Best culinary experience, The Lanesborough, Hyde Park Corner, SW1X 7TA (7333 7254)
Served in the sophisticated Apsleys dining room with its lofty glass ceiling, elegant decor and pianist, afternoon tea at The Lanesborough is a refined affair. Tea is taken seriously here and staff deliver advice with enthusiasm, guiding you through an exciting menu devised by ‘tea sommelier’ Karl Kessab. The food is enticing too. Wonderful savoury tarts and filled brioches star among the finger sandwiches, and toasted teacakes with the scones. The petit fours, meanwhile, are a cut above. Delicate French classics come with inventive twists, while mini cakes (lemon, banana and the like) also feature. It’s a consummate selection and one that’s replicated to equally impressive effect for those in need of a dairy- or gluten-free option.
See Apsleys at the Lanesborough venue details
Afternoon tea served 4-6pm daily; £35 per head.
The Berkeley Hotel, Wilton Place, SW1X 7RL (7107 8866)
Prêt-à-Portea at The Berkeley has the style-conscious firmly in mind. The fashionista’s afternoon tea takes direct inspiration from the catwalk, changing every six months to reflect what’s hot in couture. It may sound gimmicky, but it’s actually great fun, particularly since the chic little sweets are so well executed. This summer the collection is called 'Royal Collection', in celebration of the Diamond Jubilee, and includes a praline profiterole inspired by the Philip Treacy fascinator worn by princess Beatrice at the Royal Wedding last year. The savoury fare is a treat too, with canapés (for example a shot of chilled soup, or smoked salmon roll) following the mini sandwiches in place of more traditional scones.
View The Caramel Room venue details
Afternoon tea served 1-5.30pm daily; £36.50 per head.
The Sanderson, 50 Berners Sreet, W1T 3NG (7300 1444)
If it’s a fun, frivolous tea in an escapist setting you’re after, look no further. The Sanderson’s central courtyard is a lush zen-styled garden with a pond, waterfall and lush foliage, all covered by a clear canopy and kept temperate by heaters, so you can enjoy that outdoor feeling whatever the weather. On the downside, the Alice in Wonderland-themed tea, while kooky and playful, is not for the connoisseur, and service can be a touch overbearing. Our visit started well, with generously filled sandwiches in colours such as spinach green or saffron yellow, but scones were so-so and cakes a little synthetic. What the puds lack in refinement, however, they makes up for in theatre: one, a dinky glass jar labelled ‘drink me’, contains three layers, delivering a taste of apple pie, lemon curd and English toffee in succession, while another features a tiny bite of chocolate-cased ice cream on the end of a lollipop. Just don’t go falling down any rabbit holes.
See Courtyard At the Sanderson venue details
Afternoon tea served 2-5.30pm Mon-Fri; noon-5.30pm Sat, Sun; £35 per head.
Brown's Hotel, Albemarle Street, W1S 4BP (7493 6020)
This historic Mayfair hotel has built a reputation as a great place for afternoon tea – and with good reason. Everything is done to a high standard, making it a consistently excellent all-rounder, yet it manages to remain relaxed and unstuffy. Guests are seated in one of three adjoining wood-panelled front rooms, all of which are comfortable and softly furnished – one even comes with a piano player tinkling the ivories. Diners can choose from either a traditional or a ‘tea-tox’ versions – and we were impressed by both. The first is a ‘proper’ tea: pillow-soft finger sandwiches amply filled with the likes of smoked salmon, coronation chicken or cheese and pickle; just-baked scones with lashings of clotted cream, and dainty cakes. Only an overly thin sweet strawberry jam disappointed. The ‘tea-tox’ is a lighter option, offering Scandinavian-style open sandwiches on wholesome breads (rye, spelt) or filled salad leaves (delicate smoked mackerel and a poached quail’s egg in a chicory leaf), ahead of excellent ‘alternative’ puddings: an intensely cocoa-rich no-flour chocolate cake, say. There are tea sommeliers to help inform your choice of brew, and though the final bill will be high, staff proffer complimentary refills of all your plates throughout each sitting – these keep coming until you tell them to stop. Note: there are three sittings a day (each for around 90 minutes); booking at least two weeks ahead is recommended. Dress code: smart/casual.
Afternoon tea served 3-6pm Mon-Fri; 1-6pm Sat, Sun; £38 per head.
Claridge's, W1K 4HR (7629 8860)
As famous, if not as over-subscribed, as The Ritz, Claridge’s does a roaring trade in afternoon tea for out-of-towners looking for that traditional London experience. The Foyer certainly serves as a classic setting, all gilt fittings and plush furnishings, and while it feels a little frayed around the edges compared to the recently refurbed Savoy, its service is hyper polished. When it comes to talking teas, staff can help you navigate the menu with enthusiasm and brews here are uniformly excellent. The cakes, however, can be hit-or-miss. The selection changes weekly and can range from an uninspiring and rather slight fruit tart to an expertly executed chocolate bomb. Note: four sittings a day (each for around 2 hours); booking up to eight weeks ahead recommended. Dress code: smart/casual (smart jeans accepted, but no sportswear).
Afternoon tea served 3-5.30pm daily; £37 per head.
Best culinary experience, Corinthia Hotel, Whitehall Place, SW1A 2BD (7930 8181)
The Corinthia Hotel is a five-star hotel near Trafalgar Square with a huge, awe-inspiring lobby, and this is where afternoon tea is served. The finger sandwiches and tiny scones, although present and correct, are not the point of the afternoon tea here. Consultant Claire Clark is the Corinthia’s cake guru, and she has quite a following among the cognoscenti. Her gateau opera, a traditional French confection made from layered almond sponge cake and soft chocolate ganache, is perfect and petite. An éclair was the size of a ring finger, with suspiciously lavender-coloured icing, but it melted in the mouth with the flavour of violets. Even a millefeuille had been restored to the delicate French fancy it truly is. Best of all, there is no ignominy of having to book a two-hour slot weeks in advance – the Corinthia accepts walk-ins (but ring first, just to be sure). And if you’re not up for a full afternoon tea blow-out, you can just slip in for a treat from the glass cloches – Bakewell tarts, Victoria sandwiches, Eccles cakes –all simply sublime, as you might expect at £7 a slice. Dress code: smart/casual.
See Lobby Lounge venue details
. Afternoon tea served 3-5.30pm daily; £35 per head.
150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR (7930 8181)
If you consider going for afternoon tea, chances are The Ritz will be the first hotel you think of. Though not the first to embrace this tradition (that honour goes to The Langham), the hotel is internationally regarded as a premier destination for afternoon tea, serving some 400 covers a day in its diminutive Palm Court. Despite its fame, however, culinary and service standards are oft-criticised; this is very much a production line. But there’s more to taking tea than perfectly turned out scones – which, while we’re on the subject, are annoyingly doughy here. The Ritz has the sense of occasion down pat: there’s palpable excitement among the dressed-up guests and glamour in the setting. It makes for a glitzy afternoon tea, and one that will undoubtedly impress visiting relatives and guests. Note: five sittings a day (each for around 1 hour 45 minutes); booking up to eight weeks ahead recommended. Dress code: smart (no jeans, no trainers, plus jacket and tie for gents).
Afternoon tea served 11.30am-7.30pm daily; £40 per head.
The Dorchester, 53 Park Lane, W1K 1QA (7629 8888)
Same menu, two entirely different surroundings at this five-star hotel on Park Lane. For a social buzz, head to The Promenade, which reaches regally from the foyer to the back of the hotel and lends the frivolous fare a little gravitas. The Spatisserie is a more intimate space. Cute and chic, the boutique room leads directly off the hotel’s spa and is all about feminine styling and secluded indulgence. Whichever you plump for, the finger sandwiches (the caraway seed and basil breads really lift these dainties) and frou frou confections are well executed, the scones light and moreish and the tea menu vibrant. Note: There are five sittings a day (each for around 1 hour 45 minutes); booking up to eight weeks ahead is recommended. Dress code: smart/casual.
Afternoon tea at The Promenade served 1.15-5.15pm daily; £38.50 per head. At The Spatisserie 3.30-6.45pm daily; £36.50 per head.
St James's Restaurant, Fourth floor, W1J 9FA (7734 8040)
It’s perhaps no surprise that Fortnum & Mason looks to avoid the style over substance cliché of other tourist teatime destinations, after all, the store has a long history as an importer of quality loose leaves. This heritage is certainly reflected in the expansive, 150-plus tea menu. But don’t be overwhelmed: excellent drinking notes ably guide non-connoisseurs. Once you’ve plumped for a brew, canapés (a decadent novelty) are chased with sandwiches, scones and a trio of classic British cakes. That’s all before staff return repeatedly with a tray of mixed confections to choose from. It makes for one of the most indulgent teas in town – and if you bag yourself a window seat away from the clamour of the main dining room – it’s a tranquil one too. Note: sittings are for around 2 hours 15 mins; booking up to four weeks ahead recommended. Dress code: smart/casual.
See St James's Restaurant at Fortnum & Mason tea venue details
Afternoon tea served noon-6.30pm Mon-Sat, noon-4.30pm Sun; £34 per head.
The Savoy, Strand, WC2R 0EU (7836 4343)
Since its astonishingly expensive refurb, The Savoy is a pleasure to visit. The Thames Foyer in particular, with its domed glass room and oversized birdcage centrepiece, is an enchanting place to take tea. And what a tea it is. Interesting sandwich fillings (poached chicken and mango chutney, say) make for a perky start while a nostalgic lemon curd (alongside the requisite strawberry conserve) adds interest to the excellent scones. Pastries are generously topped up and you’ll certainly be asking for more than one chocolate-and-pistachio opera. Less successful are the three classic British cakes that round off the meal, but it’s a forgivable flaw among otherwise near faultless fare. The tea menu is also well conceived here, your favourites available to buy later at the tiny boutique shop Savoy Tea.
Note: five sittings a day (each for around 1 hour 45 minutes); booking up to eight weeks ahead recommended. Dress code: smart/casual.
View Thames Foyer venue details
Afternoon tea served 1.30-6.30pm daily; £40 per head.
15 Beeston Place, SW1W 0JW (7396 9000)
Afternoon tea at the Goring hotel is a mixed bag. On a sunny day, sitting on the veranda overlooking the hotel’s lawned garden is nothing short of idyllic. Likewise, in less clement weather, the indoor lounge bar, with its claret hues and cosy armchairs, lives up to every out-of-towner’s notion of a traditional British setting. But on our visit, the rest was a muddle. The procession of staff – confusing in itself – veered from harried to haphazard, with incorrect drinks delivered and a general air of bewilderment. On the plus side, loose-leaf teas came properly brewed (if late) and the selection of well-filled finger sandwiches and decent scones passed muster. But our beach-themed cakes – a nod to Mustique-themed Basil’s Bar out on the lawn – were an abomination. Nauseatingly sweet, the likes of pina colada jelly with coconut foam or a flavourless lime and margarita cupcake were ill-judged at best. In spite of such shortcomings, the clamour for tables shows no sign of abating – the Will and Kate effect (the Duchess of Cambridge spent her last night as a commoner here) – remains strong. Note: no time limit on sittings (within reason); booking up to five weeks ahead recommended. No dress code.
See The Vernada and Lounge venue details
Afternoon tea served 3-4.30pm daily; £35 per head.