Tea and Britain go hand in hand. It's the national drink which solves every problem, accompanies every life event, and can – at times – be synonymous with unabashed luxury. Visitors may have to get used to its cultural weight (serve the wrong type of cream with your scone and you could be banished from the kingdom forever), but a proper afternoon tea carries the kind of charm and calm that feeds a lifetime of period drama fantasies. Maybe you planned ahead and got to that one spot that requires a bit of time on a waiting list. Or maybe you're into something a bit more cross-cultural. Maybe you're staying in the outer neighbourhoods, dreading a journey into Zone 1 and longing for something a little bit low-key. There's an afternoon tea to fit any mood and agenda, and no visitor has experienced true Englishness until they had their fill of egg and cress sandwiches, berry jam, and all manner of goodies served on a fancy ol' platter or brought by on a trolley cart. So put on your pearls and get your cravat in order, book your town car to Mayfair and be sure to bring your camera. London's afternoon teas are unforgettable, and they absolutely exceed the hype.
Dean Street Townhouse
While most would head west to Mayfair and beyond for their 3:30pm tea appointment, savvy media types may need to stick to Soho for theirs, and there's no better place for celebrity spotting and a proper stylish sit-down than the Dean Street Townhouse. Afternoon Tea includes a selection of "fancy cakes" and buttered crumpets, as well as creams, jams, scones, and sandwiches. High tea is another matter entirely – think more savouries like macaroni and cheese and a scotch duck egg. The Townhouse's lush interiors will make you feel like you're meeting Kate Moss between shoots, and you could positively nod off in their lushly upholstered seating. (0207 434 1775)
The Bluebird is a Chelsea institution, covering a goodly chunk of prime real estate on the King's Road and offering everything from fine dining to boutique shopping and casual drinks. Their low(er)-key cafe offers up casual, chic nibbles and drinks, including a proper afternoon tea. At £22.50 per person, you could enjoy assorted finger sandwiches along with a choice of tea (Flowering Osmanthus? Darjeeling 2nd Flush? Blackcurrant and hibiscus?) and take in the sights – mainly socialites with tiny dogs, that sort of thing. Add £7 for a glass of Moet & Chandon Brut. Go on – you're in Chelsea now. (020 7559 1000)
Fortnum and Mason
Sometimes the only cure for shopping exhaustion is an afternoon tea fit for a Regent's Street LOL (lady of leisure). Fortnum & Mason offer all the goodies a visitor to London could hope to stuff their suitcase with (tea hampers, chocolates, fragrances galore), and stationed a mere stairway away is a restful and elegant teatime haven. Enjoy "Rare breed hen egg [and] mustard cress" sandwiches, wild blueberry scones, and Tumsong Tumsa Devi Temple Darjeeling tea (and a wide variety of classic blend and single estate teas) all for £44 per person. It's the perfect day out, and the perfect way to recharge your batteries to haul your loot home. (0845 602 5694, 0207 437 3278)
Drink, Shop & Do
Drink, Shop & Do is the kind of tea house designed by your seven-year-old niece after her third Capri Sun. We mean this in the best possible way. At front is a craft shop with neon yarn, stylish accessories and a sneaky stairway to downstairs bar Drink, Dance & Do. Beyond the bright entryway is the afternoon tea arena where you can enjoy Saturday and Sunday tea of the classic or the "boozy" variety. (The latter includes a half-bottle of prosecco, all for a very reasonable £28 per person) It's quirky, crafty, and vibrant – you almost expect a fistful of glitter on your way out the door. Perfect for a hen do (bachelorette party) or just a catch-up with a dash of Technicolor. (020 7278 4335)
Teanamu Chaya Teahouse
Though their tea game may be flawless, it's easy to forget that England did not in fact come up with the entire concept. Chaya Teahouse in Notting Hill brings its guests a stunning insight into Asian tea traditions, creating a beautifully inventive approach to the traditional British afternoon snacking ritual. Resident "tea artisan" Pei Wangsnow brings his Singaporean-Chinese roots to Chaya: "In Chinese tradition it is through the medium of food that mothers express their love, philosophers reflect on moral well-being and healers cure the sick." With the Icho-go Icho-e afternoon tea you can sample skin marzipan with guava, warm scone with clotted cream and rose petal jam, garlic miso-pickled cream cheese with cucumber and shichimi pepper, and a pot of their rare and delicate teas, all for a very reasonable £30. (020 7243 0374)
The Tea Rooms
Stoke Newington lies sandwiched between family-friendly Islington and counter-culture fun-zone Dalston. It's where you can get ice cream in the park and score incredible vintage finds, shop for ceramics and enjoy a boozy Sunday roast with a gaggle of friends. It's got its own unique identity, and perhaps nowhere better embodies its many charming, quirky, artisan faces like The Tea Rooms on Stoke Newington Church Street. You wouldn't guess from its cozy, kitschy-cool interiors, but pastry chefs Bethaney Rose and Isabelle Allfrey cut their teeth at "Claridge's Hotel, private members clubs, Michelin-starred restaurants, cafes and private Royal households", and they offer up a tasty mix of luxury and comfort. Afternoon tea includes scones, cakes, sandwiches, a selection of Indian, China or herbal teas, and a glass of Prosecco if the occasion calls for it – all for the incredible price of £25 per person. (020 7923 1870)
Dorchester Afternoon Tea
If you are lucky enough to find yourself in the magnificent entryway of the Dorchester Hotel, it is unlikely that you ended up there by accident. Whether to stay overnight in one of its breathtaking suites or to shimmy underground to Chinese Art Deco hideaway China Tang, you've ended up in London's iconic hotspot for upper-crust tastemakers. So while you're booking that spa treatment below ground level, why not book afternoon tea in the hotel's stunning Promenade? At £49 per person you could enjoy classics like scones and clotted cream with a selection of teas. But if you feel like splashing out on the authentic experience, The Dorchester offers a limited selection of seats on its balcony overlooking the Promenade, and trolley service serving British specialties like ham hock with Piccalilli and mustard cress on sourdough crisp, rare teas, and a glass of Laurent-Perrier Vintage 2004 Champagne. For £59 per person it's the closest thing to time travel an afternoon tea is likely to provide. (020 7629 8888)
The Palm Court at The Ritz
In its almost 100 years standing, The Ritz has never wavered as the city's most extravagantly monument to London's place among the world's greatest metropoles. Every inch of it is ornate and more or less unchanged since its inception, and afternoon tea in the Palm Court is no exception. Serving 400 people daily, you'll need to book well in advance for one of the daily time slots (at least four weeks for their 3:30pm tea), but once you're in, you'll be ensconced in the famous pink-gold light that was said to make the lady clientele glow (The Ritz was indeed the first hotel in Britain which allowed women to enter through its doors unchaperoned), and treated to their famous cakes, teas, and sandwiches for £50.00 per person. (020 7493 8181)
Ting at Shangri-La
Rou Nen, matcha sponge, wasabi cured salmon: These are not exactly items we've come to expect on English afternoon tea menus, but we couldn't be happier at the prospect of a much-needed cultural twist. And what better way to experience something new than on level 35 of western Europe's tallest building. Go for the "Classic" menu for £49 and indulge in Earl Grey scones with strawberry jam and clotted cream, as well as smoked salmon sandwiches with yuzu crème fraîche. Or go for the Asian menu (with a glass of champagne, c'mon) for £62 and try Cornish crab, chive, and curry mayo in a steamed bun, vanilla macarons with cinnamon-infused cream and pear compote, and Tie Guan Yin Oolong tea. (020 7234 8108)
To try to describe Sketch is like trying to paint a smell. It requires a sort of synesthetic language, one where egg-toilets, artist cutlery residencies, and sniper crosshairs in an enchanted forest are core to the vocabulary. To put it simply, Sketch is an experimental restaurant and tea room, one in which have had guest curators like David Shrigley and Martin Creed. Afternoon tea is available in all three of its main spaces: The Parlous ("Lounge on a variety of Louis XV seating in the quirky and eccentric patisserie, restaurant and bar from breakfast, through comfort food and afternoon tea for up to six persons until the last drink before home"), the Glade (a "half-remembered and yet completely contemporary" woodland-themed sitting room, and the Gallery, where guest curations take place. Truly there is no place like it one earth, and guests could lose afternoons peering into its hidden mysteries and vividly displayed curiosities. (020 7659 4500)
About Arianna Reiche
Arianna Reiche is a London-based writer and publisher. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied at the University of Edinburgh before working with Vice, New Scientist, McSweeney's, and Gawker Media. She first fell in love with London running errands during London Fashion Week in 2009, careening through the streets in an microscopic G-Wiz stylemobile.
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