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 for a special occasion in London
- Rated as: 4/5
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.
- The Lanesborough, 1 Lanesborough Place, SW1X 7TA
- Rated as: 3/5
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.
- The Berkeley Hotel, SW1X 7RL
- Rated as: 3/5
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.
- The Sanderson, (50 Berners St), W1T 3NG
- Rated as: 4/5
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.
- St James's Restaurant, Fortnum & Mason, (Fourth floor), W1J 9FA
- Rated as: 4/5
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.
- Brown's Hotel, (33 Albemarle St), W1S 4BP
- Rated as: 3/5
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.
- Claridge's, W1K 4HR
- Rated as: 3/5
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.
- 150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR
- Rated as: 2/5
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.
- Beeston Place, Grosvenor Gardens, SW1W 0JW
- Rated as: 3/5
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.
- The Dorchester, (53 Park Lane), W1K 1QA
- Rated as: 5/5
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.
- Strand The Savoy, WC2R 0EU
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