Forget brinner and brunch: eating at odd hours doesn’t get more indulgent, more delightfully decadent, than afternoon tea. London’s hotels, restaurants and cafés have the world’s best spread, so we’ve done the decent thing and eaten our way through the crème de la crème. It’s all here: from classic tea, scones and finger sandwiches, to lager-braised bacon jam, cannabis choccies, and Manolo Blahnik gingersnap stillettos.
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 is our fave) to the Earl Grey opera cake and deconstructed apple and blackberry crumble, everything is 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 that you can take your mum to, to a darkly sexy date-night spot.
Price? £45 per person, £55 with a glass of Hattingley Valley Brut Reserve sparkling wine, £62 with a glass of Veuve Cliquot ‘yellow label’ champagne, £71 with a glass of Veuve Clicquot rosé champagne.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. Notice preferred, but not mandatory.
Times? Daily, 1pm-5pm.
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, but notice on booking is preferred for gluten-free or dairy-free menus.
Times? Daily, 3pm-4pm (Sat, 1pm-4pm).
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 fed and watered in style – 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? £49 per person (£53 with a choice of ‘rare tea’). Children’s afternoon tea £23.
Dietary needs? Vegetarian afternoon tea is available to order on the day. 24 hours’ notice is preferred for vegan or gluten-free menus.
Times? Mon-Sat, 11.30am-9.30pm, Sun, noon-6pm.
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, £68 with a glass of Ruinart rosé champagne.
Dietary needs? 24 hours’ notice is preferred for vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free menus. 48 hours for halal/kosher. The ‘Tea-Tox’ menu is gluten-free.
Times? Daily, noon-6pm.
What’s the vibe? Flattering lighting, the scent of fresh roses, classical musicians in the corner: the Foyer at Claridge’s is a class act. This elegant art deco space 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 sablé biscuits with a green peppercorn-spiked cream cheese filling. Gracious, discreet service is a bonus.
Price? £60 per person (children £30), £70 with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne, £80 with a glass of Laurent-Perrier rosé champagne, £66 with a glass of non-alcoholic jus de raisin pétillant.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. 24 hours’ notice is preferred.
Times? Daily, sittings 2.45pm-5.30pm.
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 afternoon. 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 is close to a renaissance in itself.
Price? £35 per person, £47 with a glass of Gosset champagne, £40 for temperance afternoon tea with sparkling green tea. ‘Grand Rosé’ afternoon tea £51.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated with 48 hours’ notice.
Times? Sat, noon-4pm, Sun, noon-5pm.
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 covers. Come if you’ve got 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? £57 per person (£35 for children), £76 with a glass of Reserve Ritz champagne. Celebration tea £68 per person, includes a slice of cake (£87 with a glass of Reserve Ritz champagne).
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. 48 hours’ notice is required.
Times? Daily, sittings 11.30am-7.30pm.
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 wear tailcoats but are charming and approachable; the crowd is one of sartorially slick Londoners; and best of all, the piano player’s tinkle-list takes 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 homemade marzipan, is not one we will easily forget.
Price? £58 per person, £68 with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne, £75 with a glass of Laurent-Perrier rosé champagne, £90 with a glass of Dom Pérignon vintage champagne.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. Notice on booking is preferred.
Times? The Promenade: daily, sittings 1pm-5.30pm. The Spatisserie: daily, sittings 1pm-2pm.
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? £60 per person, £70 with a glass of Louis Roederer champagne, £80 with a glass of Moët & Chandon rosé. Royal afternoon tea (May 2018 only) is £68 or £85 with a glass of champagne.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. 24 hours’ notice preferred, but not mandatory.
Times? Daily, 1pm-5.45pm.
What’s the vibe? Feel like royalty scoffing a sumptuous tea in a posh hotel amid the grand stucco avenues of Kensington. Every last detail of the Town House experience – impossibly cosy sofas, the tastefully typeset menu, well-manicured staff – is sublime. A Japanese green tea (far nuttier and more complex than its Chinese cousin) was an ideal starter before horsing into the sandwiches: delectable Devon Red chicken and cranberry, moist cucumber and cream cheese, and rich, complex Argyle smoked salmon. Buttermilk scones were the softest and lightest imaginable. Apple and vanilla mousse crumble was sharp as a tack and artfully presented as a glossy green pyramid.
Price? £30 per person, £40 with a glass of champagne.
Dietary needs? Gluten-free menu available.
Times? Daily, noon-5pm.
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 are unlimited refills of everything except the champers.
Price? £37.50 per person, £49 with a glass of champagne.
Dietary needs? Vegetarian and gluten-free alternatives available on the day.
Times? Mon-Fri, 2.30pm-5.30pm, Sat-Sun, 12.30pm-5.30pm.
What’s the vibe? If you’re entertaining visitors looking to ‘do’ London in a day or so, this Routemaster-based tea-cum-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 monsieurs 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. In tune with the trends, also check out their new vegan afternoon tea.
Price? £45 per person.
Dietary needs? Gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, halal and kosher needs can be accommodated. Notice on booking is required.
Times? Daily noon, 2.30pm or 5pm from Victoria; 12.30pm, 3pm from Northumberland Avenue.
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 Prêt-à-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, but 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, Bollinger rosé or Ruinart Blancs de Blancs.
Dietary needs? Gluten and nut-free menus available with 24 hours’ notice.
Times? Daily, 1pm-5.30pm.
Venue says: “We're transforming a suite into a botanical tasting room for the month of June with Bombay Sapphire. Head to our website for more info.”
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 little black dress 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? Full Wyld Tea £55 (including four botanical cocktails), Champagne Wyld Tea £45 (includes a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne), Boozeless Wyld Tea £35.
Dietary needs? All dietary needs can be accommodated with 24 hours’ notice.
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? Fri-Sun, 3.30pm-5pm. Also available from Monday August 14, 3.30pm-5pm daily for National Afternoon Tea Week.
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 subcontinent’s street food 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 are only too eager to top up your painted glass.
Price? £47 per person.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. 24 hours’ notice is preferred, but not mandatory.
Times? Daily, 12.30pm-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 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? £40 per person including one pot of gin or champagne ‘tea’. £62 for bottomless ‘spirited’ tea or £72 for bottomless champagne tea.
Dietary needs? Allergy-specific menus available on request.
Times? Sat, 2pm-6.45pm, Sun, 3pm-5pm.
Venue says: “Check out our exclusive lunch and dinner offer on the Time Out Offers page!”
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-sized items, such as slivers of crisp toast slathered in smoky zaalouk (aubergine and tomato purée). A selection of syrupy maghrébine pastries, flavoured with almond and fig, balanced the more conservative Earl Grey macaron, although the real showstoppers were the lightly crumbling date scones paired with a dulcet quince and prickly pear jam. That, washed down with Moroccan mint 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 Champagne Moussé et Fils.
Dietary needs? The meal is halal, with vegetarian options available on the day. All other dietary requests can be accommodated with 24 hours’ notice.
Times? Daily, 12.30pm-5.30pm.
What’s the vibe? If you arrive at Jason Atherton’s izakaya-style eatery expecting the ceremonial rituals of a Japanese tea ceremony, you’ll be disappointed. Sosharu’s take on afternoon tea mixes Brit traditions with flavours from the land of the rising sun – so leave your designer kimonos and lovely Yum-Yum fans at home. Instead, enjoy a procession of savoury and sweet confections ranging from open tuna temaki or savoury monaka (wafers) to matcha iced fingers or a chocolate, sesame and praline ‘petit gateau’ with miso caramel. Heavenly tea blends such as kukicha with cherry blossom fuel the fantasy, or you can trade up to an exotic sparkling cocktail.
Price? £28 per person, £35 with a sparkling cocktail.
Dietary needs? All dietary requests can be accommodated. Notice on booking is preferred.
Times? Fri-Sat, noon-4pm.
What’s the vibe? Veganuary might already seem like a distant memory, but the trend goes on, and one of the sweetest new wheezes is this vegan afternoon tea from Eric Laniard’s Cake Boy – the celebrated London patisserie and cookery school. Expect a glamorous selection of savoury and sweet comestibles ranging from buckwheat petit pain with rocket, Cheddar-style cheese, sun-blushed tomato and basil or a gluten-free mint loaf with pistachio pesto to a gorgeous avocado and Peruvian chocolate cup layered with raspberry compote or a vegan take on the classic Mont Blanc. Those who simply want their afternoon tea ‘with a modern twist’ (dairy and eggs included) can still order the regulation offer – no questions asked.
Price? £40 per person, including a glass of champagne.
Dietary needs? Totally vegan and gluten-free.
Times? Mon-Sat, 1.30pm-4.30pm.