When in the British capital, afternoon tea is practically a requirement. From old-school classics to innovative twists to blends with a kick to boozy blends, here’s a look at 14 places for afternoon tea in London.
From Henry James, T.S. Eliot and Charles Dickens to Downton Abbey, Mary Poppins and Alice in Wonderland, tea has made many a cameo in literature and pop culture. For something so quintessentially British, it can be hard to believe that the afternoon tea ritual that we know and love today wasn’t established until 1840.
To curb her hunger pangs between lunch and her late dinner time, Anna Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, started requesting tea, bread and butter in the afternoon. She eventually invited friends to join her, and voila…afternoon tea was born! Soon enough, England followed suit.
Nowadays, you might have your afternoon tea with a small snack at home. Or you can go out to one of these locales that pull out all the stops. You can even enjoy just the right sweet and savory combo for a mini meal in and of itself, and just eat a light dinner the forthcoming evening. Whether you’re looking for something classic, innovative or with a kick, here–in no particular order–are 14 places to enjoy afternoon tea in London. Reservations are recommended for all.
These classic institutions serve the traditional three-tier sandwich, scone and pastry spread often to the soundtrack of live piano music. Almost all have the option of a Champagne upgrade or two, and, jeans and sneakers are usually not suitable attire.
1. The Savoy
If you’re going to pick one spot for a classic afternoon tea in London, it would have to be this stunning landmark hotel. Sunlight shines through the Thames Foyer’s glass dome, bathing the elegant tea room in a natural light. Despite its name, there isn’t much of a Thames view, but the ambiance more than makes up for it. Whichever of the splendid teas you choose, take care to pair your blend with the signature Savoy Éclair, flavored with mango, passion fruit and chocolate. From £52 per person. Daily: 1pm to 5.45pm (Strand, website)
2. The Georgian at Harrods
Harrods has been a veritable London institution for more than 150 years. A visit to this magnificent department store is practically mandatory when in the British capital–as is afternoon tea–so why not couple them together? Be sure to sample the signature strawberries in Pimm’s syrup that accompanies the scones. Starts at £42 per person. Daily: 11.30am – 7pm (87-135 Brompton Rd website)
3. The Ritz
If you love the movie Notting Hill, it’s likely that snapping a photo of the Ritz is on your list of London musts, so why not visit for afternoon tea? The high-ceilinged, grand and seemingly gilded Palm Court seems like it was designed from a dream. Choose from 18 blends and pour your selection from a silver teapot. Attire is quite formal: Jackets and ties are required for gentlemen. Starts at £57 per person. Daily: 11.30am – 7.30pm (150 Piccadilly Street; website)
This luxury hotel has been serving tea for 150 years. Bow-tied servers oversee the elegant dining room while you sip and eat from the famous mint-green-and-white-striped plateware. Choose from 24 loose leaf teas, and don’t miss the signature Marco Polo gelée served alongside the scones. Starts at £60 per person.
Daily: 2.45 to 5.30pm (Brook Street; website)
5. Fortnum & Mason
This Piccadilly store has been serving afternoon tea and its signature checkered Battenburg Cake since 1926. However, the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon is relatively new, named for the Queen who inaugurated the space in 2012. The tea sommeliers will help you select the best possible blend for your taste, and don’t forget to pick up some boxed tea to take home with you, such as the popular gin and tonic flavor! From £44 per person. Monday to Saturday: 11.30am-7pm; Sunday: 12pm to 6pm (181 Piccadilly;website)
Here are some spots that step outside of the boundary of tradition and offer afternoon tea with a twist or two:
Sketches by artist David Shrigley adorn the pink walls of The Gallery within this two-star Michelin restaurant from three-star Michelin French chef Pierre Gagnaire. From plush pink velvet furniture to cheeky plateware, the atmosphere exudes a sophisticated edginess. All the fare is quite pleasing, but the mini Comte cheese toast is the absolute must eat. From £45 per person. Daily: 12:30pm – 4:30pm. (9 Conduit St; website)
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7. Hamilton-themed tea at The Lanesborough
If London takes a cue from New York, a ticket to Hamilton will be the most coveted in town. Whether or not you’re one of the lucky few to obtain one, you can still get a Hamilton fix thanks to the Lanesborough hotel. In honor of the Broadway hit’s West End opening, pastry chef Gabriel Le Quang has created five pastries that pay homage to the characters and events in the musical: Exotic Lace Cupcake, Blackberry Cheesecake, Grapefruit Religieuse, Pecan pie and a Caribs Chocolate Star. From £39 per person. Daily:2.30pm – 4.30pm (Hyde Park Corner; website)
8. Art inspired tea at the Rosewood
Served in hotel’s swanky Mirror Room, the Rosewood’s afternoon tea features ornamental sweets from pastry chef Mark Perkins, who looks to the works of contemporary artists for his creations: Banksy, Wassily Kandinsky, Pollock, Koons and le Gall. The loungey vibe is complete with Chesterfield sofas, dim lighting and floor-to-ceiling mirrored walls. Monday – Friday: 2pm to 6pm; Saturday: 12pm to 7pm; Sunday: 12pm to 6pm (252 High Holborn; website)
9. Prêt-à-Porter at the Berkeley hotel
Instead of the familiar shapes of the usual edibles that grace our tea plates, pastry chef Mourad Khiatmakes draws his inspiration from the runway. You might recognize bite-size versions of iconic garments such as Gucci’s kimono, Gianvito Rossi’s red stiletto boots and Balenciaga’s black and white dress and more, all reworked into delightful little dreams. From £52 per person. Daily: 1pm-5.30pm (Wilton Place; website)
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If you prefer your afternoon tea with a kick, here are some boozy options for you:
10. Scandal Water at the Edition
Named after the nineteenth-century slang term for tea, Scandal Water at the Edition takes place in the hotel’s Punch Room. Its aim is to recreate what tea time was really created for…not just for curbing one’s appetite between lunch and dinner, but also for gossip! Scandal Water aims to bring afternoon tea back to its roots through a menu of five carefully curated, non-traditional food and tea pairings as well as tea-infused punches. The idea is to focus more on the flavors rather than how much you can eat. Guests select three pairings which are then served as flights. Friday – Sunday: 3pm to 5pm; reservations only. Starts at £35 per person (10 Berners Street; website)
Did you know that back in the day, all that was served with afternoon tea was the humble English muffin? Simply toasted and buttered, it was the perfect accompany to the rare and exotic teas, showcasing their tastes and aromas. The point, after all, was not to stuff your gob with cakes and sarnies, but rather to pass the hours between lunch and dinner. Served with a side of razor-tongued gossip, it was a match made in Victorian heaven #punchroomldn #londonedition #scandalwater #afternoontea
11. Tipsy Tea at Mr. Fogg’s
This eccentric cocktail bar is inspired by Phileas Fogg, the Jules Verne character who traveled around the world in 80 days. The Victorian era decor is the perfect backdrop for Tipsy Tea, characterized by a selection of Spirited and Champagne teas like Ladies that Lapsang with Lapsang-souchong-infused Martini Rosso, Hendrick’s, Drambuie, homemade vanilla syrup and lemon juice, or the Drunken Duchess Reyka with vodka, crème de mûre, cranberry juice, lemon bitters, homemade sugar syrup and fresh lemon juice, topped with Veuve Clicquot. Starts at £38 per person. Friday and Saturday: 2pm to 6pm; Sunday: 3pm to 5pm (15 Bruton Ln and 1 New Row; website)
12. Gin and tonic afternoon tea at Duke’s
Duke’s London follows suit with a traditional afternoon tea and Champagne add-on options, but they also have a third: Gin and tonic afternoon tea. Sip gin-infused tea with housemade tonic syrup served alongside the typical sandwiches, scones and pastries. Starts at £32.50 person. Daily: 1pm – 6pm; (35 St James’s Place; website)
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13. Sherlock Holmes afternoon tea at Taj 51
These mostly spiked sweet treats pay homage to literature’s most iconic detective. There’s a Scotch-infused 221 B macaroon while Moriarity’s Bomb comprises coffee and Baileys cheesecake. Smoked caramel mousse is shaped into a cigar and Watson’s Moustache is a boozy Stout cupcake. Savory sandwiches are inspired by the novel The Sign of The Four, and tea is served in the Home From Home Tea Set, which appears in the hit TV show. Starts at £40 per person. Reservations are required. Daily: 12.30pm – 6pm (51 Buckingham Gate; website)
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14. Wyld Afternoon tea at Dandelyon in the Mondrian Hotel
Located in this award-winning cocktail bar, Wyld Afternoon pays homage to the exotic botanical flavors that explorers introduced to London during the early nineteenth century. Enjoy 1970s-inspired sweet and savory bites paired with specially created cocktails in a disco lounge backdrop. Bonus: a spectacular view of the Thames! Thursday to Sunday:12pm and 5pm. Starts at £55; a booze-free version is £35 per person. (20 Upper Ground, South Bank; website)