Dear Time Out!
I am an avid afternoon tea fan in London and a general girl about London and wanted to share my recent experience at Café Royal London:
I booked afternoon tea for a two important birthday celebrations with my family on the 21st September 2014 for 4pm.
Having read glowing reviews on the Trip Advisor site and being impressed by your 5 stars, I had decided to book Cafe Royal London over the Langham I have been often and love.
Cafe Royal London gave us the worst afternoon tea ever in my opinion for the following reasons:
1) Prior to booking I had explained that I would be bringing my parents who were 70 and therefore wanted to pre-plan the route in advance. I am very familiar with Central London, and there knew that on a busy Sunday with traffic I wanted to ensure smooth travel. At the booking I was informed that the venue was above Lillywhites in Piccadilly Circus. We therefore proceeded to get a bus to the nearest stop to Lillywhites. When we were unable to find your venue I called the reception team. They very rudely stated that they were no where near Lillywhites, but near Hamleys and Air Street. Having to then take my 70 year old parents up Regent Street to Hamleys, was not ideal. I knew the location of Air Street and knew this was not hear Hamleys. So luckily I found the venue. The fact that your team could not articulate the location of your venue was utterly ludicrous.
2) We were running unexpectedly late due to transport issues. I called the reception desk at least 30 minutes in advance to ensure they were okay with this. Initially the team were friendly about this. When I subsequently called the reception team again with an update and to confirm the location., they were incredibly rude and essentially did not care in the slightest. When we were in the venue, I realised it did not make any difference as the afternoon tea section was pretty much empty.
3) When we finally arrived for afternoon tea, 2 small low round tables had been placed together for 4 people. When I booked I had explained that there were FIVE of us. We unable to get a member of staff's attention so we had to pull another table and chair across. When we asked if they had a bigger more comfortable table we were informed there wasn't one and this was how all the tables were. As the food arrived there was not even enough room to even rest an elbow on a table.
4) When I booked afternoon tea, I explained which afternoon tea we wanted, with vegetarian options and any extras including champagne. When we sat down to have afternoon tea we were all handed a menu. I had to then go over to a member of staff and confirm they had my original booking details and that this is what we wanted. A member of staff then came over and took the menu off us. It all seemed very disorganised.
5) Despite the fact that we were there for a celebration, we did not receive even a smile from any member of the team. There appeared to be a total of 3 waiting staff in the venue all hurrying along, not really creating am ambiance of service or any kind of joyful theatre. The majority of the time, we were served by a sour looking gentleman who seemed to be doing everything and a junior waitress who was leaning over everyone to serve people, not smiling and then disappearing for ages. At one stage my dad joking asked how much a smile was to the waitress who failed to even raise a smile then and just looked lost.
6) We all ordered the same type of tea, yet we were given 4 teapots on 3 tiny tables which took up most of the room. we were balancing a lot of the items on our lap and had to ask for one of the tea pots to be taken away as we didn't want to sitting there going through stone cold tea. To top this off we were given two tiny thimbles of milk and had to keep asking for me, then waiting ages for more milk! How ridiculous.
7) I had pre-ordered fries as a starter for the afternoon tea as a surprise. When these did not arrive I had to prompt the waiter, this ruined the surprise element! When the fries appeared they were half cooked and stone cold. I mean we may as well have gone to McDonalds down the road for more value for money. We then had to ask for some sauces which took 20 minutes to arrive, being as hungry as we were the fries were gone!
8) When the afternoon tea items appeared, the vegetarian options we had ordered were truly awful. The egg mayo bread rolls were stale and tasted refrigerated. There was a mushroom thing shaped like a plant pot which made our stomach turn. The other items we tasted and did not touch again. Let's not mention that we were not well that evening, my mother especially. It's clear the food was not fresh and I would not feed this to my greatest enemy let alone pay a couple of hundred quid for this tripe.
9) The desserts were also disappointing, the macaroons were chewy! The other desserts were basically just chocolates. Not one dessert item made us smile with delight (which is not normally a difficult thing to do when it comes to desserts). The scones once again tasted refrigerated and we had to ASK for some clotted cream and were given one small bowl of this for FIVE!!!
10) I had pre-booked the champagne afternoon tea, however we were not served any champagne, just pots and pots of tea. Considering how diabolical the whole event was, we did not even bother wasting our money and asking for champagne!
11) Once again, I had to prompt the waiter that we were there for two birthday celebrations, finally the pianist did a happy birthday rendition which fell flat, no one sang and the staff took no notice. I went and let the waiter know again, who finally arrived with a plate saying happy birthday and some sad looking chocolates plonked on to it for both birthday people. No candle, no sense of celebration at all. It made me feel really sad that I had arranged this.
12) The bathroom facilities were strewn with used tissues and a wet floor. Hardly setting the tone for a glamorous and sophisticated afternoon tea.
All in all I paid £236.25 for a whole lot of disappointment. Save your money and go to the Langham!
Afternoon teas in London
Oriental teas and French patisserie – the post-lunch, pre-dinner treat is a British institution
Recent years have seen an explosion of afternoon teas around the capital, but some are better than others. Having tried most of London's better-known afternoon tea places for this feature, we've found some of them to be cynically overpriced tourist traps – but others have been utterly refreshing delights.
Think we've missed a great afternoon tea in London? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
Reviews by Zena Alkayat, Tania Ballantine, Simon Coppock, Guy Dimond, Charmaine Mok, Cathy Phillips
Good-value afternoon tea in London
- Rated as: 3/5
Vegan as well as gluten-, dairy- and sugar-free bakes are a key draw at this princess-pink cake parlour. But it’s such a hit with north-west London locals, we wouldn’t be surprised if most customers were entirely uninterested in its innocent credentials. Cutesy to its core, the café is packed full of grandma chic such as doilies and net curtains, and serves as a pretty space for chattering mums, friends and hen do’s. Those with restricted diets love the individually named cupcakes – Roxy (raspberry), Bella (blueberry and passion fruit), Polly (plum and blackberry) et al – which are impressively baked without any artificial substitutes. A fifty per cent deposit and day’s notice is required for all afternoon tea booking, though.
Afternoon tea served 2-6pm Fri, 10am-6pm Sat, noon-6pm Sun; £15 per head (minimum two people).
- Bake-a-Boo, (86 Mill Lane), NW6 1NL
- Rated as: 3/5
Bea’s of Bloomsbury is a fast-expanding café, with new branches on the King’s Road in Chelsea and at One New Change in the City. But it’s this original in Bloomsbury which is the best. The ‘sweet tea’ at £12 comprised a double-decker of plates; the lower deck a too-crumbly scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam, the upper deck a more impressive display of confections. Among them were a moist cupcake the colour of dried blood; a tiny square of peanut and jam brittle; tiny, jewel-bright meringues; a dice-sized brownie, and some wobbly, caramel-coloured marshmallow. All of these were impeccably made with top- quality ingredients. The Jing tea selection also does the trick. However, service can be frosty and some areas (near the rear kitchen) rather noisy. A full afternoon tea, with savoury eats, is only served at weekends at the St Paul's branch.
'Sweet tea' served 2-7pm Mon-Fri; 12-7pm Sat-Sun.
- 44 Theobald's Road, WC1X 8NW
- Rated as: 3/5
Unlike Dolly’s in Selfridge’s (see above), Bond & Brook is far enough removed from the hubbub of the main shop floor to serve as a restful retreat from the labours of flexing that credit card. If anything, this sleek, bright space can be a little too quiet come mid-afternoon. Nonetheless, the warm service, very ‘designed’ aesthetic and imaginative menu make it a great stop. The afternoon tea leans toward the frivolous, with Smarties to start and coloured, glitter sprinkled fondant fancies to finish. It’s not London’s most accomplished afternoon tea, but it has an easy-going charm that makes it a pleasure.
Afternoon tea served 3-5.45pm Mon-Sat, 3pm-7.15pm Thur; £17.50 per head.
- 2nd floor, 63 New Bond Street, (Fenwick Bond Street), W1S 1RQ
- Rated as: 3/5
Reminiscent of a French parlour, afternoon tea at Dean Street Townhouse is usually served in an ante-room boudoir, just off the clamour of the main dining room. Armchairs are low and squishy, cushions frilly, and the lighting always flattering. Efficient – if sometimes brusque – staff deliver a range of options from a dedicated afternoon menu, such as the classic Townhouse Tea (£15.75), offering well-made finger sandwiches and scones plus deliciously retro cakes (a slice of baby Battenberg, say) on pretty china. For a hit of something savoury, go for one of the ‘high tea’ small plates: we loved the own-made spiced crab paste served on toast (£6.50), and a tangy, cheesy buck rarebit (Welsh rarebit topped with an egg), which at £6.75 is an absolute steal.
Afternoon tea served 3-6pm daily; £15.75 per head.
- 69-71 Dean Street, W1D 4QJ
- Rated as: 4/5
The Saatchi Gallery’s brasserie is a step above most gallery eateries; with its lofty arched ceilings, handsome brickwork and modern furnishings, it works as a destination even if you don’t visit for the art. On a warm day, the tables in the courtyard overlooking Duke of York Square are highly desirable. The tea here isn’t overly lavish, which isn’t always a bad thing. Some of the pastries and sweets are excellent, such as a vanilla-speckled raspberry tartlet and shot glasses of Pimm’s jelly topped with chopped strawberries, cucumber and mint. A small cube of dark chocolate layer cake surprised with its light sponge and deep cocoa flavours. The rest wasn’t as impressive, with finger sandwiches let down by dried-out bread, while the sultana-studded scones (not warm, as promised on the menu) were far too crumbly. The tea selection doesn’t quite make up for it either, with a sparse selection comrprising Assam, Earl Grey, green and various herbal and fruit infusions.
Afternoon tea served 2.30-6pm daily; £9.50 per head or £17 for two.
- Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York's HQ, (King's Road), SW3 4LY
- Rated as: 3/5
A local tearoom with London-wide appeal, High Tea of Highgate sets itself apart from other local spots by virtue of its nostalgic charm. Sandwiched among the traditional shops on Highgate High Street, its pretty striped awning and bunting set the tone. Inside, crockery and cute kitchen knick-knacks are for sale and waitresses bustle around with pots of tea and healthy portions of British bakes. There’s no set afternoon tea menu, but you can piece together your own (apart from the sandwiches) with scones, chocolate buttercream sponge, lemon drizzle or lavender cake among those on the menu. It’s a classic, simple and, dare we say it, slightly boring selection. Still, everything is own-made and together with a pot of loose leaf tea, there are worse ways to while away an afternoon.
No set tea, open 11am-6pm Tue-Sun, 8.30am-6pm Fri. Around £17 per head.
- 50 Highgate High St, N6 5HX
- Rated as: 2/5
Blakes opened on a quiet South Kensington street in 1978, with interiors by renowned society designer Anouska Hempel. Recently refurbished, it has retained its moody Oriental vibe, and tea can be taken in the downstairs Chinese room, which compensates for a lack of natural light with sumptuous printed screens and lavish cushions. We prefer the serene Japanese Garden, a bijoux courtyard to the rear of the hotel boasting a handful of alfresco tables, with ludicrously attractive staff to boot. Dark walls and black parasols are offset by potted bay trees and topiary, making for a sophisticated setting, but it’s downhill from there. Our under-filled finger sandwiches were on the dry side, while a single slice of dreary chocolate cake seemed stingy. Scones served with both jam and fresh strawberries were better, though whipped rather than clotted cream proved a disappointment. If you favour style over substance, this might fit the bill.
Afternoon tea served 12.30-5.30pm daily; £19 per head.
- Blakes Hotel, (33 Roland Gardens), SW7 3PF
- Rated as: 4/5
Both tea and cake are in plentiful supply at Le Chandelier. More than 30 varieties of loose leaf tea by Jing are stacked in jars while the cakes cause passers by to ogle from the window. Piled high and wide, they cover the gamut of confections from cupcakes and brownies to billowing meringues and grown-up cheesecakes and are ordered daily from various local suppliers. Scones, however, are baked in-house and are a pleasing addition to the generous afternoon tea, which, depending on what’s fresh that day, usually includes a slice of Madeira cake and a Portuguese custard tart among a selection of four sweets. The salon setting – a sort of grand French, British and Middle Eastern fusion – is a suitably special backdrop.
Afternoon tea served 3-6pm daily; £16 per head.
- 161 Lordship Lane, SE22 8HX
- Rated as: 5/5
With its airy interiors, funky alfresco tables on St John’s Square, and hip, friendly staff, the Modern Pantry is a relaxed spot for taking tea. A handful of brews (courtesy of local supplier Newby Teas) are served up in quirky pots, alongside a modish crew of full-flavoured eats: the triple-decker artisan-bread sarnie came groaning with slow roast tomatoes, peppery rocket and marinated feta, while a still-warm green-tea scone with a chunky gooseberry compote and clotted cream middle proved a terrific alternative to the traditional ingredients. Pear, lemon and polenta cake, or the chocolate brownie studded with chunks of sour cherries, were equally moreish. It’s not super-smart, but at only £15 a head, this is an afternoon tea that’s open to all.
Afternoon tea served 3-5pm Mon-Fri; £15 per head.
- 47 - 48 St Johns Square, EC1V 4JJ
- Rated as: 3/5
- Price band: 2/4
Come summer, this palatial venue really comes into its own. Once Queen Anne’s greenhouse and entertaining pavilion, the high-ceilinged building is pleasantly imposing while its large terrace is a wonderful suntrap. The grand setting certainly helps the packed-in tourists and locals overlook the uninspiring white crockery and over-potent ‘signature’ orange scones. There is only one set afternoon tea, at £22.65; or go off-menu and choose a slice from a table piled high with sweet options.
Afternoon tea served noon-6pm daily Mar-Sept; noon-5pm daily Oct-Feb; £22.65 per head.
- The Orangery, Kensington Palace, Kensington Gardens, W8 4PX
- Rated as: 5/5
It’s wise to book whatever time you visit Orange Pekoe, so popular is this charming little tea room near the river on the Barnes/Mortlake border. The front room sets the tone: black and gold tea canisters line one wall, while the wooden counter is laden with chunky sandwiches and classy looking cakes. Further in, the small interior is brightened by white-painted brickwork and a skylight, with flamboyant wallpaper and pretty vintage crockery providing a decorative feminine touch. On a sunny afternoon, the wobbly metal tables outside are packed, despite their proximity to a busy roundabout. Affable staff explain the deal for afternoon tea: a pot of tea of your choice, finger sandwiches (including cucumber and mint, smoked salmon, and egg mayo), a fat scone with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry jam, plus your pick of the cakes. The baking is tip-top – we devoured a moist slab of orange and almond cake (wheat- and gluten-free) and a large wedge of lemon chiffon cake, light, fluffy and slathered with lemon butter icing – but it’s the brew that’s matters. Almost 80 loose-leaf teas (black, green, white, yellow, oolong and herbal) are available, remarkably all costing the same per pot whether it’s fragrant Gyokuro Asahi (a high-end Japanese green tea) or a breakfast blend. Elegant white bone china or glass teapots and a three-tier cake stand add to the sense of occasion. Orange Pekoe also serves breakfast, light lunches (soup of the day, pâté platters) and a decent array of coffee drinks.
Afternoon tea served 2-5pm daily; £16.95 per head.
- 3 White Hart Lane, SW13 0PX
- Rated as: 2/5
It’s all about vintage styling in this supposedly ‘secret’(but clearly signposted) venue above the Coach & Horses pub in Soho. Decked out like a retro tea room and complete with fine bone china and a crackling soundtrack (via a gramophone), the venue is a serene retreat from the Soho bustle below. The charm is in the styling and ambience rather the afternoon tea itself. Here, quality loose-leaf teas are served with sandwiches, scones and a slice of sponge or cupcake. While some of the cakes suffered from sogginess, the cupcakes were too dry, with most of their flavour achieved through a thick layer of moussey frosting. It’s a shame, because taking tea here is a jolly experience, and not at all bad value at £14.50.
Afternoon tea served noon-6pm daily; £14.50 per head.
- 29 Greek St, W1D 5DH
Dear Time Out!
How can the list be complete without the Langham?
Beautiful surroundings and great sandwiches!
Some of the best afternoon tea that I had was at Skylon on the Southbank and I also enjoyed the Sandersons Hotel and Harrods. The only thing which they could all benefit from is having a live ensemble performing rather than chart music in the background. On the outskirts of London, I also enjoyed afternoon tea at the Grims Dyke mansion in Harrow Weald. What type of music do you think works best during afternoon tea? Please tweet me @bigsands.
Taking afternoon tea at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Grafton130 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 5AYGrafton Hotel was quite an experience. I enjoyed the relxing atmosphere and the delicious sandwiches and the cakes and scones. Lovely tea and wonderful service.
I just don't get it. A few bland sandwiches, stale cake and a pot of tea costs more than a decent meal and a glass of beer at a pub. We spent 60 pounds for afternoon tea ( for 3) at Soho's Secret Tea Room and we all agree that is the stupidest choice we made on our visit to London.
A potentially helpful guide with useful information about places offering gluten and dairy free options. It would have been good if this information was available for all of the tea 'houses' that are listed. I am looking for somewhere on the Soutbank to have tea after visiting the Shard on a Sunday. Can you help? Thanks
How about Afternoon Tea at Kettner's in Soho? They have them in the brasserie downstairs, or you can book afternoon tea for a group in one of the lovely private rooms...
I am a bit surprised, Afternoon Tea at "Cafe Concerto" (St Paul's, London branch) haven't been mentioned yet. It was quite good value as the deal I had was generous and drinks options were varied for a quiet afternoon out.
Afternoon Tea at La Brasserie at Brompton Cross is fab ! Great location, delicious and such good value !
is there a page missing of 'Special Occasion' afternoon teas? I was hoping to see reviews of the Ritz, Claridges etc