Taking tea is a quietly civilized ceremony and a perfect afternoon respite from the busy streets of the British capital. Afternoon tea may once have been the preserve of the upper classes, (think Downton Abbey style chinking of china, and tiny nibbles to accompany your earl grey) but now it is available to the masses, and tourists too. Of course you can still splash out on tea at the Ritz hotel or one of the other luxury places in London, but today, afternoon tea is a thing you can find all over the capital, for different budgets and different tastes, from refined French, to home made English, from buzzy trendy cafes full of hipsters, to the genteel murmurings of the west of the city. And when you're done with tea, in many places, like the Dean St Townhouse, you can move straight on to cocktails, then dinner and keep the party going right through the night. For real luxury, take Afternoon Tea at the Ritz or Claridge's hotels, but make sure you observe their strict smart dress codes and make a reservation in advance. If your tastes lean more to the Vegan, then perhaps you'll like Bake-a-Boo in the north of the city, in Hampstead. If you are in the South-East of the capital, then Le Chandelier could be the place for you with a selection of 34 different teas. Or try more relaxed places in Islington and Stoke Newington like The Blue Legume.
10 The Orangery
Originally designed as a greenhouse in Kensington Gardens and approved by Queen Anne, this window-lined, 18th-century building is surrounded by neatly manicured gardens and towering shrubs. It also serves a fine breakfast and a great afternoon tea. A long, white-brick room lined with statues and dramatic Corinthian columns houses a fine brunch buffet of sponge cake, fruit scones, clotted cream, champagne, smoked salmon, croissants, soups, and rich Belgian chocolate cake. Teatime brings out many of the same dishes, along with delicate finger sandwiches and breads. The perfect stopping off point during a walk in the park, and a prelude perhaps to a night at the Royal Albert Hall, or a great shopping spree in Knightsbridge or Notting Hill. TUBE: High Street Kensington (20-3166-3112, 20-7938-1406)
9 The Blue Legume
In the chilled out vibe of Stoke Newington, this cafe / restaurant fits in perfectly. Two more branches have now opened up in other 'yummy mummy' territory of Islington and Crouch End. You can start your day here with bountiful smoothies, flaky croissants or eggs Benedict. Then go off for a yoga lesson or a browse of the shops, before heading back for lunch of quiche, frittata or stuffed aubergines and peppers and salads. Dinner is also good, they have a huge range of hot food, some of it with that comforting seventies vibe of whole vegetables and pulses, generous portions and bright sunny food. It brings a taste of the Mediterranean and East of that into London and local residents are all the better for it. (020 7923 1303)
8 Bea's of Bloomsbury Cakes
Bea's of Bloomsbury was established in 2008 and has been going from strength to strength ever since. Their window displays of towering plates of cup cakes, decorated with fresh fruit and whipped sweet icing and cream cheese are a work of art in themselves. They also serve a great brunch or lunch, supplemented by seasonal vegetables, herbs grown from their own roof top gardens and food with as few 'food miles' as possible. They compost their own waste, and provide unique, high quality food to their customers. The flavours are exquisite, and the variety knows no bounds. As well as the cupcakes and afternoon tea, you can sink into delicious cheesecakes, rich chocolate truffle cakes, baked donuts, raspberry swirled meringues and much much more. The decor is old English updated with a contemporary twist and that just about matches the place itself. (020 7242 8330)
7 Fortnum and Mason
Fortnum and Mason has been sourcing and selling tea for over 300 years. By Royal assent, they supply teas (and much more) all around the world from their base in the heart of Mayfair, at 181 Piccadilly. What started as a grocer's store, quickly became the place to see and be seen in genteel London, and in the "roaring twenties", the store opened up a tea room where you could sample hundreds of varieties the shop stocks alongside tiny cakes,and sandwiches. In 2012, the tradition of taking tea was channeled through the new "Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon" which was opened by Their Royal Highnesses, the Duchesses of Cornwall and Cambridge. So now, when you take tea at Fortnum's, you will not only be able to sample an impressive range of tea but also have the potential to be rubbing shoulders with royalty; what could be more British than that? (0845 602 5694, 0207 437 3278)
6 The Foyer, Claridge's Hotel
Afternoon tea in Claridge's Foyer is, according to them, "the English tea of your wildest imagination". It's all 1920s art deco, including the teapots and china, and elegant interiors. Tinkly live music plays along quietly to really create that refined and rarefied atmosphere that afternoon tea should be all about. This place is just one of the many luxury hotels that offer English afternoon tea, but it's one of the most popular and best, so good, that it has won an award from the English tea guild. Like the Ritz, it is pricey, although a little cheaper, and the dress code is elegant, smart casual, no baseball caps, T-shirts, flip flops, shorts, vests or ripped jeans. Again, a place to go for a special occasion and really savor the experience. (+44 (0) 207 629 8860)
5 Afternoon tea at the Ritz
Afternoon tea at the Ritz is not to be missed, if you are a visitor to London and you are particularly partial to that "olde worlde" aspect to British culture. Here you will not be disappointed. Tiny delicate sandwiches piled high on delicate fine bone china tiered plates and serving platters, silver spoons, teapots, and tiny home made delicacies all accompany the tea and the rarefied atmosphere of this most famous of London hotels. You need to book in advance, and dress up, this is not the kind of place you roll up to after a dusty afternoon trailing the streets and expect to sit down in your shorts. You need proper shirts and elegant dresses, but that is all part of the experience and makes it seem extra special. You can choose between the traditional tea for 45 pounds per person, or scale up to celebration teas with champagne. (+44 (0) 20 7493 8181)
Bake-a-Boo describes itself as a magical hideaway in the heart of Hampstead, and simply darling. This is vintage heaven, like taking tea, (which must be booked at least 24 hours in advance and requires a 50% deposit,) in your trendiest friend's little parlor, and bonus, as well as providing all the usual delicious things for afternoon tea, Bake-a-Boo also caters for vegans, gluten intolerants and many other food allergies, providing dairy, gluten and wheat free cupcakes. A normal afternoon tea starts at a very reasonable 16 pounds, and for the "sensitive" that's dairy and gluten (although not egg) free is 17 pounds fifty. If you're in North London, and looking for a place to go, this could be the perfect spot, and if you forgot to book, then perhaps you can take a way of their delicious fresh cakes, which change daily, and create your own tea party at home. (0207 435 1666)
3 Soho's Secret Tea Room
If you're looking for a fourties vintage feel and a very British experience, with the added cachet of being in edgy Soho, in a supposedly 'secret' tea room above a pub, then Soho's Secret Tea Room is the place for you. The music played is fourties swing and jazz, and the whole room has that great vibe from the war years. You can choose from 16 different teas here, as well as home made cakes, jams, scones and fairy cakes, (the British name for cup cakes). The tea rooms provide traditional cream teas, hen nights, baby showers and a champagne tea too, so there is something for every occasion and taste. Big Victorian windows, with rich velvet curtains provide the light and the view, but apart from that, you really will feel like you've entered another world, and another time when you pop in to the Secret Tea Room. (0207 437 5920)
2 Le Chandelier
Le Chandelier in Dulwich combines the best of British afternoon tea, with French style. Le Chandelier prides itself on being a tea house in the "salon tradition", which means you'll find beautifully mismatched plush velvet armchairs, vintage china, and a large menu of different teas and coffees to accompany your pastries, cakes, and scones. The salon boasts 34 different teas from China, Japan, Taiwan and India, all coming from family owned farms and selected by their tea master, Edward Esler. With 3 days notice, Le Chandelier can also provide Vegan teas, and already they have a range of different menus, ranging from the classic afternoon tea, to high tea with creamed mushrooms on toast as one of the options, and of course the Champagne tea for that extra special occasion. (0208 299 3344)
1 Dean St Townhouse
The Dean St Townhouse is located in the heart of Soho and is also a boutique hotel, lunch and dinner place too. But it's afternoon teas are delicious and well worth stopping off for. The building itself dates from the classic period of the 18th century, and is all cool white elegance and understated design. The buildings were also once home to the socially radical "Gargoyle club" at the beginning of the twentieth century, full of artists, musicians and radical politicians and intellectuals. The Afternoon tea menu mixes a nice selection of traditional, comfort and what the British like to call "nursery food", that is to say, things they (the rich) grew up with and were served in their nurseries by nanny, macaroni cheese, welsh rarebit and corned beef. You can also get buttered crumpets here, Battenberg cake, and the ubiquitous and delicious scones, cream and jam. (0207 434 1775)
About Emma Wallis
London gives Emma a warm fuzzy feeling every time she gets back to her home city. As a writer and broadcaster she travels extensively round Europe and the world, but is always happy to return to London town. All that travel means she knows what she looks for as a visitor to a new city: insider knowledge, tips, and the feeling that she's found something that few travellers get to experience.
Emma enjoys keeping her fingers on the capital's pulse, in order to make sure that everyone enjoys her favourite city, as much as she does.
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