By Susan Cohen
No longer the preserve of ladies on a shopping trip or families celebrating a special occasion, afternoon tea has become a favourite pastime enjoyed by anyone and everyone, an up-to-the-minute sociable thing to do. The synergy of design, fashion, and food has had a wonderful impact and resulted in an exciting new genre, with afternoon teas on offer suited to every generation and to people from all walks of life. If you are a visitor to the capital, what better time-honoured British tradition could you choose to experience, and for the local, what better excuse could there be to leave the hustle and bustle of everyday life behind for a few hours? Afternoon tea is about treating yourself, your friends, and your family, either informally or in luxurious style, so find a venue that strikes your fancy and enjoy yourself.
11 Cadogan Gardens
Just a short walk from Sloane Square, stroll along a leafy street of grand terraced houses, and once you’ve conquered the curious numbering system, you’ll find 11 Cadogan Gardens. Behind the Victorian façade is one of London’s best-kept secrets, a gem of a destination for afternoon tea. Quintessentially English, the interior is dramatic, eclectic, and quirky, and whilst the furnishings are traditional, they have a distinctively modern twist to them. Guests generally take their afternoon tea in the flower-filled Drawing Room, but a small party of four to five people can also be seated in the conservatory. The terrace is a lovely option on a sunny day, and if you are a bigger party of eight to ten, then you can make an advance booking for the Library. The Drawing Room has a comfortable, cosy feel to it, and retains all the original features, including the large stone fireplace. But there is nothing Victorian about the furniture, which features stylish, contemporary, polished wood tables and elegant upholstered chairs. Begin with a complimentary glass of Taittinger Champagne, and choose your leaf tea from the menu or the additional list. Tuck into the deliciously light sandwiches, followed by scones with jam and clotted cream. To complete the treat, there is a selection of beautifully crafted dainty pastries, accompanied by a shot glass filled with a fruit soup, maybe mango, topped with a yogurt foam. The hotel puts on a lovely festive tea at Christmas, which is served from late November to late December, and in May, it’s worth looking out for their Chelsea Flower Show flower-inspired tea. It’s altogether a super place to have a really good, well-priced afternoon tea.
Address: 11 Cadogan Gardens, Chelsea, London SW3 2RJ
Tel: +44 (0)20 7730 7000
Afternoon tea served: daily 2.30pm–6.00pm
Set teas: champagne afternoon tea, seasonal special teas. Dietary requirements including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free can be catered for; advance notice is preferred. Advance booking is highly recommended.
Nearest underground stations: Sloane Square
Places of interest nearby: Sloane Street shopping, Saatchi Gallery, Royal Hospital Chelsea, Ranelagh Gardens, Chelsea Physic Garden
Just minutes away from three of London’s most famous museums, the light and airy Drawing Rooms within Kensington’s Ampersand Hotel are the perfect place for an excellent afternoon tea inspired by the Science Museum. The stylish décor is a combination of English drawing room and salon de thé, with richly upholstered deep sofas and comfortable armchairs, and helpful, friendly staff will guide you through the menu and the teas on offer.
Rather than the usual sandwiches, the chef has come up with a super selection of delicious variations on the savoury course. Expect filled miniature gougère or generously topped bite-sized tartines, seasonal mini quiches, or tiny bagels or blinis topped with smoked salmon and avocado. Follow these with warm scones, both plain and studded with white chocolate, served with clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam, before you get to the pastries, which are the star turn and bound to entrance any children in your party. The Natural History Museum gets a nod here with the shortbread dinosaur biscuits, but science is the overriding theme, with changes to the menu made from time to time. There might be a Milky Way macaron or a chocolate mint planet, and you get to experiment with test tubes full of colored crystals, chocolate pearls, and toffee sauce, plus cocoa powder to dust over a biscuit and reveal a fossil. Add a glass of champagne for the ultimate treat. This is definitely one of the most entertaining teas in London, and bound to bring a smile to your face, whether you are nine or ninety.
Address: 10 Harrington Road, South Kensington, London SW7 3ER
Tel: +44 (0)20 7591 4414
Afternoon tea served:
Monday to Friday 2.30pm–5.30pm,
including bank holidays;
Set teas: Science Afternoon Tea, Vegetarian Science Afternoon Tea. A gluten free alternative is available on request on the day.
Nearest underground stations: South Kensington
Places of interest nearby: Royal Albert Hall, Albert Memorial, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Serpentine Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Christie’s Fine Art and Antiques, Harrods
The Athenaeum Hotel
Situated in the heart of Mayfair, opposite Green Park, the Athenaeum Hotel is one of London’s few family-run five-star hotels, and a complete refurbishment has transformed it into an elegant, modern hotel that retains a home-away-from-home atmosphere. The famed Living Wall on the corner of the building has been extended, and the Michelin-starred Galvin brothers, Chris and Jeff, now head the kitchens. Afternoon tea can be served in the lounge, seated in the more formal Galvin restaurant, or in the comfy bar. Don’t be disconcerted by the large TV screen at the far end of this room – it shows major sports events such as Wimbledon and the World and Euro Cups, and when these are not around, you can catch up watching romantic, retro movies, making a connection with the earlier use of the building by the Rank Organisation. There is also an outside terrace on Piccadilly where you can sit and enjoy your tea while you watch the world go by.
The courteous staff take the greatest care of you, from describing the various menus, to helping you choose from the select list of artisan leaf teas, to serving you. Both the sweeter Classic and the Royal teas as well as the more savoury Gentleman’s tea showcase the country’s very best ingredients, including Cumbrian ham and fresh smoked salmon from Severn & Wye. Sandwiches have delicious and generous fillings on tasty breads, including beetroot, ‘pain de mie’, and onion, and are replenished as often as you like. The Royal menu features a bridge roll filled with Eggs ‘Drumkilbo’, a favourite of the late Queen Mother, which is a wonderful concoction of egg and tarragon bound in a lobster mayonnaise, then topped with crayfish and garnished with a sprig of chervil. There is a different selection of delectable pastries on each of the Classic and Royal teas. You can expect the likes of a macaron, delightful fairy cakes, Scottish shortbread, and miniature Eton Mess, with changes reflecting the seasons and produce of the year. Of course there are scones, both fruit and plain, with jolly good house-made preserves and clotted cream. The savoury tea – which of course is not just for gentlemen – has cheese scones with an Alsace bacon butter, a fruit-filled Eccles cake served with a wedge of Lincolnshire poacher cheese and chutney, a Scotch egg whose yolk is cooked to perfection (still slightly runny), a sausage roll in crisp puff pastry, and a crumpet covered with a delicious Lancashire ‘Bomb’ cheese rarebit. Should you still have room, there are slices of sourdough toast waiting to have Gentleman’s Relish spread on them, all washed down with a dram of the Athenaeum’s specially blended Scotch whisky. There is still a slice of proper cake waiting to be eaten, or taken home if you really can’t eat it. Everything flows at a leisurely pace and there is never the slightest hint of being rushed, so relax and enjoy the experience.
Address: 116 Piccadilly,
Mayfair, London W1J 7BJ
Tel: +44 (0)20 7640 3333
Offers: see www.afternoontea.co.uk/uk/london
Afternoon tea served:
Monday to Saturday 12.30 noon–4.30pm,
Sunday 12.30 noon–5.30pm.
Advance booking advised, especially for the Gentleman’s Tea.
Set teas: classic, gluten and dairy free, Royal, Gentleman’s, occasional seasonal themed afternoon teas
Nearest underground stations: Green Park, Hyde Park Corner
Places of interest nearby: Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Green Park, Admiralty Arch, Royal Academy, Burlington Arcade
The famed original Balthazar opened in downtown New York in spring 1997, but London had to wait until early 2013 for the brasserie to finally make its debut in London, right in the heart of Covent Garden and theatreland. This is the only Balthazar outside of Manhattan, and afternoon tea – which you won’t find in the New York restaurant – is a very important part of the French-inspired all-day menu. The late 19th-century building has an interesting history, for it was home to the Covent Garden Flower Cellars, where the market traders kept their stock. Then, for many years, the London Theatre Museum was located here, but now the London Film Museum shares the building with Balthazar. The interior décor is ornate, but retains the feel of a typical French brasserie, from the zinc bar, brass rails, and red banquette seating to the bustling atmosphere.
The set afternoon tea menu does change from season to season, and in the past has featured a Bobbi Brown summer tea, inspired by Bobbi’s cosmetics, so check out the website to see what is current. Whatever is on the menu will be delicious, for head pastry chef, Régis Beauregard, is a genius at creating divine pastries. Balthazar’s High Five afternoon tea, designed to celebrate five years in London, is no exception, featuring the Queen of Tarts, a red, white, and blue macaron which is a salute to the American, British, and French flags, plus the chocolate Balthazar Icon, unmistakably a replica of the famous awning outside. Before you get to these sweet sensations, there are the mouth-watering sandwiches with traditional fillings given a twist, and a really good brioche roll filled with lobster prawn. As tradition demands, there are nicely glazed, light, fruit and plain buttermilk scones, served with rich clotted cream and homemade jam. If you want to dig a bit deeper into your pocket, you could add a real touch of luxury and order 30g (about an ounce) of Imperial caviar, served with blinis and crème fraîche, as well as a glass of champagne or a High Five cocktail. Postcard Teas supply the leaf tea here, and although the list is small, it is very select. Apart from any uneaten treats, which will be boxed up for you if you want, you’ll have a lovely take-home gift of an individual cannelé bordelaise. It’s up to you how long you hold out before biting into the thin, caramelised shell of this rum-and-vanilla-filled magical confection which is melt-in-the-mouth perfection.
Address: 4–6 Russell Street, Covent Garden, London WC2B 5HZ
Tel: +44 (0)20 3301 1155
Afternoon tea served:
Monday to Friday 3.00pm–5.30pm,
Monday to Sunday during
Set teas: seasonally changing themed menu, gluten free
Nearest underground stations: Covent Garden
Places of interest nearby: London Film Museum, Covent Garden, Royal Opera House, London Transport Museum, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Lyceum Theatre, Fortune Theatre, Savoy Theatre, Somerset House
The Berkeley, The Collins Room
The Collins Room at The Berkeley is light and bright even on a wet winter’s afternoon and is a glorious, elegant place in which to relax and enjoy a very special and unusual afternoon tea. Maybe you have had a hard day shopping or sightseeing; perhaps you want to catch up with some friends; or maybe you simply want to celebrate. Whatever your reason for visiting The Berkeley, the renowned Prêt-à-Portea tea is sure to please. This is a fashionista’s delight, and has been firmly fixed on the afternoon tea scene for more than ten years. Each delectable pastry that the hotel’s pastry chef produces is a miniature work of art, inspired by the themes and colours of the fashion world. The menu is completely redesigned every six months to follow the changing fashions and styles of the seasons.
The creations, served on delicate, fine bone china designed by Wedgwood, have included Jimmy Choo’s monochrome chic Cayla zebra print bag, Moschino’s quirky ‘Yellow M’ handbag of blood orange victoria sponge swathed in red quilted chocolate, and a Valentino sexy sixties mini dress chocolate tartelette filled with caramelia cremeux and whipped ganache, with red and pink chocolate polka dots. Guests have also enjoyed a brilliantly British chocolate and vanilla Battenberg cake inspired by Stella McCartney’s checkered summer pumps. Breaking with tradition, there are no scones, but your set tea includes a mouth-watering selection of seasonally changing little savouries, tea sandwiches, and stylish canapés. Accompany your Prêt-à-Portea with a glass of champagne or Couture champagne and add a loose-leaf tea chosen from a good selection of savoury and sweet. You’ll want to stay all afternoon, but when you finally leave, there is a little Prêt box that is perfect for taking home any unfinished treats. And for those of you who love to bake, you can buy the Prêt-à-Portea book, High Fashion Bake and Biscuits, and recreate some of the wonderful pastries at home.
Address: Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7RL
Tel: +44 (0)20 7107 8866
Afternoon tea served: daily 1.30pm–5.30pm
Set teas: Prêt-à-Portea, Champagne Prêt-à-Portea, Couture Champagne Prêt-à-Portea. Gluten and nut free can be catered for, but please give 24 hours’ notice.
Dress code: elegant smart casual; no shorts, vests, sportswear, flip-flops, ripped jeans, or baseball caps
Nearest underground stations: Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner
Places of interest nearby: Harvey Nichols, Harrods, Hyde Park, Green Park, Sloane Street and Knightsbridge designer shopping, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Royal Albert Hall
At first glance, you might think this a rather unusual place to visit for afternoon tea, as it is neither a hotel, nor a restaurant, nor a grand café, but it’s worth booking in advance to experience Biscuiteers’ London Afternoon Tea. Right in the heart of trendy Notting Hill, made famous by the eponymous film, it is, essentially, a biscuit boutique and icing café, but it is also a charming place to book for a delicious, fun afternoon tea. Think about Biscuiteers if you are planning a visit to Portobello Road, whose world-famous street market has stalls offering everything from fruit and bread to posters, vintage clothes, ceramics, and music.
Everything is served on jolly red-and-white-striped pottery, is freshly prepared on the premises, and is quintessentially British. Fresh-as-a-daisy finger sandwiches and good fruit scones with jam and clotted cream are accompanied by an array of cakes and patisserie. Biscuiteers’ loyal customers were asked to vote for their favourite pastries to be served with the afternoon tea, and your cake stand has an array of miniature versions of these, including, amongst many others, a tiny Bakewell tart, a salted caramel brownie (to die for), and an individual traditional Victoria sponge. You’ll also have hand-piped macarons and, of course, a selection of Biscuiteers iconic iced biscuits, resplendent with a London theme. Enjoy a good strong cuppa to go with the food, and take home anything you can’t eat packed in one of the shop’s charming boxes. It will be surprising if you manage to leave without buying any of the myriad of iced biscuits for which the shop is famous. And if you want to add a bit of fun to your afternoon tea, why not get creative and book an additional DIY biscuit icing session? Then you’ll have even more to take home and enjoy later on.
Address: 194 Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill, London W11 2ES
Tel: +44 (0)20 7727 8096
Afternoon tea served:
Monday to Saturday 10.30am–4.00pm,
Pre-booking advised, one week in advance, although some last-minute requests are possible.
Set teas: London Afternoon Tea, to which you can add a fun biscuit icing session. Vegetarian and gluten free menus available to order.
Nearest underground stations: Ladbroke Grove, Westbourne Park
Places of interest nearby: Portobello Road, Notting Hill
The Bloomsbury, Dalloway Terrace
Just a stroll from the British Museum, and in the heart of Bloomsbury, Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury Hotel is a lovely place to enjoy a traditional afternoon tea. The terrace is named in honour of Virginia Woolf and her best-known novel, Mrs Dalloway, which was published in 1925 whilst the author was living nearby at 52 Tavistock Square. Inside, the hotel itself is evocative of the era when Woolf and her fellow artists and writers, all members of the ‘Bloomsbury Set’, lived and worked in the area.
The inside-outside terrace is like being out-of-doors, but without the risks. It’s an all-seasons terrace, serving all-day food as well as afternoon tea, and is lush with greenery, warmed by the sun in summer, fully protected from rain, and equipped with heaters and lovely, cosy rugs for cooler days. Come Christmas, it gets transformed into a winter wonderland. Given that you are not far from the bustle of Oxford Street, this is an oasis of calm in the heart of London, and a very good place to rest awhile.
Your tiered cake stand is delivered with four kinds of sandwiches, each on a different artisan bread. Think tomato, beetroot, ‘pain de mie’, and multigrain, and by all means ask for more. Freshly baked buttermilk scones served with clotted cream and homemade preserves follow, and then come the sweet treats, with a nice mix of patisserie and miniature cakes to tickle the taste buds. Rare Tea Company supplies the leaf tea here, with something to suit everyone, from black, white, and green teas to caffeine-free herbal infusions. The lemon verbena from Provence makes a wonderful digestive, whilst the second flush Muscatel Darjeeling is highly fragrant with a heady floral aroma and soft notes of muscatel grapes.
Address: 16–22 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3NN
Tel: +44 (0)20 7347 1221
Offers: see www.afternoontea.co.uk/uk/london
Afternoon tea served: daily 12.00pm–4.00pm
Set teas: traditional, with sparkling and champagne options. Seasonal special menus available.
Nearest underground stations: Tottenham Court Road
Places of interest nearby: British Museum, Oxford Street, Charing Cross Road, Cartoon Museum
Brigit’s Bakery, or B Bakery, is a heavenly place to escape the bustle of Covent Garden and The Strand. Essentially a French salon de thé, it is as pretty as a picture, very comfortable, and oh so chic. If you are seated on the ground floor, you can watch the world go by, but for some privacy, there is seating downstairs, and private rooms are also available for parties. You do need to order the set tea in advance, but can drop in anytime for a pot of tea and a scone or a cake. Tea is served on an eclectic mix of mismatched bone china cup, saucers, and plates. The tiered cake stands come laden with delicious savouries and sandwiches, all with a French twist, and the dainty cakes and pastries are a delight. Super scones with jam and cream complete the treat, and you definitely won’t leave hungry.
Address: 6–7 Chandos Place, Covent Garden, London WC2N 4HU
Tel: +44 (0)20 3026 1188
Afternoon tea served:
Monday to Friday 11.00am–5.00pm,
Set teas: traditional, Christmas. Book at least 24 hours in advance, and specify any dietary requirements. Gluten free, vegetarian, and halal available to pre-order when booking. Extensive à la carte menu available.
Nearest underground stations: Covent Garden, Charing Cross (and mainline trains)
Places of interest nearby: Covent Garden, London Transport Museum, Sir John Soane’s Museum
Brigit’s Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus and Boat Tours
There can hardly be a more unique way to treat yourself to afternoon tea than by combining it with a sightseeing tour around the capital. With Brigit’s Bakery, you can choose a bus ride or a cruise along the River Thames. Evocative of Swinging London, Brigit’s 1960s Red Routemaster London buses have been refurbished and decked out with comfy banquet seating and shiny white tables and garlanded with flowers, albeit artificial ones. You’ll have a uniformed driver ready to take you on an hour and a half’s magical tour of London, whilst lovely staff serve you your afternoon tea and add interest to the event. Unless you are too engrossed in eating, you’ll have the opportunity to take in many of London’s famous landmarks, from Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, and Downing Street to Piccadilly, Knightsbridge, and the Royal Albert Hall. For safety reasons, your tea can’t be served in a china cup, but you’ll get a lovely Brigit’s Bakery heatproof mug, which also serves as a souvenir of the event. The food is as fresh as a daisy and delicious, from the tiny savoury quiches, the finger sandwiches, and the mini baguettes to the exquisite patisserie, which might include a dainty fairy cake, a petit choux à la crème, a macaron, and a delicate seasonal fruit tartelette in the crispiest of pastry. As befits a traditional afternoon tea, there are warm scones, jam, and clotted cream. What a wonderful and entertaining experience this is.
As for the boat tours, on a few selected dates in the summer you can take in the sights and sounds of London as you sail along the mighty River Thames on a refurbished 1980s vintage private motor yacht. The cruise starts at 2.00pm from Butler’s Wharf Pier, near London Bridge, and lasts around two and a half hours. It gets underway with a glass of champagne on the deck, giving you the opportunity to take in some breathtaking views of the capital. The lovely afternoon tea is served below deck in the dining room by the friendly uniformed staff. The afternoon tea is a treat of sandwiches, mini quiches, tiny cupcakes, scones, macarons, and more. Depending on how many people are in your party, you may be sharing a table. A truly memorable event.
Bus Tours (all year)
Tel: +44 (0)20 3026 1188
Option A: Pick-up at 8 Northumberland Avenue (near Trafalgar Square), Westminster, London WC2N 5BY
Tour time departures: daily at 12.30pm and 3.00pm
Nearest underground stations: Charing Cross
Option B: Pick-up at Victoria Coach Station, 164 Buckingham Palace Road, Belgravia, London SW1W 9TP (your booking confirmation will provide details of the exact gate location)
Tour time departures: daily at 12.00pm, 1.00pm,
2.30pm, 3.30pm, and 5.30pm
Nearest underground stations: Victoria
Set teas: traditional, gluten free, vegetarian, and halal available to pre-order when booking. Gin Lovers bus tours on selected dates.
Boat Tours (selected summer dates only)
Tel: +44 (0)20 3026 1188
Set teas: traditional, gluten free, vegetarian, and halal available to pre-order when booking
InterContinental London, The O2
Shiny and new, the ultra-modern InterContinental is perched on the edge of the Greenwich Peninsula, facing the O2 arena across the River Thames. The area is steeped in history, for the East India Company operated from near here, plying their increasingly successful trade in silk, porcelain, and especially tea. Tea owed its growing popularity as a fashionable drink to Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of King Charles II, and the company placed their first order for tea – 100 lbs (45kg) of China tea to be imported from Java to Britain – in 1664. Paying homage to the hotel’s position, the Meridian Lounge, where tea is served, takes its name from the meridian line in nearby Greenwich, the spot that marks the dividing point between the eastern and western hemispheres. The lounge, just off the hotel lobby, is an excellent place to enjoy the views, and on a fine day you can take advantage of the riverside terrace and enjoy your afternoon tea out of doors. Apart from the special themed teas that are offered during the year, the regular afternoon tea menu here is a twist on the traditional, with sandwiches served on a variety of breads (carrot, beetroot, and basil are favourites), scones with Madagascan vanilla, chai, sunflower, and cranberry, and a delightful selection of pretty pastries and cakes. The East India Tea Company continues to supply tea to the hotel today, and from time to time there is live music, as well as East India Tea bespoke cocktails to complement the already delightful afternoon tea.
Address: 1 Waterview Drive, Greenwich Peninsula, London SE10 0TW
Tel: +44 (0)20 8463 6868
Afternoon tea served: daily 1.00pm–5.00pm (last seating 4.30pm)
Set teas: traditional, champagne, themed teas including Wimbledon, Easter, Mother’s Day (please check the website). Special dietary requirements can be accommodated upon request. Bespoke afternoon tea master classes in partnership with East India Tea Company can be arranged upon request.
Nearest underground stations: North Greenwich. Also available: river transport at Thames Clipper.
Places of interest nearby: The O2 arena (there is direct access from the hotel between 9.00am and 1.00am), Canary Wharf, Royal Observatory, Royal Museums Greenwich, Cutty Sark, Riverboat service, Emirates Airline Cable Car, ExCel, Eltham Palace