London’s Best Afternoon Tea
Just Opened London’s ‘Best of’ series covers a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
Your first afternoon tea experience in London is something of a rite of passage. Your best pal, a good 2-4-1 deal, and being very dressed up like you’re going to a wedding at 11 in the morning because lunchtime was the only time you could get a table this side of Christmas. If the afternoon tea is spot on, you probably won’t want to eat again until late in the evening.
We can save the jam or cream first debate for another time; if you’re tucking into warm scones it really doesn’t matter all that much. Here are London’s very best afternoon teas.
Fortnum & Mason
Fortnum’s has a firm place in our heart. What should be a stuffy shop reserved only for tourists has actually become quite a marvellous place to visit, thanks to the excellent deli (and wine bar) in the basement and gorgeous branding that makes every single present something you’d quite like to keep for yourself.
The afternoon tea (£44, or £48 with a rare tea) has the same level of quality: beautifully presented, utterly classic and charming, and more teas than you could ever get through (which is fine, because you can buy them all from the shop).
Our favourite bit? You get a range of patisserie on your cake stand, but you also get to choose from the cake trolley. Related: we’d really like our own cake trolley.
Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, W1A 1ER
The Rosewood is always going to be top of our list for any occasion (do visit the excellent bar), but their afternoon tea in the Mirror Room pulls out all of the stops.
It’s art-themed, which means their pastry chef is having an absolute field day. Current inspiration includes a Banksy chocolate and cherry sponge and a Yayoi Kusama chocolate mousse cake. Damien Hirst and Rothko are also on the billing.
At fifty quid a head (£65 with champagne) it’s not cheap, but if you’re in need of a location for a special occasion, you couldn’t do better. We hope the artists change regularly, rather like The Berkeley’s less innovative – do not fob us off with iced biscuits – but very fashionable Pret-a-Portea.
The Rosewood, 252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN
There are two Alice in Wonderland afternoon teas in London. The Conrad St. James has shoddy service, and its desserts will leave you disappointed for the rest of the day. The Sanderson Mad Hatter afternoon tea (£48 per head) is wonderful and expertly treads that line between classic and creative.
There’s definitely scope for fun with the theme, and even the savouries get a bit of a twist – crab eclairs and croque monsieur? Yes, please. Of course, it’s the sweet stuff where this tea excels, and it’s definitely best kept a secret. You’ll have to find out for yourself why there’s a music box on your table.
The Sanderson, 50 Berners Street, W1T 3NG
In theory, Sketch should have been a flash in the pan. Egg-shaped loos, a bubblegum pink dining room – it’s a lot of garish gimmicks in your face at once.
But here’s the rub: we love it. It doesn’t take itself seriously and it’s always fun to visit. The tea (£58 per person, £72 with champagne) is just as pink and inviting as the David Shrigley surroundings. Everything about Sketch should feel dated and it’s undeniably over-Instagrammed, but they’re excellent at what they do.
Sketch, 9 Conduit Street, W1S 2XG
We’ve already talked about the afternoon tea at One Aldwych. Their Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tea made it into our list of best chocolate dishes, and with very good reason. It gets the thumbs up from everyone. Kids will love it, but so will your aunt Beryl.
It’s one of the cheapest on our list – £39, or £49 with a glass of champagne or a wonderful chocolate and cherry cocktail. It’s got candy floss and chocolate milkshake, but the egg mayonnaise brioche is perfection (do ask for more). There’s just enough theatre and intrigue to impress, but not so much that the overall experience is a little rough around the crust-free edges. It’s probably our favourite tea in London.
One Aldwych at, erm… 1 Aldwych, WC2B 4BZ
The Ritz and Claridge’s
Ah, the two renowned great aunts of London’s afternoon tea scene. They’re the classics. The ones you take your parents to. They probably see a fancy proposal or two each week. They’re also quite likely to be one of the first teas you try, because it’s afternoon tea and you want to do it properly (quite right, too).
They’re both excellent, and the truth is, there really isn’t much between either of them. They’ll both offer you extra sandwiches. Damn straight your scones will still be perfectly warm. And the cakes are some of the finest in London because, well, they are the finest hotels in London.
There’s not much in the way of innovation, but that’s not what you’re paying for. The Ritz is all silver and white tablecloths (£54 per person, £74 with champagne). Claridge’s has a gorgeous Art Deco vibe, but it’s a little pricier at £60 per head (£70 with champagne). Take your pick; we’re sitting firmly on the fence.