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.
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Reviews by Zena Alkayat, Tania Ballantine, Simon Coppock, Guy Dimond, Charmaine Mok, Cathy Phillips
Good value afternoon tea in London
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Afternoon tea to treat yourself with in London
Betty Blythe’s is a bit of a local institution. The small café-cum-pantry is a well-worn spot with local mums in particular, who often make use of the downstairs space for children’s dress-up tea parties. It’s not all prams and gossip, however. The upstairs café space is light and smart, with white and pink-washed furniture, and food is fresh and appealing. The sweet selection has a strong British theme with lemon drizzle, carrot cake and scones as staples. Teas come from supplier Sherston and include a wonderfully light and gently fruity Earl Grey. But for a special tea party twist, you can bring your own Champagne (£2 corkage) or arrange your afternoon tea to be served with a cupcake-decorating or fascinator-making workshop.
Afternoon tea served 9am-5pm Mon-Sat; £20 per head.
Firmdale hotels are best known for their stylish spaces, hospitable service and dependable cooking; the Haymarket Hotel is a case in point. Afternoon tea is taken in Brumus, its elegant but unstuffy restaurant, where handsome wood floors and bold artworks are off-set by charcoal upholstery and fuchsia walls. Served simply on a three-tier glass stand, it ticks all the boxes, offering classic finger sarnies (egg and cress, crab and avocado) ahead of warm scones (fruit and plain). Equally comme il faut is the Anglo-French patisserie selection, with a decent miniature éclair, fruit tart and macaroon lining up beside a dinky slice of moist banana and walnut cake. The limited selection of teas, coffees or infusions may be a let-down for aficionados, but is perfectly well-suited to the tourists and shoppers filling the tables, while free plates of extra sandwiches and refills of your brew make this one of the best-value hotel teas in the West End.
Afternoon tea served 12.30-4.30pm Mon-Sat, 1-4.30 Sun; £21.50 per head.
The sister branch of The Wolseley (see above) is a fine place to take tea if you're planning to be in theatre land, especially in the winter months. We like the cosy leather booths along the sides of the brasserie, which make ideal nooks for enjoying a leisurely afternoon nibbling warm scones, petite cakes and finger sandwiches. The Delaunay's house blend is a delicious black tea incorporating fragrant rosebuds that aren't too overpowering, but we took issue with staff only providing three teapots for four guests, and the time it took to get hot water refills. Not quite as polished as big sister then, but still a grand spot with lovely cakes and special atmosphere.
Afternoon tea served 3-6.30pm Mon-Fri; 3.30-6.30pm Sat, Sun; £21.50 per head.
Recognising the unorthodox past of Selfridges, Dolly’s celebrates its founder’s relationship with the Dolly Sisters – the vaudeville performers who stole Harry Gordon Selfridge’s heart and embroiled him in scandal. In their honour, Dolly’s is an art-deco den, sitting rather clamorously at the centre of the store’s basement floor. If you don’t mind the backdrop buzz of shoppers, the afternoon tea is a treat for the impulsive (you can’t pre-book). Loose-leaf tea is served in magnificent vintage silverware and a brief selection of sandwiches and mini scones are followed by delicate French patisserie from the wonderful Belle Epoque bakery. The opera cake is particularly worth digging a fork into, and offers a decadent (if somewhat pricey) break from shopping.
Afternoon tea served 11.30am-8pm Mon-Wed, 11.30am-9pm Thur; 11.30am-6pm Fri-Sun; £20.95 per head.
Crafting is terribly fashionable at the moment; as is shopping for vintage homeware; but perhaps no more than tea and cake is. Drink, Shop & Do manages to combine all three trends to great effect. Originally launched as a pop-up enterprise, the concept proved so popular it became a permanent fixture and remains a jolly reason to visit a dreary spot in King’s Cross. By day, loose leaf tea, own-made cakes and savoury snacks are served; by night, craft workshops meet inventive cocktails. Afternoon teas aren't cheap (you’ll need to book after 5pm and on weekends) but can be combined with a craft tutorial – hugely popular with hen do's and the like. There's even a Man's Afternoon Tea, which includes a pint of beer instead of tea, pork scratchings and a Yorkie bar.
Afternoon tea served noon-5pm Mon-Fri, 10.30am-5pm Sat, Sun (or until 10pm if you pre-book); £28-£38 per head.
What used to be Chez Gerard at Victoria Station has been transformed into a rather elegant Cantonese restaurant, part of the Thistle Grosvenor Hotel. It’s a stunningly renovated room, with high ceilings and tasteful decor – a blend of burnished gold, black and white. Despite the central location, it can feel uncomfortably quiet during tea service – we got the feeling staff didn’t really have their hearts in it. Which is a shame as the ‘Oriental Afternoon Tea’ (£20 per person) is rather good, despite some odd portion sizes. We enjoyed the barbecued pork buns and black cod wrapped in fried kataifi pastry– the former hot and fluffy, the latter light and grease-free; but who could manage two of each for tea? There are also four ‘wraps’ – ‘concubine’ chicken and jellyfish on lettuce, and shredded roast duck on a prawn cracker, both better than they sound. They made for messy – and repetitive – eating. It might therefore seem like a good idea to share one tea between two – but doing so can result in negotiations over the four different chocolate dim sum, or halving the excellent green tea brûlée. A noble tea selection, as befitting for a Chinese restaurant – includes a mellow jin xuan oolong (known as milk oolong for its sweet aroma) from Taiwan.
Afternoon tea served 3-5.30pm daily; £20 per head.
If you can appreciate the showy decor (which looks as though avant-garde art has had its way with the set of a period drama), taking tea at Sketch’s eccentric Parlour can be quite a treat. The French pastries are the highlight with triumphant éclairs, macaroons and tarts among an impressive selection. They’re so tempting, in fact, that unless you’re dead set on sandwiches and scones, it’s better to indulge in what you fancy rather than order the restrictive afternoon tea set menu – one which is notably less generous than that of most hotels.
Afternoon tea served 1-6pm Mon-Sat; £27 per head.
Attached to the Globe and overlooking the Thames from the second floor, the Swan is guaranteed a tourist clientele, but prices don’t exploit this and quality is high. This is one of London’s few places specifically to offer a ‘Gentleman’s High Tea’, here making the not unreasonable assumption that masculinity revolves around meat, whisky and beer: on a couple of wooden boards you get goodies including a salt beef sarnie and mini-sausages, an éclair stuffed with whisky-dosed cream and, with your cuppa, a bottle of London Pride ale. The standard afternoon tea produces more fancy cakes (scones, meringues), along with sandwiches (ham, beef with horseradish). Our friendly waitress couldn’t explain why the Gent’s Tea differed from the menu (fine Cheddar instead of Cornish yarg, quiche instead of sausage roll with caper mayonnaise), but was diligent in supplying additional substitutes. Enjoyable and well proportioned for the price, but not quite as refined as you might wish – we do always like to see a cake stand.
Afternoon tea served 2.30-5pm Mon-Sat; £19.50 per head.
This beautiful space takes its inspiration from the grand cafés of the Continent – from the Florentine marble floors to the Corinthian pillars, but was built originally as a car showroom. Good linen and silverware are the norm. Head to the cute café off to the side, where despite a more casual atmosphere, the tea service is as polished as that in the main dining room. Enjoy lavish stacks of finger sandwiches, scones and pastries accompanied by hot, properly brewed pots of tea. We particuarly like the details – the hourglass timer that appears with your pot of tea, the silver tea strainers, the profligate use of linen napkins. The Wolseley’s excellent afternoon tea blend can be bought to take home to recreate the experience.
Afternoon tea served 3-6pm Mon-Fri; 3.30-5pm Sat; 3.30-6pm Sun; £21 per head.
Afternoon tea for a special occasion in London
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.
Afternoon tea served 4-6pm daily; £35 per head.
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.
Afternoon tea served 1-5.30pm daily; £36.50 per head.
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.
Afternoon tea served 2-5.30pm Mon-Fri; noon-5.30pm Sat, Sun; £35 per head.
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.
Afternoon tea served noon-6.30pm Mon-Sat, noon-4.30pm Sun; £34 per head.
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.
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.
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 Goring Dining Room has been awarded three Rosettes in The AA's Restaurant Guide for 2015.
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.
Afternoon tea served 3-4.30pm daily; £35 per head.
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.
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.
Afternoon tea served 1.30-6.30pm daily; £40 per head.