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
Afternoon tea to treat yourself with in London
- Rated as: 4/5
The staff will blow you away with their tea knowledge at this contemporary teahouse on the edge of Old Spitalfields Market. Catch them at a quiet moment (that means during the week, not the bustling weekends) and they’ll spend as long as you like talking teas and traditional brewing techniques. Snag a place at this alternative afternoon tea (there are only 16 spots, which can be requested but not reserved), in which teas are paired with Japanese-inspired confections by William Curley, and you get a chance to secure a little more of their attention. The four ‘courses’ include a walnut and miso biscuit with matcha and honey dip served with a vibrant green tea; and an aromatic oolong presented with the patissier’s couture chocolates. It’s not going to fill you up, but it’s a unique tasting experience.
Afternoon tea served noon-3pm daily; £20 per head.
- 6 Lamb Street, E1 6EA
- Rated as: 3/5
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.This small café and fine food store has a feminine chic that is just the right side of twee. The look comes from owner’s collection of ’20s- and ’30s-style furniture and crockery – not least the cake stands – plus photographs of silent screen star Betty Blythe and window displays full of birds and blooms. Drop by for leaf tea, coffee or a limited range of bought-in but good sandwiches and cakes such as pasteis de nata, Portuguese custard tarts. We tried a delicious houmous and roasted vegetable wrap which included fresh-tasting roasted carrot, and a free-range egg baguette, which was generously filled. They also sell useful packets and tins, such as Heinz beans (organic) and smart food treats. The slightly crowded, light-filled ground floor shop with its single, large table is a nicer place to sit than the basement.
- 72 Blythe Road, W14 0HP
- Rated as: 3/5
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.
- Haymarket Hotel, 1 Suffolk Place, SW1Y 4BP
- Rated as: 5/5
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.
- 55 Aldwych, WC2B 4BB
- Rated as: 3/5
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.
- Lower ground floor, 400 Oxford St, (Selfridges), W1U 1AT
- Rated as: 2/5
- Price band: 1/4
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.
- 9 Caledonian Road, N1 9DX
- Rated as: 3/5
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.
- 101 Buckingham Palace Rd, SW1W 0SJ
- Rated as: 3/5
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.
- 9 Conduit Street, W1S 2XG
- Rated as: 3/5
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.
- 21 New Globe Walk, SE1 9DT
- Rated as: 4/5
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.
- 160 Piccadilly, W1J 9EB
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