86 Mill Lane, NW6 1NL (7435 1666)
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.
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Afternoon tea served 2-6pm Fri, 10am-6pm Sat, noon-6pm Sun; £15 per head (minimum two people).
44 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8NW (7242 8330)
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 noon-7pm Mon-Fri, Sat; 2-7pm Sun.
2nd floor, Fenwick Bond Street, W1S 1RQ (7629 0273)
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.
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Afternoon tea served 3-5.45pm Mon-Sat, 3pm-7.15pm Thur; £17.50 per head.
7 Sloane Square, SW1W 8EE (7730 0077)
The Botanist works wonderfully as a drinking den and restaurant; as a destination for afternoon tea, however, it’s not so successful. For starters, the clamour of Sloaney types enjoying a tipple at the bar spills distractingly into the slick, smart dining space, decimating the calm that should accompany teatime. More crucially, though, the food just isn’t up to par. Underfilled finger sandwiches were all bread, the scones too heavy and the cake choice limited. On our visit, we were asked to choose one of three cakes: a Victoria sponge cupcake, a chocolate and orange cupcake or a strawberry-garnished chocolate brownie. The last, though satisfyingly rich, had an almost ganache-like texture that lacked bite, and the Victoria sponge was dominated by a buttery icing. The afternoon tea is reasonably priced at just £18, but it might be worth splashing a bit more cash for better fare.
See Botanist venue details
Afternoon tea served 3.30-6pm daily; £18 per head.
69-71 Dean Street, W1D 4QJ (7434 1775)
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.
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Afternoon tea served 3-6pm daily; £15.75 per head.
9 Caledonian Road, N1 9DX (3343 9138)
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, homemade cake and savoury snacks are served, while by night, craft workshops meet inventive cocktails. Afternoon teas are good value at £12 (you’ll need to book after 5pm and on weekends) and can be combined with a craft tutorial – hugely popular with hen do’s and the like.
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Afternoon tea served noon-5pm Mon-Fri, 10.30am-5pm Sat, Sun (or until 10pm if you pre-book); £12 per head.
Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York's HQ, SW3 4LY (7730 8135)
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.
See Gallery Mess venues details
Afternoon tea served 2.30-6pm daily; £9.50 per head or £17 for two.
50 Highgate High Sreet, N6 5HX (8348 3162)
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.
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No set tea, open 11am-6pm Tue-Sun, 8.30am-6pm Fri. Around £17 per head.
Blakes Hotel, 33 Roland Gardens, SW7 3PF (7370 6701)
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.
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Afternoon tea served 12.30-5.30pm daily; £19 per head.
161 Lordship Lane, SE22 8HX (8299 3344)
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.
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Afternoon tea served 3-6pm daily; £16 per head.
Best for alternative tea, 47-48 St John's Square, Clerkenwell, EC1V 4JJ
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.
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Afternoon tea served 3-5pm Mon-Fri; £15 per head.
The Orangery, Kensington Palace, W8 4PX (3166 6112)
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. If you’d rather avoid the latter altogether, upgrade from the questionable orange-themed tea (£14.85) to the still affordable chocolate version, Enchanted Palace Tea (£17.95). Or ask to go off-menu and choose a slice from a table piled high with sweet options. No bookings.
See Orangery at Kensington Palace venue details
Afternoon tea served noon-6pm daily Mar-Sept; noon-5pm daily Oct-Feb; from £14.85 per head.
Best for tea selection, 3 White Hart Lane, SW13 0PX (8876 6070)
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.
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Afternoon tea served 2-5pm daily; £16.95 per head.
St Paul's Cathedral, EC4M 8AD (7248 2469)
Somehow it feels just right to be sitting down for a three-tiered English afternoon tea ensconced in the cool stone walls of St Paul’s Cathedral. The small restaurant, despite its location in the crypt, is surprisingly light and tranquil (the tea room is spaced several strides away from the main café, which bustles with throngs of tourists all day long). Bookings are recommended for the brief afternoon tea session between 3 and 5pm, during which we saw plenty of hopefuls turned away. The kitchen makes an effort to use local ingredients whenever possible – and, among a selection of (generously-sized) finger sandwiches, we have smoked salmon from Chalk Farm’s W & F Fish and (for slathering on scones) English Preserve jams. Small strawberry macarons add a bit of continental quirk, but weren’t a patch on those of Parisian pastry bigwigs. Service is sweet and accommodating. Mini-tarts had run out during our session, so we were brought a stunning slice of plum and almond tart as a replacement.
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Afternoon tea served 3-5pm Mon-Sat; £15.95 per head.
Tate Britain, SW1P 4RG (7887 8825)
One for art fiends in search of light sustenance between meals. At the gallery’s main restaurant, an elaborate mural – ‘The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats’, 1926-7 – by the titular painter wraps around the perimeter of an otherwise unspectacular room. The work depicts the journey of seven explorers, making their way through mythical lands in search of exotic meats – food which they eventually bring back home, to the delight of villagers whose diets had previously consisted of stale biscuits. Luckily, there are no dry biccies to be found here – the set tea impressed with miniature sweets, a lemony custard tartlet, dense chocolate cake and warm tiny scones, but less could be said for the slightly stale baguette slices used for the savouries. An overly creamy egg mayonnaise beat the clotted cream as the day’s richest indulgence (not a good thing). But a generous amount of smoked salmon and a range of top-quality Jing teas kept our favour.
See Rex Whistler venue details
Afternoon tea served 3.15-5pm daily; £8.95 per head.
29 Greek Street, W1D 5DH (7437 5920)
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.
See Soho's Secret Tea Room venue details
Afternoon tea served noon-6pm daily; £14.50 per head.