Afternoon tea: one of traditional British scoffing’s holiest of holies. It’s the ultimate indulgence, and it doesn’t get much better than the way it’s served in London’s hotels, restaurants and cafés. To find you the very best afternoon tea in town, we’ve done the decent thing and sampled this post-lunch, pre-dinner institution at venues across the city. It’s all here: from classic tea, scones and sandwiches to more unusual spreads with a glass of champagne, a cocktail and a finger to the establishment. A little finger, that is.
Reviews by Tania Ballantine, Elizabeth Darke, Kitty Drake, Danielle Goldstein, Steph Hartman, Andy Hill, Tom Howells, Emma Hughes, Laura Richards and Yolanda Zappaterra.
The best classic afternoon tea in London
What’s the vibe? Yep, it’s all about the views from the thirty-first floor of Renzo Piano’s spectacular glass spike, with London served up as a glorious dish of buildings. But the team here aren’t prepared to be outdone by a load of bricks and mortar. From the imaginative selection of hearty finger sandwiches (rye bread and chive cream cheese was a fave) to the Earl Grey opera cake and deconstructed apple and blackberry crumble, everything was beautifully executed and impeccably served. You could add champagne, but our advice would be to spend your pennies on a cocktail afterwards. As day turns to night, Aqua transitions from a plush daytime space to take your mum to a darkly sexy date-night spot.
Price? £45 per person, £58 with a glass of Veuve Cliquot champagne, £69 with a glass of Ruinart rosé champagne.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. Notice preferred, but not mandatory.
Times? Mon-Fri 1pm-5pm; Sat, Sun 1pm-4pm. YZ
What’s the vibe? The Grace Kelly of afternoon teas, served in The Goring’s gilded lounge. ‘Smart casual’ is the official line outfit-wise, but this is a spread you’ll want to get dressed up for. The sandwiches, in particular, are faultless: perfect little crustless soldiers made fresh to order. Scones (plain or fruity) come tucked up in a napkin nest to keep them toasty warm, and the clotted cream is in ideally sized scoops. The pastry chef has had fun with the cakes; there’s giant macaron and a blood-orange-mousse dome that looks like a Disney toadstool. The best bit? You’ll be offered refills without having to ask for them.
Price? £49 per person, £59 with a glass of Bollinger Special Cuvée, £69 with a glass of Bollinger Rosé.
Dietary needs? Vegetarian and pescatarian requests can be accommodated on the day, notice on booking preferred for gluten-free or dairy-free menus.
Times? Daily, 3pm-4pm (Sat, 1pm-4pm). EH
What’s the vibe? Nothing bad could ever happen here, you think to yourself as you climb the stairs to Fortnum & Mason’s pastel-painted Diamond Jubilee Salon. Cosseting staff go beyond the call of duty to make sure you’re well fed and watered – our waiter let us taste several different tea blends before we ordered. Although you can ask for a tea with extra ‘savouries’ like Welsh rarebit, the standard one will be more than sufficient for most (especially if you take them up on the offer of refills). The super-buttery scones are exceptional, but save space for Battenberg cake from the trolley.
Price? £44 per person.
Dietary needs? Vegetarian afternoon tea is available to order on the day. 24 hours’ notice preferred for vegan or gluten-free menus.
Times? Mon-Sat 11.30am-7pm, Sun 11.30am-6pm. EH
What’s the vibe? If you’re looking for a side-serving of class with your afternoon tea, head to the wood-panelled English Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel. Staff will guide you through their rich bounty of teas and infusions, and can recommend a brew to suit every palate. Our stand included little bagels topped with lashings of coronation chicken, and a mouthful of tomato focaccia accompanied by a delicious goat’s curd with chilli jam and walnuts. Pretty cakes and pastries adorned the top tier, including spiced pumpkin and ginger eclairs, and chocolate, caramel and mandarin tarts.
Price? £55 per person, £65 with a glass of ‘R’ de Ruinart champagne.
Dietary needs? 24 hours’ notice preferred for vegan, dairy free and gluten free menus. 48 hours for halal. The ‘Tea-Tox’ menu is gluten free.
Times? Daily, noon-5pm. SH
What’s the vibe? Flattering lighting, the scent of fresh roses, a classical cellist-plus-pianist duo in the corner: the Foyer at Claridge’s is a class act. This elegant art deco pace is where chic A-listers and other ‘people with taste’ come to take tea. The pastries are decent, the just-baked scones even better (look out for the sensational Marco Polo ‘tea jelly’), but at Claridge’s, it’s the savouries that are the stars. Not only are the finger sandwiches moist, full-flavoured and unlimited, but there’s an ever-changing ‘special’: ours was a moreish ‘sandwich’ of buttery sable biscuits with a green-peppercorn-spiked cream cheese filling. Gracious, discreet service is a bonus.
Price? £58 per person, £68 with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne, £78 with a glass of Laurent-Perrier rosé champagne, £66 with a glass on non-alcoholic jus de raisin petillant.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. 24 hours’ notice preferred.
Times? Daily, sittings 2.45pm-5.30pm. TB
What’s the vibe? Sip on champers beneath the gothic bells and painted ceiling, in among the sky-high pillars and gilt-edged… everything. It’s a jaw-dropping space that deserves the extra indulgence of champagne in the arvo. The tea list offers many a quality drop, too. Staff are turned out in crisp formal wear and no ask is too tall. They’ll refill your savoury layer, a big result, since one round of divine flaky sausage rolls and red trout in cloud-like white bread sandwiches could never be enough. Nibbling on a zingy mini lemon meringue pie was close to a renaissance in itself.
Price? £39 per persons, £47 with a glass of Gosset champagne, £40 for temperance afternoon tea with sparkling green tea.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated with 48 hours’ notice.
Times? Sat noon-4pm, Sun noon-5pm. LR
What’s the vibe? Fancy a taste of late nineteenth-century decadence? French perfumier Diptyque has partnered with the Hotel Café Royal to serve a sensuous afternoon tea in their gilded Oscar Wilde room (a perfect winter’s day location). Order a smoky ‘Oscar’ tea and ask for table 35: this is where Wilde actually sat when he came here. Some of the cakes and delicate, crustless sandwiches are loosely inspired by famous scents – our fave was a goats’ cheese and pickled apple muffin, which came with a tiny syringe full of apple juice to squeeze into the muffin. Other highlights included a fragrant lavender tea and an excellent beef and horseradish sarnie. There’s also a pianist playing live show-tunes – it’s pretty much full sensory satisfaction.
Price? £42 per person, £60 with a Diptyque gift (RRP £24) and £65 with a gift and a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. Notice preferred.
Times? Mon, Tues 2pm-5pm; Wed-Sun 12pm-5pm. KD
What’s the vibe? As Harrods is to shopping, the Ritz is to hotels: a London icon. This is a place for out-of-towners who’ll revel in its traditions, such as the formal dress code. The high-ceilinged Palm Court, where one takes tea, frames feminine pastels with gilt edging and chandeliers, plus a pianist playing Elton John and Rod Stewart. Come if you’ve a sweet tooth: the (unlimited) sandwiches and scones are somewhat ordinary, but the showstoppers here are the wonderful pastries, from a delectable ‘rhubarb and custard’ choux to a nicely sharp lemon posset macaron. There’s even a dessert trolley for by-the-slice delights (such as an excellent ‘belle époque’ pear tart).
Price? £54 per person (£30 for children), £70 with a glass of Reserve Ritz champagne. Celebration tea £65 per person, includes a slice of cake.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. 48 hours’ notice required.
Times? Daily, sittings 11.30am-7.30pm. TB
What’s the vibe? Afternoon tea at The Dorchester is a dark horse. The Promenade looks every bit the foyer of a Park Lane hotel: sumptuous, with heavy drapes, plush carpets and marble columns. But dig deeper and you'll see it's a breath of fresh air: staff wore tailcoats but were charming and approachable; the crowd is one of sartorially slick Londoners; and best of all, the piano player’s tinkle-list took in Justin Bieber, Amy Winehouse and even the theme tune to ‘Game of Thrones’. Scones are pedestrian but the (unlimited) finger sandwiches are terrific (elevated by interesting breads, such as caraway seed or walnut), as are pitch-perfect pastries: the moist Battenberg, wrapped in home-made marzipan, is not one we will easily forget.
Price? £55 per person, £65 with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne, £72 with a glass of Laurent-Perrier rosé champagne, £90 with a glass of Dom Perignon vintage champagne.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. Notice on booking preferred.
Times? Daily, sittings 1pm-5.30pm. TB
What’s the vibe? Under a lofty glass dome, the sumptuously traditional Thames Foyer, built in 1904, sees Instagramming Japanese girls, sedate celebrating couples and excited groups having a grand day out in an unstuffy but top-drawer setting and to the backdrop of piano crowd pleasers by Adele, U2 and the Eagles. Our traditional tea began with a perfect (and limitless) selection of finger sandwiches that were so deliciously moreish we promptly asked for more before hoovering up scones with homemade lemon curd, jam and clotted cream. Pace yourself: takeaways, we were delicately informed, are not available at the Savoy.
Price? £52 per person, £65 with a glass of Louis Roederer champagne, £70 with a glass of Moet & Chandon rosé.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. 24 hours’ notice preferred, but not mandatory.
Times? Daily, 1.30pm-5.45pm. YZ
The best quirky afternoon tea in London
What’s the vibe? Fancy a side of chemical gas with your Earl Grey? Inspired by its South Kensington neighbour, the Science Museum, afternoon tea at luxury hotel The Ampersand may come served on a classic three-tier stand, but the rest is anything but traditional. Highlights included a ‘planet mousse’ that arrives billowing clouds of dry ice, and a choccy dinosaur fossil you have to unearth from its coating of Oreo crumb ‘soil’. And if that all sounds a bit child-friendly for your liking, don’t panic: The Ampersand’s swish interiors and perfectly toasted scones will keep even the most sophisticated tea-drinker happy. Plus, there’s unlimited refills of everything except the champers.
Price? £32.50 per person, £45.50 with a glass of Moët Ice Impérial champagne.
Dietary needs? Vegetarian and gluten-free alternatives available on the day.
Times? Daily, 2.30pm-5.30pm. KD
What’s the vibe? If you’re entertaining visitors looking to ‘do’ London in a day or so, this Routemaster-based tea-slash-tour is fab value and a smart use of your time. Hop aboard a vintage double-decker at Victoria (or near Trafalgar Square) and scoff a fancy-schmancy platter of finger sandwiches, profiteroles, croque monsieur and cupcakes as lively staff flit about with drinks. An unobtrusive voiceover gives an accessible overview of historic London as it passes by outside. Tourists bloody love it – we got stuck behind Theresa May’s motorcade on Whitehall, and a neighbouring tea taker got so excited, Earl Grey shot out of his nose.
Price? £45 per person.
Dietary needs? Gluten-free, vegetarian, and halal needs can be accommodated. Notice on booking required.
Times? Daily noon, 2.30pm or 5pm from Victoria; 12.30pm, 3pm from Northumberland Avenue. AH
What’s the vibe? Served in the newly refurbed Collins Room, now a modern, light-filled dining room decked out with soft silver chairs and sleek glass tables, the Berkeley’s Pret-A-Portea has been a stalwart of the high tea scene for a decade. A selection of beautiful fashion-themed biscuits, sponges and sweets changes with the catwalk, but previous menus have included a Jimmy Choo-inspired shoe cake, made with praline cream and hazelnut croquant; and a neon yellow iced Manolo Blahnik gingersnap stiletto. Tasty savouries come in the form of mini bagels, cheese cupcakes and other canapés, however do note that scones and jam do not feature in any season’s collection here.
Price? £52 per person, £62 with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne, £70 with a glass of Laurent Perrier rosé champagne.
Dietary needs? Gluten and nut-free menus available with 24 hours’ notice.
Times? Daily, 1pm-5pm. LD
Venue says: “On March 6, our new menu launches so make sure you head down & have some of your favourite drinks from the current menu before its too late!”
What’s the vibe? Ryan Chetiyawardana is London’s very own spirit wizard, so it isn’t surprising that the afternoon tea at his award-winning bar Dandelyan comes with cocktails that are as tempting before sunset as after. The drinks match the three-course selection of imaginative little sarnies and sweet treats just as a fur coat matches expensive heels. That makes it sound a very girly affair, but it’s pretty obvious that food-lovers of all genders will enjoy the likes of lager-braised bacon jam and confit chicken pinwheels, and blackcurrant and verbena battenberg. All this with a keen price and a view of the Thames. The spirit wizard strikes again.
Price? £45 per person with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne, £35 without alcohol.
Dietary needs? All dietary needs can be accommodated with 24 hours’ notice.
Times? Thu-Sun, noon-5pm.
What’s the vibe? Westbourne Grove’s vegan-friendly Farmacy prides itself on its approach to ‘clean indulgence’ – and afternoon teas don’t get more cleanly indulgent than its new plant-based platter. For a start, there are no dairy bits, refined sugars, additives or chemicals herein. It also includes cannabis choccies – albeit the non psychoactive, apparently health-boosting CBD bit of the plant. Sorry, weed fiends. Elsewhere, there are savoury ‘fancies’ (from raw quiche with spinach ‘cream’ and pickled fig, through to jackfruit and pickled chilli tacos) and sweet bits, the star of which is an edible replica of a dessert apple filled with zingy, palate-cleansing apple compote. This is all washed down with hemp tea and a tea-infused cocktail. Great stuff, naturally.
Price? £35 per person, for a minimum of two guests.
Dietary needs? It’s all dairy, refined sugar and additive free, but for gluten-free alternatives, specify when booking.
Times? Available from Monday August 14, 3.30pm-5pm daily for National Afternoon Tea Week. Thereafter it’ll be available Fri-Sun, 3.30pm-5pm.
What’s the vibe? The jaw-dropping splendour of huge hand-crafted cobalt-blue chandeliers gives this former grammar school hall a real impact – nab a table in the wraparound gallery to truly appreciate it. There’s artistry – and fun – in the Indian High Chai too, which is based on the street food of India and includes such delicacies as quail’s scotch eggs dotted with black mustard seeds, feather-light samosas, and bowls of bhel puri studded with pomegranate seeds. Best of all, portions are such that you’ll have enough room left for gorgeous cardamom-spiced shrikhand, clotted cream scones and traditional Indian sweets – assuming you haven’t knocked back too much of the milky chai enthusiastic waiters will be topping your painted glass up with.
Price? £47 per person, £55 with a glass of champagne or the signature cocktail.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. 24 hours’ notice preferred, but not mandatory.
Times? Daily 2pm-5pm. YZ
Venue says: “Our Irish whiskey selection is expanding! There are some exciting new arrivals for your taste buds!”
What’s the vibe? Those in the know will find this glamorous gem hidden behind a black door to the side of the Marriott Hotel. A ’20s-themed drinking den awaits, serving Low Tea from medicine cabinets (used during the prohibition to transport liquor), along with a jazz-fuelled soundtrack to accompany your scone scoffing and staff who will provide you with a history of the tradition. They’ll then let you get on with trying the likes of wild boar sausage rolls, venison scotch eggs, rum syllabub and moreish carrot cakes. I couldn’t get enough of the scone trifles served in dinky jam jars and the white apricot tea that kept on coming.
Price? £48 per person, £58 with a glass of Perrier Jouet champagne, £62 with a glass of Perrier Jouet rosé champagne.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated with four days’ notice.
Times? Fri-Sun noon-4pm. SH
What's the vibe? If your palate is longing for more than cucumber sandwiches and Earl Grey, look no further. Anna Hansen is the queen of taking the traditional and twisting in unusual ingredients, and The Modern Pantry's afternoon tea is a brilliant showcase of her skill. Sharpen those tastebuds, because your scone will involve gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes) and your millionaire’s shortbread has been pimped with miso caramel. And all those interesting flavours are just begging to be served with beer. The five that come with these winning mini-plates are beautifully paired; a Partizan Lemongrass Saison to wash down the lemon and ajowan scone, a honey ale to sweeten the pink peppercorn financier with rhubarb.
Price? £35 per person, £85 with beer pairings.
Dietary needs? All dietary needs can be accommodated. 24 hours' notice required.
Times? Mon-Sat, 3pm-5pm.
What’s the vibe? The original of three Mr Fogg’s drinking establishments, his Residence is a classy, gentlemen’s club-style haunt filled with emerald green banquettes and mahogany tables. Despite being in the posher part of town, the atmosphere here is fun and not stuffy – except for the odd piece of taxidermy on show. The three-tiered tea begins with a hearty selection of sarnies, including tandoori chicken in a soft and fluffy naan, and a doorstop-sized salted butter and cucumber bloomer sandwich. A level up, fresh cream slices cut through silky, oh-so-sweet homemade truffles, and warm fruity scones with blackcurrant jam and cream cheese perch on the top. Best of all? You can wash it down with bottomless ‘gin tea’.
Price? £38 per person including one pot of gin or champagne cocktail. £62 for bottomless ‘gin tea’ or £72 for bottomless champagne tea.
Dietary needs? Allergy-specific menus available on request.
Times? Sat 2pm-6.15pm, Sun 3pm-5pm. LD
What’s the vibe? Sidestep the swarms on Regent Street to find shisa-scented Momo, a low-lit café with an array of colourful trinkets adding to the vibe of an exotic bazaar. Vibrant spices are injected into bite-size items, such as slivers of crisp toast slathered in smoky zaalouk (aubergine and tomato puree). A selection of syrupy maghrebine pastries, flavoured with almond and fig, balanced the more conservative Earl Grey macaron. But the lightly crumbling date scones were the showstopper, paired with a dulcet quince and prickly pear jam. That, washed down with Moroccan mint tea (combined with green tea), poured from a great height to allow oxygenation, makes for a modish (and moreish) twist to an old English tradition.
Price? £25 per person, £35 with a glass of Veuve Clicquot champagne.
Dietary needs? The meal is halal, with a vegetarian menu available on the day. All other dietary requests can be accommodated with 24 hours’ notice.
Times? Daily 12.30pm-5.30pm. DG