Henry James may have been an American but he hit the nail on the head when he said, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” There's something so utterly decadent about this completely unnecessary meal – especially when paired with a glass of mid-afternoon champagne – that an entire Afternoon Tea Week (9-15 August 2021) has been devoted to celebrating it. Finding its origins in the British capital, London remains home to some of the world’s very best and most inventive pastry chefs, creating mouth-wateringly pretty miniatures sandwiches, scones and pastries for your delectation. Here are some of the best afternoon teas in London to book now.
The Langham, Fitzrovia
One of London’s true grande dame hotels, The Langham is the undisputed birthplace of afternoon tea. Still served in the glamorously serene Palm Court, where the very first afternoon tea was served in 1865, its modern offering draws on this extraordinary legacy and the generations of exceptional chefs who have helmed the kitchen. Now overseen by Michel Roux Jr and executive pastry chef Andrew Gravett, The Langham afternoon tea is a celebration of all things British.
A vast list of Jing teas are served in delicate Wedgwood teacups while pastries take their cues from classic British biscuits, with particularly memorable takes on the Custard Cream and Bourbon. There are also seasonal finger sandwiches, including smoked trout and horseradish, Coronation chicken and cucumber and cream cheese, a miniature Ploughman’s cheese scone and, of course, some of the best sweet scones you’ll find in the city.
The Orchid Lounge at Pan Pacific London, Bishopsgate
Opening its doors on 1 September 2021, the Pan Pacific may not be ready to celebrate Afternoon Tea Week this year, but it’s well worth booking ahead to be one of the first to try its delectable afternoon tea offering. Devised by award-winning Executive Pastry Chef Cherish Finden, and served in the gorgeous surrounds of the Orchid Lounge restaurant, the Singaporean-inspired Kopi Tiam (named for the country’s traditional coffee shops) will eschew sandwiches in favour of bao and dim sum. These will be served alongside a range of unusual pastries, including Finden’s signatures, such as Peranakan pineapple tart and Keuh Lapis spice cake, as well as chocolate brownies and rose and lychee choux buns. Meanwhile, tea will be sourced from the Rare Tea Company, with a Tea Connoisseur on hand to suggest perfect pairings, while a range of champagnes and English sparkling wines will also be on offer.
The Great Scotland Yard Hotel, Westminster
Housed, as you may have guessed, in the former Great Scotland Yard building, located between the Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square, this is a brilliant option for anyone entertaining guests also interested in seeing the London sights. Served in the Parlour, a sumptuously decorated space that takes its cues from Britain’s colonial past and the introduction of tea from China and India, the hotel’s new Bouquet de la Reine afternoon tea has been created in collaboration with royal perfumer Floris.
Named for the perfume created by Floris for Queen Victoria on the occasion of her wedding, an updated version of which was presented to Queen Elizabeth on her Golden Jubilee, smell plays a large part in this multi-sensory experience. Teas, including Jasmine Silver Tip, Sunset Oolong and Hibiscus, have been chosen for their olfactory properties while the menu features classic sandwiches and scones alongside more uniquely fragrant offerings, such as crab, lime and chilli crème fraîche milk buns, rose and pistachio drizzle cake and mango and Jasmine macarons.
The Biltmore, Mayfair
Afternoon tea at one of Mayfair’s starriest hotels comes from none other than Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton. As with all of Atherton’s cooking, the mission here is to celebrate fresh, seasonal British produce while providing guests with the most luxurious of experiences. The menu is, accordingly, a hit list of classics given a fine dining spin. Think cucumber sandwiches with black truffle crème fraîche, heritage tomatoes dressed up with basil pesto and black olive and a chocolate mousse patisserie fashioned from ultra-fine 72% Valhrona chocolate. Kentish strawberries and cream are also given the French pastry treatment while you’ll be talking about the utterly delicious peach, apricot and elderflower tart for weeks after trying.
Mr Fogg’s House of Botanicals, Fitzrovia
An afternoon tea better suited to a celebratory occasion with friends than entertaining your grandparents, Mr Fogg’s Tipsy Tea is served on Saturday afternoons only in the hugely Instagram-friendly Victorian hot house-inspired surrounds of the House of Botanicals. In accordance with the flora and fauna theme, the entire menu of delicate finger sandwiches, scones and sweet treats is plant-based, and comes accompanied by teapots not filled with your usual English breakfast, but instead with exotic cocktails devised by the venue’s in-house botanist. Upgrade to bottomless teapot cocktails for the ultimate celebratory experience.
Kona at Taj 51 Buckingham Gate, St James’s Park
London’s museums and galleries provide endless inspiration for the capital’s chefs and nowhere is this better seen than in the Queen of Hearts afternoon tea at Kona, St James’s. Taking its cues from the Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition currently on at the V&A, this Alice in Wonderland-themed afternoon tea is a fantastical experience ideal for families. Begin with a selection of classic finger sandwiches and scones before diving head first into some truly stunning patisserie creations. Among the best are No White Roses, a Victorian red velvet cupcake with chocolate ganache, Running Late, a strawberry pocket watch macaron, and Tea Party at 6, a dark chocolate top hat, all served on a glass checkerboard.
The Lanesborough, Hyde Park Corner
If you're after traditional pastries with an Instagrammable twist this is the afternoon tea for you. Settle down in five-star comfort in the hotel’s pretty powder-blue Michelin-starred dining room, Céleste, or retire to the elegant Withdrawing Room to sip champagne to the sound of live piano music. The latest afternoon tea from The Lanesborough has been created in partnership with the Instagram-famous Peggy Porschen bakery, whose namesake chef found her start in pastry at The Lanesborough in 1999. Expect plenty of pretty pink swirling icing and beautifully layered cakes, served alongside fluffy scones and finger sandwiches. Everything, true to Céleste's impeccable form, is (almost) too beautiful to eat. Vegetarians, vegans and children are all not only most welcome but also thoughtfully, and satisfyingly, catered for.
From £54 per person, oetkercollection.com
Rosewood London, Bloomsbury
Yoyai Kusama's sold-out Infinity Rooms exhibition is the latest art display to inspire Mark Perkins, the executive pastry chef at the Rosewood London in Bloomsbury. Served in the hotel's elegant Mirror Room, the eye-catching pastries combine Japanese flavours in honour of the artist's heritage, alongside her signature colours and polka dots, to create elegant French patisseries with an utterly contemporary twist. Pastries are accompanied by finger sandwiches, scones and loose-leaf teas. Upgrade to the Le Grande Dame afternoon tea to sample a glass of Veuve Clicquot Le Grande Dame 2012 Yayoi Kusama Edition vintage champagne. Prepare to be wowed.
From £65 per person, rosewoodhotels.com
The Rosebery at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London
Before a morsel even passes your lips at The Rosebery, take a moment to take in your exquisite surroundings. The Rosebery, named after Lord Rosebery, was a stylish tea room in the 1920s and it reopened in 2014 as a contemporary tea salon, making the most of its Victorian features, high ceilings and the natural light that floods in. Here, it's easy to forget that bustling Knightsbridge traffic streams by outside. Also exceptional and worthy of note are the staff – without exception impeccably polite and informative, with a relaxed charm.
Tea lovers, rejoice. The menu has no fewer than 35 teas on offer and do take advice about which you might most enjoy – we recommend the smoky lapsang souchong and lighter Apricot White from China. And so to the food. Savour the sandwich selection (our highlights include the famed egg with truffle and braised black chicken leg) but resist the temptation to accept more (they're unlimited) – you're going to need to save room. Scones come with peach jam, strawberry jam and rose petal jelly, served on plates within a clever tea stand that hangs alongside the table. This is all the better to display, in all their colourful, sugar-laced glory, no fewer than four pastries per person. And they taste even better than they look. Drawing on the Asian flavours synonymous with the hotel group, a Japanese chiffon roll is finished with a steamed lemon biscuit strawberry confit and Timur pepper cream while the Exotic Cube Cake features mango mallow, lychee rice pudding and mango brunoise. A delightful chocolate and tonka gateaux and poached pear tart complete the selection. Take your time, enjoy every mouthful, and go ravenous. Just impeccable.
From £58 per person, mandarinoriental.com/london
The Berkeley, Knightsbridge
The Berkeley launched its now legendary fashion-themed Prêt-à-Portea back in 2006, when most hotels in London drew the line at anything more outré than sandwiches and scones. Nowadays, the vogue is for quirky, themed afternoon teas, and The Berkeley did it first. Every six months, its menu of couture cakes changes to reflect the latest catwalk trends and designs. This season’s Prêt-à-Portea takes SS21 trends and key pieces, including Donatella Versace's ocean-themed cocktail dress, a Tod's neon tote bag and gowns from Valentino, Isabel Marant and Halpern, and shrinks them down into exquisite biscuits, bakes and fancies. There's even an intricately iced biscuit inspired by the Anna Wintour puppet that graced the Mochino virtual 'frow'. Enjoy these creative cakes with savoury canapés, sandwiches and, of course, plenty of tea.
The Dorchester, Hyde Park
Served in hotel’s magnificent pillared Promenade, afternoon tea at The Dorchester is about as traditional as they come and begins with a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne, poured by an impeccably polite, tail-coated waiter. A bounty of crust-free sandwiches, warm scones with clotted cream and tiers of almost-too-pretty-to-eat French pastries follow, accompanied by a live pianist, follows. Fanciful fare is complemented by an extensive menu of teas, including The Dorchester's unique house blend. From the service to the daintily decorated chocolate sponge, everything about this afternoon tea is flawless. In celebration of Afternoon Tea Week, throughout August the hotel will also be serving a children's afternoon tea created in collaboration with the children of Manorfield Primary school. Priced at £10 per child, it features bite-size sandwiches, cupcakes and milkshakes with all proceeds donated to the school.
Brown's Hotel, Mayfair
Brown’s claim to baking fame is that Queen Victoria loved to take tea there. Its afternoon tea offering remains as classic as anything Her Majesty would have expected, with cucumber, smoked salmon and Coronation chicken sandwiches followed by scones, strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream. Pastries, too, err on the side of traditional with an almond apricot Bakewell, mango and rum baba and chocolate cube all featuring. Pair with one of the hotel's vast selections of core and seasonal loose leaf teas or treat yourself with a glass of Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial. Vegan and gluten-free options also availabe.
Lyaness at Sea Containers London, Southbank
For those of you who feel alcohol is a key part of any good restaurant experience, this is the tea for you. Ryan ‘Mr. Lyan’ Chetiyawardana wanted his Spirited Tea to act as the quintessential pairing between the bar's mastery of craft cocktails and its playful way with food. So there are cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, roast chicken and tarragon mayo treats, classic scones with blueberry lemon thyme jam, lemongrass meringue tart and caramelised banana and chocolate eclairs. Each course is paired with a bespoke cocktail: Rosebud (Infinite banana, galangal and ginger, Bacardi Carta Blanca and bubbles), Orchard Spritz (honey, apple reduction, Roku gin and soda) and Rock Melon Gimlet (Grey Good vodka, melon, cacao and seeded vermouth).