Afternoon tea is a delicious and quintessentially British custom, and London offers a number of wonderfully glamorous venues in which to enjoy it. From the proudly traditional to the cool and contemporary, our pick of four of the most luxurious afternoon tea venues includes one of the world’s landmark hotels and one of the most Instagrammed eateries in the whole of London
There a very few things that are more British than a cup of tea with a dash of milk. The country’s obsession with drinking tea dates back to the 17th century, but the custom of taking afternoon tea, an altogether grander ceremony, was introduced in the 1840s. The story goes that it was a solution to the hunger that Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, felt around 4pm. Initially taking the form of bread and butter (later sandwiches), cake and a pot of tea, afternoon tea quickly became a habit of Anna’s. She often invited her friends to join her, and they transformed her afternoon tea habit into a British high society convention. In time hotels and tea rooms across the country offered their own afternoon teas.
Today taking afternoon tea is still one of the most glamorous ways to spend an afternoon in London, and venues include some of the capital’s landmark hotels as well as restaurants and tea rooms in luxury department stores. We’ve selected four of the very best places in London to have afternoon tea.
One of London’s landmark hotels, the Ritz was founded by famous Swiss hotelier César Ritz and first opened its doors in 1906. The hotel immediately became popular with many of Britain’s most prominent members of high society, from prime ministers and royalty to socialites and actors. In 2002 it became the first hotel in Britain to be granted a royal warrant. Today the hotel is still among the capital’s grandest and it serves one of the most luxurious afternoon teas in the city. Held in the beautiful gilded Palm Court, afternoon tea at the Ritz is almost ceremonial in its grandeur. It offers a choice of 18 types of loose-leaf tea, including the Ritz Royal blend available only at the hotel, along with an exquisite selection of finely cut sandwiches and freshly baked scones (served with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry preserve), mouth-watering cakes and delicate pastries. For the ultimate indulgence, afternoon tea here can be enjoyed with a glass of the Ritz’s own champagne.
The Ritz Hotel, 150 Piccadilly, London W1J 9BR, +44 (0)20 7493 8181
The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell
One of London’s most charming Georgian properties, the Zetter Townhouse in the Clerkenwell district is a relatively new addition to the range of afternoon tea venues across the capital. You’re served tea in the hotel’s intimate cocktail lounge, strikingly decorated to emulate a grand private residence. There’s a choice between Aunt Wilhelmina’s selection of dainty sandwiches (classics such as smoked salmon and cream cheese and Coronation chicken), and Uncle Seymour’s hearty treats, which feature truffled sausage rolls and mini croque monsieurs. Both menus include traditional freshly baked plain and raisin scones served with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry jam, and delicious cakes such as the indulgent salted caramel and apple choux bun. The selection of teas runs from traditional Earl Grey to an exotic White Peony variety, and you can also opt to enjoy tea with a house cocktail or a glass of champagne.
The Zetter Townhouse Clerkenwell, 49-50 St John's Square, London EC1V 4JJ, +44 (0)20 7324 4545
Fortnum & Mason
The oldest department store in the world, Fortnum & Mason has been serving fine food to Londoners since 1707. Known for its gourmet hampers, fine wines, spirits and teas, the store also provides one of the best afternoon teas in the city. In the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, which was opened in 2012 by Her Majesty the Queen, the menu offers a selection of finger sandwiches (including Fortnum’s own smoked salmon and a contemporary twist on traditional cucumber sandwiches) and scones served with Somerset clotted cream and a choice of Fortnum & Mason preserves. In addition there’s a cake carriage containing all manner of sweet treats that can be enjoyed alongside a choice of pastries. The real star, however, is the tea itself, with more than 50 varieties to choose from.
Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, London W1A 1ER, +44 (0)20 7734 8040
Sketch, in the exclusive Mayfair district, is one of London’s most fashionable restaurants and has been a driving force behind a stylish afternoon tea revival. Led by Hervé Deville, Sketch’s executive head chef, and Christophe Gasper, the restaurant’s head of pastry, the afternoon tea experience here is playful mix of tradition and contemporary luxury. The menu includes classic afternoon tea fare, the likes of sultana and plain scones served with clotted cream and jams, and assorted finger sandwiches. There are also flamboyant flourishes such as quail eggs served with Oscietra caviar. A selection of handpicked teas ranges from Sketch’s own blend to Japanese sencha tea. To finish, guests can enjoy a slice of banana loaf filled with layers of creamy fudge, and a selection of tantalising petits gâteaux, including Caribbean chocolate and coffee tart and exotic fruit and lime cheesecake.
Sketch, 9 Conduit Street, London W1S 2XG, +44 (0)20 7659 4500