serve so many customers each day. The company, meanwhile, is polite: here it is required that one dresses for tea, with (gentle)men expected to wear jacket and tie; jeans, sportwear and trainers are forbidden. That sense of formality seems an especially strong lure for foreigners eager to experience a sense of British pomp and ceremony, so book well in advance if you want to secure a spot at this enduringly popular spot.
Reviewed by John O'Ceallaigh

Top treat: they may lack the flair of the cakes that follow, but the sandwiches here are a fresh, tasty and wholesome start to proceedings
Address: The Ritz, 150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR
Days and times: daily 11.30am-7.30pm
Cost: £52, or £68 for a champagne afternoon tea 
Check availability:  The Ritz, London

Best boozy tea: Scandal Water at The London Edition

The London Edition hotel ’s off-beat  Scandal Water afternoon tea draws its inspiration from the time the upper echelons of 19th-century society indulged in exotic teas while exchanging “salacious gossip”. The setting is in the oak-panelled, Mad Men-style Punch Room bar, and the menu offers five pairings (tea, punch and a snack); guests pick three. Delicately balanced combinations include the fragrant miso-cured salmon served with Japanese Sencha tea; a salted chocolate tartlet enhanced by the citrusy house punch; and cheesy Linconshire poacher shortbread accompanied by a mezcal-based cocktail which includes ingredients such as Vermentino, lemon sherbet and chamomile soda, but a word of warning: don’t come here if you expect to fill up. Those who arrive hungry will find the tiny portions miserly and can expect to leave unsated – the focus here is on the teas and cocktails, rather than cucumber sandwiches and scones (though you also get a fluffy English muffin slathered in hot butter).
Reviewed by Jade Conroy

Top treat: The Milk Punch (served with the salmon pairing). The age-old recipe includes a mixture of cognac, rum, cider brandy, tea, lemon juice, pineapple and clarified milk, which has a surprisingly silky texture and sweet undertones.
Address: 10 Berners St, London W1T 3NP.
Days and times: Every Friday and Saturday for seatings between 3pm and 4pm.
Cost: £35 per person

Check availability:  EDITION, London

Hasselblad H3D Best for setting: Sketch afternoon tea

Kudos to Mayfair’s sketch: management’s decision to commission a changing roster of artists to design its Gallery restaurant has come up trumps. So pretty and thoroughly pink, current designer David Shrigley’s interior is a confection of dainty scalloped chairs and plush banquettes, witty bespoke ceramics by British brand Caverswall, and over 200 illustrations jostling for space on the dusty pink walls - it is a setting tailormade for an endearingly eccentric, quintessentially British afternoon tea .

For most that tea begins with a glass of champagne - rosé, usually - before guests plunder a platter of top-quality finger sandwiches and tuck into scones with fig and strawberry jam; pastries include a tangy citrus meringue and pistachio profiterole, and replenishments are offered readily by staff that are youthful, energised and friendly, and stylishly attired in uniforms by Richard Nicoll and Isa Arfen.
Reviewed by John O’Ceallaigh

Top treat: the Comté cheese panini, which arrives warm and is a deliciously simple, gourmet take on the classic cheese toastie.
Address: 9 Conduit St, London W1S 2XG
Days and times: daily midday to 4.30pm
Cost: £45pp or £57pp with champagne, though disappointingly prices are racheted up to £68 during all manner of special occasions such as the Chelsea Flower Show.

Best for tea selection: Fortnum & Mason

Fortnum’s has sold tea since 1707, so there’s legitimacy in the claim that this is one of the capital’s archetypical tea-taking establishments. Today guests can toast this heritage during afternoon tea at the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, a sophisticated, feminine setting washed in pale mints, and with 82 different teas on the menu they have ample opportunity to try new and unusual brews.

To make the selection process a bit easier, a new tea-tasting service sees impressively knowledgeable staff members guide visitors through different blends and combinations, but it isn’t a prerequisite to an enjoyable afternoon. With a pianist regularly in situ, friends can take their tea with a good-quality selection of sandwiches and scones, all happily replenished and served with F&M conserves, and a pretty selection of patisseries before concluding with a slice or two of cake – perhaps a Victoria sponge or dense flourless chocolate cake – from the dessert trolley.
Reviewed by John O’Ceallaigh

Top treat: the teas themselves
Address: 181 Piccadilly, W1A 1ER
Days and times: Monday to Saturday 12-7pm; Sunday midday to 6pm
Cost: £44 - £48 dependent on choice of tea

Best for a cultural day out: House Afternoon Tea at the National Theatre

Go behind the curtains at one of the South Bank’s most prominent buildings during this  afternoon tea like no other . Theatre aficionados can take a guided backstage tour of the National Theatre, where they’ll learn not only its history and secrets – such as the fact that the Olivier Theatre’s fly tower above the stage could hold a London bus, or that the National Theatre is classed as the largest factory in Zone 1 – but also visit otherwise off-limits areas, such as the set designers’ studio and the prop store, a magical place stocked during my visit with fantastical puppets from His Dark Materials and gruesome hands from Treasure Island. You might even catch a warm-up: I saw the cast of Jane Eyrewhooping and hollering, stretching and spinning, before their matinee. Then for the tea at House restaurant, whose menu references former shows and is served in "acts". It's a classic if uninspired offering, so expect hummus sandwiches, from One Man Two Guv'Nors, Cat in the Hat green eggs and ham sandwiches and the usual scones and clotted cream.
Reviewed by Jade Conroy

Top treat: Mrs Lovett’s Pork Pie (from Sweeney Todd) and the Marble Mouthful (inspired by Eliza Doolittle).
Address: Upper Ground, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX
Days and times: Tea and tour packages run on Fridays at Sundays, starting at 1pm.
Cost: £35 per person for the tea and tour; afternoon tea is available for £26.50 but it's the tour that makes this option special.

Best non-traditional afternoon tea: Ichi Sushi afternoon tea

For those who want to avoid the slump that follows a sugar-heavy afternoon tea, a Japan-inspired alternative should serve as a welcome alternative. At  Ichi Sushi and Sashimi Bar, tucked off the lobby of the Park Plaza (reserve the table with the Big-Ben view), afternoon tea focuses on seafood rather than sandwiches and overly sweet cakes. A flight of heavenly blends made tea-choosing tough. Guided by the kimono-clad waitress I chose a delicate white apricot. The “bridge” of made-on-the-spot sushi (14 items) didn’t disappoint either, and bonus points for fresh wasabi, which delivered a more refined kick than the paste. “Have you tried our sparkling sake?"" asked 'miss cherry blossom kimono', as I polished off a green tea and chocolate Japanese savarin. Not a fan of Asian desserts I ate all five - washing them down with my new find, the deliciously light sparkling and cloudy Sawa Sawa sake. A success. However - and I never thought I'd say this - why pollute a Japanese painting with a token (dry) scone?
Reviewed by Teresa Machan

Top treat: fresh wasabi - a subtley spikey kick
Address: Park Plaza hotel, Westminster Bridge Hotel, 200 Westminster Bridge Rd, London SE1 7UT
Days and times: daily from noon to 5pm
Cost: £25 with a glass of sparkling sake

Best for a celebration: Claridge's afternoon tea

To the delicate question of what should be applied first to the deliciously light, raisin-infused scone – Cornish clotted cream or Marco Polo gelée – came the Belgian waiter’s impeccably diplomatic answer: “There is no one way to eat your scone, sir. It is a matter of taste.”  Afternoon tea  in Claridge’s is all about good taste: of the interior designers who have laid on a supremely elegant (and yet informal) setting; of the pianist/cellist duo whose harmonies blend so well with the warm chatter (of sons and mothers; friends and lovers); of the sumptuous delicacies upon which you feast: cucumber (and organic chicken) sandwiches, scones to sigh for; perfectly formed pastries fusing the flavours of pears and walnuts, chocolate and crème brûlée. 
There’s a reason why  Claridge's  has succeeded in serving afternoon teas for 150 years. Book well ahead.
Reviewed by Adrian Bridge

Top treat: the Second Flush Muscatel Darjeeling, one of 24 specially blended teas on offer and just the thing to accompany those pastries.
Address: Claridge’s, Brook St, Mayfair, London W1K 4HR
Days and times: tea is served daily between 2.45pm and 5.30pm
Cost: £58; champagne afternoon tea £68-£78 
Check availability: Claridge's, London

Best for views: Ting restaurant, Shangri-La at the Shard

It would be easy for those offering afternoon tea on the 35th floor of the Shard to rest on the glass and steel laurels of their location. Those behind  Ting, the restaurant of Shangri-La at the Shard, to their credit have not. They do the basics well. The staff are impeccably mannered, the Far-Eastern-inspired decor is sleek, and its classic afternoon tea hits all the right traditional notes. But it's the Asian tea that really stands out, with inventive, delicately flavoured sweet and savoury treats. We expected we'd recommend having a mixture of both, but for savouries, the Asian selection wins easily - and that's not faulting the classic option. When you're not looking at the endlessly fascinating view - even the urinals are spectacular, for goodness sake - you'll find yourself debating the relative merits of the gyoza-style or the steamed prawn dumplings.

You pay a premium for the floor-to-ceiling panorama, no question. This is among the most expensive options on this list of London's best afternoon teas. And it's something of a lottery whether you get the much sought after window seats (they won't guarantee them in the lounge), and others are not always as comfortable. Best tactic: be a regular, or turn up early, be charming - and prepare to swoop when there's space. But wherever you sit the views, and the treats, will reel you in. This is high tea in every sense.
Reviewed by Jolyon Attwooll

Top treat: The steamed prawn dumpling wins (just), while the Chocolate Temptation ganache was the pick of the pastries.
Address:  Shangri-La at the Shard, 31 St Thomas St, SE1 3QU
Days and times: daily midday to 4pm
Cost: Classic English afternoon tea: £54, or £62 with a glass of champagne; Asian: £54, or £62 with a glass of champagne 
Check availability: Shangri-La at the Shard, London

Best London-themed tea: London Royal Tea; Hotel Café Royal

The capital takes centre stage at  Hotel Café Royal's  newly launched London Royal Tea afternoon tea. Tube signs adorn the macarons and elsewhere on the silver cake trays there is inspiration from Spitfire planes to pearly kings and queens. So it is with a great sense of occasion that guests sit down amid the dazzling Oscar Wilde room – an opulent riot of gilded mirrors and ceiling frescos - at the five-star hotel. There is a strong sense of history, too, thanks to the smartly suited master of ceremonies who clears his throat every hour to regale the room with quotes and anecdotes from Wilde’s life. The extensive tea menu covers everything from oolong to tisanes (herb teas) via some delectable exclusive blends (try the Celestine – two soft Chinese black teas with a vanilla pod), but the tea and Veuve Clicquot cocktails (£18) are what really raise the bar. Savouries were enjoyably meaty - look out for the chorizo, onion and thyme “Wellington” slice – while the sweets included a very British Battenberg and a gold-leaf-flecked “raspberry regent” – an exquisite mouthful of berry mousse.
Reviewed by Natalie Paris

Top treat: A delicate roll filled with diced wild boar and English mustard, topped with a dab of pickled apple and tiny crackling pieces.
Address:  Hotel Café Royal, 68 Regent Street, London W1B 4DY
Days and times: daily, from 12pm to 4pm. 
Cost: £42 or £55 with a glass of Veuve Clicquot.

This article was originally published on March 5, 2012, and updated most recently on March 15, 2016.

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