Last Updated on April 6, 2019 by Fiona Maclean
Top London Afternoon Teas for Every Budget:
In London, we love our tea. And we particularly love the ritual of Afternoon Tea. Those visiting may well be challenged to find the top London afternoon tea, simply because there’s something for every budget and taste. This handy guide will help you find the best afternoon tea for you – but first a bit about the tradition of afternoon tea.
Afternoon Tea is a London tradition. Behind the story is a little bit of London Society of course and the origin of tea as a meal stems from fashion and snobbery. During the 1800s it became increasingly popular in London to have dinner later in the evening as a way of showing that you could afford to light your dining room at night. Fashion isn’t always comfortable – dining so late meant that one of Society’s prominent figures began to complain about feeling faint and hungry.
Anna Russell, The Duchess of Bedford, began by inviting her friends to share tea and light refreshments at her home, Woburn Abbey. When she returned to London she introduced ‘Afternoon Tea’ and it became an increasingly fashionable ritual amongst Society ladies of the time. Now, any visit to London or special occasion is an excuse to indulge in a luxurious afternoon tea. And, there are plenty of options available with afternoon teas to suit all budgets and with some quirky options if you are looking for something completely different.
Here are a few of our favourites and why we love them. Mostly in London, but we’ve included a few others that we’ve come across on our travels. And, as it’s afternoon tea week next week (13th – 19th August 2018), you’ve got the perfect excuse to try for yourself!
Table of Contents
Luxury Afternoon Teas in London Hotels:
With one or two notable exceptions, you’ll find the best luxury afternoon teas in London at traditional five-star hotels.
We particularly love the offering from The Langham, London, where the ceremony of afternoon tea is taken very seriously and served in the stunning Palm Court. You’ll enjoy a selection of fine teas, classic sandwiches, the option of a ‘high tea’ savoury dish, freshly baked scones and stunning patisserie. Executive Pastry Chef Andrew Gravett has just launched SeasonaliTea at the Langham – a ‘lighter’ and seasonally varied afternoon tea. The house champagne, Perrier Jouet, is the perfect foil for a classic and elegant experience that has just won ‘Best Afternoon Tea Service 2018’.
At the Intercontinental, London Park Lane, the tea room is light and contemporary in style. There’s always a classic tea menu, but if you prefer there are often seasonal or limited edition variations like the current ‘High Coffee’ offering with paired coffees rather than tea for every course.
The Wellington Lounge looks out over Hyde Park and sipping a glass of Perrier Jouet and enjoying fresh sandwiches, scones and pastries while you listen to the pianist is one of the most relaxing ways I know to unwind.
Afternoon Tea at the Corinthia Hotel is perfect for people watching. The elegant space of the Crystal Moon Lounge – dominated by a spectacular round Baccarat Chandelier and always full of stunning floral displays – is the setting for a traditional tea popular with the Armani set.
Fashionably contemporary yet perfectly comfortable, this is somewhere to wear your Jimmy Choos and flaunt your Versace.
At the Rosewood Hotel, Holborn, afternoon tea is a classic series based on fine art. We went along to review the stunning Rodin tea developed to coincide with the exhibition at the nearby British Museum and were particularly impressed by the pastries developed by executive pastry chef Mark Perkins which were visually stunning but also tasted delicious.
An excellent range of teas from Mariage Frères (who I have heard on the grapevine will be opening a London Tea Emporium and Salon de Thé in Covent Garden in the Autumn) is now complemented by the latest Art Tea in the series – Cubism and Pop Art inspired by the likes of Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Roy Lichtenstein. It’s perhaps not surprising that this tea has won the award for Best Contemporary Afternoon Tea in 2018 for the second year running
For me, the Holy Trio of traditional London Hotels serving afternoon teas, The Savoy, The Ritz and The Dorchester all have fine offerings in elegant surroundings that are perfect for that special occasion. At The Savoy, for example, you’ll sit in the Thames Foyer where a stunning art deco glass dome fills the space with wonderful natural light. The pianist sits in a pretty garden gazebo and you’ll be served a classic selection of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam and lemon curd and delicious cakes.
It’s a silver service tea where a glass of Louis Roederer champagne seems entirely appropriate and where nothing is too much trouble. If for any reason you have special dietary needs it’s no problem at all and if you happen to want more of anything, in particular, it will be offered readily.
And then there are a plethora of great options depending on what you are looking for. At the Landmark London, there’s a high tea option which is a great alternative for those who like more savoury dishes as part of the mix. They do have a good classic afternoon tea too, but if, for example, you were waiting for a train and wanted an early supper, the high tea with salads and meze to complement the cakes would be an excellent alternative.
Afternoon tea at COMO The Halkin, home to Michelin Starred Ametsa with Arzak Instruction is a modern Basque style afternoon tea that is closer to fine dining than most.
While the lounge where tea is served is not the largest of spaces, there’s something quite exclusive about their contemporary afternoon tea offer which is very reasonably priced at £34 per person.
I love the exquisite Rosebery Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental afternoon tea where delicate sandwiches and cakes are served in gilded cages.
It’s sadly closed right now as a result of a fire elsewhere in the building, but should reopen later this year and is well worth waiting for.
And, perhaps one of the prettiest hotel tea rooms is the Rose Lounge at Sofitel London St James’s where the French-owned group manages to create a wonderfully stylish environment for an excellent range of continental patisserie and teas.
Four Star Hotels with affordable afternoon teas
The majority of London afternoon teas in five-star hotels will set you back £50 or more per person. For rather less, you can have a similar experience in the better four-star hotels.
We recommend afternoon tea at St Ermin’s Hotel for an elegant surrounding, a charming outside balcony terrace and quirky cakes often using the hotel’s own honey (they keep bees on the roof). At £29 for the tea or £35 for the tea with unlimited prosecco, the only catch is that it can be busy. Oh, and there’s 25% off from 13 – 19 August during afternoon tea week too!
The Strand Palace offers a comprehensive traditional tea at £33 per person. We found the atmosphere a little corporate, but the location is excellent and close to West End theatres and the tea is excellent value for the location, right opposite the Savoy.
Themed Afternoon Teas in London Hotels:
We love the themed teas offered by some of London’s leading hotels. My personal favourite has now been running for years but never fails to thrill – the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea offered at One Aldwych comes complete with tiny candy floss sticks, chocolate drinks and magic potion cocktails.
Sanderson London offers a popular Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea – an Alice in Wonderland themed tea where you’ll find yourself slipping into a storybook world with everything from the china to the teas themselves taking inspiration from Lewis Carroll’s famous book.
Ampersand Hotel has a stunning Science Afternoon Tea which won Best Themed Afternoon Tea at the Afternoon Tea Awards 2018. The hotel is a stone’s throw from the Science Museum itself and we loved this imaginative tea complete with dinosaurs, smoke and chocolate spacemen. It’s the kind of treat I’d have enjoyed as a child after an hour or three walking around the museum. And it’s the kind of treat I still enjoy, even if I haven’t set foot in the museum.
There are plenty more themed teas we haven’t tried – from Prêt-à-Portea at the Berkeley to a new Mary Poppins Tea at Aqua Shard on level 31.
Afternoon Tea in London’s Cafes and Bars
For me, the most famous place for afternoon tea of all is Fortnum and Mason. I’ve been there of course, both for shopping and to eat, but as yet I haven’t been for afternoon tea other than as part of a group event in a function room rather than in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon. We all have to have things we are waiting to try and Fortnum’s is on my list.
Just down the road, however, is the newly opened TWG Tea in Leicester Square – home to the World’s only tea museum and to an elegant upstairs cafe/brasserie where you can enjoy a light but delicious traditional tea for £25 a person. For more do check our review.
Then, for perhaps the best view in London, there’s afternoon tea at Oxo Tower Restaurant. If you choose you can sit indoors but on a sunny afternoon, the view from the balcony looking out across the Thames is amazing. The tea itself is excellent value at £35 a person and very good quality, with a seasonal menu that feels entirely British.
Many of the London museums, theatres and galleries have their own afternoon tea offering. We’ve tried and enjoyed the tea at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the afternoon tea at the Swan, serving the Globe Theatre.
And, with upmarket groups like The Ivy offering afternoon tea at certain branches for under £20, you have plenty of options.
Quirky Afternoon Teas to consider:
We really enjoyed tea at the Potion Room by Cutter and Squidge – a two and a half hour interactive afternoon tea experience where you can try your hand at magic and transport yourself into a world of wizardry. Read more about how we got on – but we are not going to let you into all the secrets!
Or, if you want to combine London sightseeing with an afternoon tea, there’s the BB London Bus where you’ll whizz around town on a classic red double-decker bus complete with a glass of fizz and some delicious cakes from Brigit’s Bakery in Covent Garden
British Afternoon Teas:
While it’s fair to say we have had most of our afternoon teas in London, we’re always pleasantly surprised to find a good tea elsewhere in the UK. This year so far we’ve tried and loved three.
Fairmont St Andrews is a stunning hotel in St Andrew’s Scotland, looking out over the famous golf course. Tea is served with all the elegance you’d expect of a top hotel and it’s definitely worth making a detour to enjoy some of their traditional Scottish cakes.
Something of a food lover’s destination, The Angel Hotel in Abergavenny offers a high tea which is second to none. Served on fine porcelain, there’s a perfectly balanced selection of sandwiches, savouries and cakes to make those of us who are London based very jealous indeed.
If you happen to be visiting York or Harrogate, make sure you book in advance for tea at Betty’s. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on the traditional white linen and silver service dining room, the pianist and the luxurious Lady Betty afternoon tea which comes complete with amuse bouche, sandwiches, scones and a delicious mixture of traditional and regional cakes.
And, if you happen to be looking, there’s a really comprehensive list of afternoon teas in Birmingham which I know I will be consulting so I can treat myself the next time I am there.
Where else should we try? Well, I am hoping to revisit Edinburgh soon and indulge in afternoon tea at the Balmoral. I have yet to experience a West Country afternoon tea – and that’s something that definitely needs to be rectified. And of course, there’s still a whole list of London Afternoon Teas to try.
If you’ve got any recommendations, do let me know – I’d love to hear of some new London afternoon teas to try.
If you are thinking of visiting London or are looking for a special occasion afternoon tea, why not pin this post!