London’s best afternoon teas
Indulge your sweet tooth with a traditional high tea or a reinterpretation of the English classic
For variety and style, London’s afternoon tea scene is hard to beat. The city’s hotels and restaurants offer everything from the most traditional experience to brilliantly creative twists on the familiar staples. Here is the cream of the crop:
Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Period drama fans longing for a little Bridgerton-style living are in for a treat if they head to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Baker to the stars Lily Vanilli is winning rave reviews with a Regency-inspired afternoon tea served beneath the glittering chandeliers and ornate ceilings of the newly restored theatre’s Grand Saloon.
The playful menu swaps traditional sandwiches for savoury pastries including canneles with whipped ricotta and beetroot, plus hearty puff pastry sausage rolls. Traditionalists are catered for with superb scones accompanied by salted butter, jam and cream. But the real scene-stealers are the sweets, which include pink lemonade tarts decorated with gilded chocolate cherubs, and mini sticky toffee puddings with a custard and salted caramel filling. And in a grand finale that nods to the Regency era’s trend for exotic ices, a trolley is rolled out to deliver scoops of intoxicatingly delicious absinthe mint choc-chip ice cream. Even Lady Whistledown would be impressed.
The Garden Pavilion, Chiswick House
For those who believe afternoon tea is best served on the lawn of a country house, Chiswick House and Gardens’ summer pop-up delivers a healthy dose of the pastoral in west London. The Garden Pavilion, open until September, offers lunch and dinner too, but its indulgent afternoon teas are perhaps the most in keeping with the setting. Settle down at a table under the white marquee - or at one of the outdoor tables overlooking the park - and watch the city coming back to life as you sip on your choice of tea, or perhaps a glass of English sparkling wine. Cakes and sandwiches are dainty yet richly flavoured, and restocked on request. The black forest gateau is a highlight: rich and decadent, its dark-cherry jam just sharp enough to cut through the smooth chocolate ganache.
Few places lend themselves to an afternoon of genteel refreshment like the wood-panelled London Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair. Reputedly the inspiration for Agatha Christie’s 1965 mystery At Bertram’s Hotel, Brown’s has been serving afternoon teas for well over a century - so it’s no surprise they’ve got it down to a fine art. The finger sandwiches - cucumber, smoked coronation chicken, salt beef with horseradish mayonnaise, and prawn cocktail - are simply unbeatable, especially when paired with a selection from its lengthy tea menu (try the Cornish Tregothnan, the only tea grown in England). An inventive vegan afternoon tea is also on offer, proving that Brown’s isn’t content to rest on its well-earned laurels.
Fortnum & Mason at the Royal Exchange
The grand atrium of the Royal Exchange provides a striking (and eminently Instagrammable) setting for afternoon tea, which is surely why Fortnum & Mason has chosen the City landmark as the first place to offer the experience beyond its flagship Piccadilly store. It’s a quintessential tea, with sandwich fillings including Norfolk ham and mustard, coronation chicken, smoked salmon and cucumber with mint cream cheese all served as you relax on plush banquettes upholstered in the store’s trademark eau-de-Nil green. As are two perfectly-baked scones and a trio of decadent patisseries. As you might expect, these are accompanied with Fortnum’s own teas. Its green tea with elderflower, for example, is a sweet and refreshing brew, while the Fortmason blend exudes a heavy aromatic bouquet of florals and orange blossom. And if you fall in love with selection, you can find a tin to take home in the Fortnum & Mason outpost just a few steps away.
Lyaness at Sea Containers London
Sea Containers London, a design-led hotel on the south bank of the Thames, offers a “spirited tea” in its Lyaness lounge bar, a beautifully furnished room with views across the river to St. Pauls. It can be paired either with champagne or - as its name encourages - a series of cocktails. Alcohol-free mocktails are also available, along with the customary selection of green, black and floral teas. The food is a collection of successfully updated classics: the cucumber in the sandwiches is pickled, for example, and lemongrass takes the place of lemon in the meringue tart. All of which adds a summery note to proceedings, and pairs very nicely with fruit-forward cocktails like the rock melon gimlet, a blend of Grey Goose vodka with melon, cacao and seeded vermouth. During July, Lyaness is also offering an alternative line-up of sandwiches, snacks and cocktails inspired by the tea-loving island of Sri Lanka, in partnership with Soho restaurant Hoppers.
The Landmark London Hotel
Once one of London’s grand railway hotels - it opened in 1899 as the Hotel Great Central - The Landmark London serves afternoon tea in its Winter Garden, a high glass-roofed atrium at the heart of the hotel, in which tables are interspersed with improbable palm trees. A harpist provides serene musical accompaniment. The sandwiches, sometimes a neglected part of the meal, are excellent - especially the coronation chicken on walnut bread, and soft white bread filled with lapsang souchong smoked salmon. Scones come with an adventurous choice of jams, alongside the traditional strawberry. Gooseberry and elderflower is a beguiling blend of the sweet and the sharp. The pastries, too, are a winning combination of the classic (a crisply perfect miniature strawberry tart) and the modern (a sweet, gooey salted caramel macaron). Innovation extends to the tea selection too, where a blend enriched with chunks of caramel sits alongside the bright, fresh infusions of Assam and Darjeeling.
It’s a Little Bit Mad at The Lanesborough
Few film locations could match the setting of The Lanesborough’s homage to the new Disney film, Cruella, which is served under the domed-glass roof of the hotel’s opulent, Michelin-starred Céleste restaurant. And the pastries on the “It’s a Little Bit Mad” menu look equally glamorous, with a colour theme of black, red and gold. The fun kicks off with “Scene Stealer” cocktails, a blend of raspberry purée, maraschino cherry juice and syrup, plus lemon juice for a tart twist, and optional Bombay Bramble gin for an added kick for the adults. Topped with white apricot air foam and freeze-dried blackberry dust, the cocktail lives up to its name, with a smoke-emitting table centrepiece adding to the sense of drama. But for pure wow factor, the award goes to “Modern Masterpiece”, a gold inside-out lemon cheesecake with blueberry compote and a vial of “blood” (blackcurrant and violet sauce) for diners to inject into the centre.
Not only is Roast’s dining room gorgeously grand and airy, with high ceilings and a fabulous half-moon window, but it also boasts a magnificent view, perched as it is above bustling Borough Market. And as you watch the world go by, you can tuck into the trendy restaurant’s afternoon tea offering. Like the rest of Roast’s highly seasonal menu, the selection will vary throughout the year, but you should expect a classic selection of sandwiches, scones and strawberry jam - and more adventurous patisserie. Current offerings include a Pimms trifle shot and a range of diminutive but delicious cake bites.
Botanica at 100 Queen’s Gate
If you’re a seasoned afternoon tea pro looking to go beyond the classics, there’s not a profiterole or a lemon drizzle in sight at Botanica, part of the 100 Queen’s Gate hotel in South Kensington. The hotel has recently undergone a multimillion-pound refurbishment but retains much of its 1870s architecture, including the beautiful double-height atrium in which afternoon tea is served. Natural light pours in through the glass ceiling, falling on mirrors and pristine white shutters along the walls. Highlights from the botanical-rich menu include a cinnamon tartlet filled with punchy lime mousse and elderflower glaze - and a choux bun filled with white chocolate infused with orange blossom and roasted walnuts. The cherry and bergamot scones come with cherry jam, ginger and orange marmalade and subtly flavoured pink-peppercorn clotted cream. The tea is curated by Whittard of Chelsea - and each teapot comes with an egg-timer to ensure a perfect brew.
G&T afternoon tea at London Marriott Hotel County Hall
Does a G&T with a slice of cake sound like heaven to you? Gillray’s Bar at the London Marriott Hotel County Hall, overlooking the River Thames and Big Ben, offers a “Gin and Tonic Afternoon Tea” experience for two. The spread includes sandwiches, scones, homemade cakes, tea and (of course) free-flowing G&Ts. Afternoon tea slots last for an hour-and-a-half - more than enough time to get suitably tiddly.