“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea."- Henry James
From dinner parties and weddings to all manner of other social events, there is nothing more likely than bite-sized mouthfuls of savoury goodies and sugar-laced creations designed to keep us welded to the corner from which they are appearing. If you, like us, prefer to eat the fruits of someone else’s labour rather than roll your own sleeves up (and you've already eaten more of Ladurée's irresistibly pastel-pretty little macarons or Hummingbird's Insta-ready cupcakes than you'd care to admit) indulge in the ultimate gastronomic treat; afternoon tea. We’re not sure why miniature versions of everything taste so good, but they do, and London is home to some of the world’s very best and most inventive pastry chefs, creating these mouth-wateringly pretty miniatures for your delectation.
Henry James may be an American but it seems he was a devotee of our great British tea tradition too. “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea”. We concur. Here are some of London’s best.
1. Rosewood London, Covent Garden
The best afternoon tea in London for... Instagramming
Cubism, Pablo Picasso’s abstract style, and Andy Warhol’s Pop Art inspired Mark Perkins to create six of his own mini masterpieces for afternoon tea at the Rosewood. And he has done so with aplomb, scooping Best Contemporary Afternoon Tea in the UK for the second year running. Served in the Rosewood Hotel's elegant Mirror Room, the eye-catching pastries – including a cake disguised as a tomato soup can – are accompanied by finger sandwiches, scones and loose-leaf teas. Perkins set the bar high last year, creating desserts celebrating artists such as Banksy and Damien Hirst. Prepare to be wowed.
What: Art Afternoon Tea at the Mirror Room, Rosewood London hotel Address: 252 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EN, 020 7781 8888 Price: from £49 per person Website: rosewoodhotels.com
2. Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London, The Rosebery
The best afternoon tea in London for... pastry perfection
If there is a better afternoon tea in London, I haven't tried it. Before a morsel even passes your lips, 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. It's easy to forget bustling Knightsbridge traffic streams by outside. Also exceptional and worthy of note, prior to tucking in with serious commitment, 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 when offered about which you might most enjoy - we recommend the smoky lapsang souchong. And so to the food. Once you've devoured the sandwich selection (our highlights include egg with truffle and braised beef), you'll be offered more. It's unlimited, but be warned - what is to appear next will require every last space you have available so probably best to decline. Scones come with tart lemon curd, strawberry jam and rose petal jelly (impossible to rank), served on plates within a clever tea stand that hangs alongside the table. This allows the table to display, in all their colourful, sugar-laced glory, no fewer than five pastries (for sharing) and three mignardises (mini desserts) each. And they taste even better than they look. The peach and almond confection surprises us, pipping chocolate and lemon creations to pastry first post, while a flaky-sweet tart, groaning under the weight of oversized berries, is another firm favourite. Take your time, enjoy every mouthful, and go ravenous. Just impeccable. Annabel Harrison
What: Traditional Afternoon Tea at The Rosebery Address: Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LA, 020 7201 3828 Price: from £56 per person Website: mandarinoriental.com/london
3. The Berkeley, Knightsbridge
The best afternoon tea in London for... fashion lovers
Prêt-à-Portea is older than Harper Beckham. The Berkeley launched its now legendary designer tea 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 was inspired by Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams at the V&A. Some of the famed designer's most iconic pieces, from the Junon dress to the Bar Jacket which appeared on the catwalk in 1947 as part of the ‘New Look', have been shrunk down into exquisite biscuits, bakes and fancies. Enjoy these creative cakes with savoury skewers, tasting spoons, canapés, sandwiches and tea, of course.
What: Prêt-à-Portea: The Dior Couture Collection at The Berkeley Address: Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7RL, 020 7235 6000 Price: from £60 per person Website: the-berkeley.co.uk
4. The Lanesborough, Hyde Park Corner
The best afternoon tea in London for... a touch of French flair
This afternoon tea is the one for you if you prefer traditional with an Instagrammable twist. Settle down in five-star comfort in the hotel’s Michelin-starred dining room, Céleste, to the sound of piano music and sip champagne - it's perfectly pretty in pale powder-blue, which is given a luxe twist thanks to ornate gilded decor. Yes there are scones but sandwiches? Go one step further. Think smoked salmon buns with yuzu cream; chicken bon bons with tandoori mayonnaise; pea tart with caramelised onion. And the pastries, true to Celeste's impeccable form in the evenings are (almost) too beautiful to eat. Vegetarians, vegans and children (on the weekends) are all not only most welcome but also thoughtfully, and satisfyingly, catered for.
What: Afternoon Tea at The Lanesborough Address: Hyde Park Corner, SW1X 7TA, 020 7259 5599 Price: from £49 per person Website: oetkercollection.com
5. Xu London, Soho
The best afternoon tea in London for... Eastern treats
Afternoon tea is interpreted in different ways across the world, and Xu London, located between Soho and Chinatown, is here to serve you in true Taiwanese tea ceremony style. Start with a glass of seasonal cold brew tea and then choose two more hot teas from the extensive menu. Enjoy sweet potato dumplings and girolles puffs before tackling traditionally Taiwanese, and very more-ish, pastries such as fried peanut mochi, pineapple cake and hawthorn berry jelly.
What: Afternoon Tea Ceremony Set at Xu London Address: 30 Rupert Street, W1D 6DL, 020 3319 8147 Price: from £32 per person Website: xulondon.com
6. Brown's Hotel, Mayfair
The best afternoon tea in London for... health junkies
Brown’s claim to baking fame is that Queen Victoria loved to take tea there. While you can still enjoy a classic cream-and-jam-smudged feast if you have a sweet tooth like Her Majesty, there is a great new option for those who prefer to take sugar on the side. Tea-Tox is also served in the wood-panelled English Tea Room, livened up by Paul Smith floor lamps and contemporary artwork. Feast on crispy tortilla with cepes cream and shimenji mushroom, salted date caramel sauce, and Matcha raspberry cheesecake.
What: Tea-Tox Healthy Afternoon Tea at Brown's Hotel Address: Albemarle Street, Mayfair, W1S 4BP, 020 7493 6020 Price: from £55 per person Website: roccofortehotels.com
7. Lyaness at Sea Containers London, Southbank
The best afternoon tea in London for... cocktails
For those of you who feel alcohol is the ideal foil to anything you may consume, this is the tea for you. Ryan ‘Mr. Lyan’ Chetiyawardana wanted his Fancy Tea to act as an edible tongue-in-cheek take on a high-end 80s dinner party, complete with four cocktails to boot. So there are sausage rolls, devilled eggs, coronation sweet potato and squash sandwiches, pineapple upside-down scones (delicious; add a plain scone too please Lyaness to make sure we can finish the rich cherry jam!) and mini trifles. Your view? Across the River Thames towards the City of London. Perfect for people watching while you sip your Glasshouse Spritz, Carter Cobbler, Jasmine Gimlet and Cold Brew Palmetto.
What: Fancy Tea at Lyaness Address: Sea Containers London, 20 Upper Ground, South Bank, SE1 9PD, 020 3747 1000 Price: from £38 per person Website: seacontainerslondon.com
8. Aqua Shard, London Bridge
The best afternoon tea in London for... the view
You may forget to look at what you're eating. Aqua Shard is on level 31. The view is exceptional. Gaze slack-jawed at London in all its glory until you remember there's a feast before you. For its afternoon tea menu, Aqua Shard has taken inspiration from one of our favourite childhood characters and made us feel very nostalgic. There's bespoke Mary Poppins crockery, and a tea stand with umbrella and silver booted feet. Fingers sandwiches and crumpets - Mary Poppins’ favourite - feature alongside Mrs Brill’s homemade scones. Champagne flutes are decked out with a kite that flies from the glass and guests can add ‘medicine’, in the form of homemade liqueurs. Our favourites; the golden syrup tart and Mary Poppins’ hat - a ‘Cherry Tree Lane’ mousse covered in dark chocolate. Eat your way down memory lane, and take some amazing photos of London while you're at it. Annabel Harrison
What: Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea at Aqua Shard Address: 32 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9SG, 020 3011 1256 Price: from £49 per person Website: aquashard.co.uk