The Best Afternoon Tea in London

The best afternoon tea in London

Invented in 1840 by Anna, Duchess of Bedford, who would get hungry between lunch and supper, afternoon tea is a ritual as British as the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace or rain delays at the Wimbledon tennis championships. Much more than a quick cuppa of England’s favourite beverage, this most sophisticated of pastimes has become a significant meal in itself, incorporating finger sandwiches, cakes, and almost certainly scones with jam and cream too. Here is our roundup of the best afternoon tea in London.

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Having lost some of its shine in the mid-twentieth century, the afternoon tea has seen a resurgence in recent years; a wide range of hotels and other establishments now offer a taste of quintessential Britishness. At Coral Room in Bloomsbury, you don’t need to be a tea fanatic to enjoy the afternoon tea, with a range of other bottomless hot drinks on offer. The almost endless choices include coffee, matcha lattes, and herbal teas, all served in elegant art deco crockery that complements the establishment’s coral red jazz age interior. But, of course, the drinks are just the start, and you’ll soon face an impressive tiered platter of savouries, scones, and fancies – one of which can be refilled for free. Even more startlingly ‘establishment’ are the pickings at the Goring Hotel, the only hotel in the world to hold a royal warrant. Tucked away in leafy Belgravia, afternoon tea can be enjoyed in a rare central London garden or in the exquisite dining room, where a century of traditions continues as if Queen Victoria still reigned. Replete with amuse-bouche and homemade jams, beside mouth-watering sandwiches and show-stopping chocolate bombs, the only fly in the ointment is the limited-service time of 4-4.30pm Monday to Friday (1-4.30pm on Saturdays).

Photo: Rachel Park

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Inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Swan incorporates characters from the play and is served upon bespoke crockery by designer Annika Wester

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The Swan may not be able to boast the history of the Goring Hotel, but it does have a sublime view onto the River Thames right next to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Inspired by one of the playwright’s most beloved productions, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the afternoon tea incorporates characters from the play and is served upon bespoke crockery by designer Annika Wester. The sandwiches here include buttermilk chicken, smoked salmon, and egg mayonnaise, while desserts include vanilla-infused pudding pots and on-trend macarons. Prêt-à-Portea at The Berkley Hotel in fancy Knightsbridge hosts the most fashionable afternoon tea around, with biscuits and fancies inspired by twentieth-century couture fashion houses in both look and taste: think miniature edible handbags and bar jacket biscuits, too good to eat. The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum and Mason, the department store of choice for the Queen and Prince of Wales, offers perhaps the most rarefied of London afternoon teas. You’ll find a staggering 50 teas to opt for, from classic Earl Grey to Chocolate Violet, a staunchly traditional range of sandwich fillings, and – somewhat unusually for an afternoon tea – a hand-picked choice of sweets from the roving and wonderfully named cake carriage.

Photo: Eva Dang

Home to the internationally acclaimed hotchpotch of artworks that is the Summer Exhibition for 250 years, the Royal Academy of Arts’ Senate Room is, in contrast, one of the newer destinations for afternoon tea in London. The room’s stylish interior has received the magic touch of David Chipperfield RA, while the menu has been created by Italian chef par excellence Melissa Forti, ensuring a Mediterranean twist on this most British of mealtimes. The tiered stand, therefore, includes tuna- and olive-filled sandwiches, and sweets such as a ricotta and honey cheesecake. Vaunting a mirrored interior that reflects the gilt and crystal of the piano-bedecked Oscar Wilde Lounge, the Café Royal is the glitziest of London afternoon tea destinations. Although the traditional stylings of the menu might already seem familiar to regular afternoon tea takers, each component is the most elaborate creation imaginable, and during the week comes with the possibility of a complimentary glass of champagne. Afternoon tea at the vegan, LA-born By Chloe in Covent Garden (and other London locations) delivers the authentic flavours of this 180-year-old British institution, thanks to clever culinary chemistry. By Chloe also breaks the mould by serving guests at communal tables filled with the fruits of the kitchen, creating a more informal experience millennial professionals will particularly appreciate.

Hotel Cafe Royal

Hotel Cafe Royal

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For something a little different, sample Maitre Choux, an artisan patisserie which has bravely done away with the savoury portion of its afternoon tea altogether

Oblix Restaurant | Photo: Richard Southall/Ilona Zielinska

If you haven’t heard of Oblix West, you’ll definitely know of its location – on the thirty-second storey of The Shard. With floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase the sublime London view, afternoon tea here veers towards the casual end of the spectrum. However, the laidback vibe takes nothing away from the mix of plates, which emphasize the credentials of London’s home-grown produce, exemplified by honeycomb from Harrow and local cheeses. For something a little different, sample Maitre Choux, an artisan patisserie which has bravely done away with the savoury portion of its afternoon tea altogether. Instead, choose from the baker’s signature eclairs, which range in flavour from the traditional (the cappuccino or Paris-Brest eclairs, among them) to the downright ridiculous (such as the blackberry cheesecake eclair).

Oblix - The Shard

Oblix - The Shard

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