There’s nothing more quintessentially English
than a spot of afternoon tea. Or so the thinking goes of every tourist who has ever journeyed to British
shores – the rest of us probably can’t remember the last time we indulged in a mini-feast of finger sandwiches, tea and scones. We here at The Culture Trip felt it was high time we changed that. From classic offerings to contemporary twists, and even a feast aboard a bus, read on for our pick of London’s
Now doubt you’ve heard the phrase ‘tea at the Ritz’. It’s hands down the place to be if you’re after a slice of Old English class a la Downton Abbey. Frequently topping lists of London’s best afternoon teas, guests to this world famous, five-star hotel will be served their tea in the magnificent, late-Baroque-style Palm Court beneath a glazed skylight and normally to the sounds of a harpist or pianist. There are 18 varieties of tea on offer, with all the traditional trimmings and an optional glass of the Ritz’s very own bubbly, but, really, people don’t flock here for the tea, they come for the experience.
The Ritz, 150 Piccadilly, London, UK, + 44 20 7493 8181
The Palm Court at The Ritz | Courtesy of The Ritz | Courtesy of The Ritz
BB Bakery Bus
Bakery, Tea Room, British
BB Bakery Bus
Enjoy a classic London pastime in an iconic London double-decker whilst taking in some of the city’s best-known scenery with this roaming tea room. Housed in a revamped 1960’s Routemaster bus, a spot of afternoon tea with BB Bakery is a truly unique experience. All the basics are covered, with passengers tucking into a selection of finger sandwiches, mini quiches, scones and all the trimmings, classic British pastries, mini cupcakes and macarons, all loaded up on tiered stands for an authentic high tea experience. After boarding at Trafalgar Square or Victoria, the BB Bakery Bus takes a meandering route around central London, passing by major landmarks including Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch and Piccadilly Circus. There’s also a lovely BB Bakery store in Covent Garden, for those who want to keep their feet on the ground.
BB Bakery Bus, 8 Northumberland Avenue, London, UK, +44 020 3026 1188
Courtesy of BB Bakery
Muriel’s Kitchen, Soho
Muriel’s Kitchen is a quirky and quaint little place filled with homely features, plush armchairs, a greenhouse’s worth of plant pots, and ornaments such as bird cage lamps. The vibe feels kind of ‘contemporary antique’, dominated by fresh, clean, pastel colours. The afternoon tea is served on a mini picnic bench with classic finger sandwiches accompanied by a selection of cakes including brownie bites, carrot cake, white chocolate and coconut blueberry meringue, and, of course, mini scones with cream and jam. There’s also a rather modern take on a banoffee pie, which is served deconstructed style in a mason jar. In another slightly unconventional detail, you can enjoy a berrylicious smoothie alongside your cup of tea, all taken, if you so wish, while swinging in a chair suspended from the ceiling.
Muriel’s Kitchen, 36-38 Old Compton Street, London, UK, +44 20 7434 0111
Hotel Cafe Royal
Bar, Cafe, British
Hotel Cafe Royal
Almost a tongue-in-cheek take on the afternoon tea ritual, but extravagant enough that it’s still a serious affair, the cakes at this London-themed tea are adorned with quirky details, with Tube signs on the macaroons, little crown-shaped bites and plenty of edible pearls. The savoury side of things is more hearty than others; some of the delicate finger sandwiches have been bumped for meaty rolls and pies. The tea is served in the opulent Oscar Wilde Bar, where the man himself is said to have dined daily. Today, a master of ceremonies keeps this bit of literary heritage firmly in everybody’s minds, with hourly recitations of Wilde’s quotes and anecdotes from his life.
Hotel Cafe Royal, 68 Regent Street, London, UK, +44 20 7406 3310
London Royal Tea in the Oscar Wilde bar | Courtesy of Hotel Cafe Royal
Cahoots’ Squiffy Picnic
Cocktail Bar, Pub Grub, $$$
Cahoots’ Squiffy Picnic
Cahoots is a 1940s-style speakeasy housed in an abandoned tube station beneath Soho’s Kingly Court. Order the afternoon tea here and you’ll be served up a wicker picnic hamper on a tartan-covered table, brimming with very English nibbles including sausage rolls, pork pie, cheeses and a selection of ration-inspired sandwiches. For pudding, you can get stuck into British classics like shortbread, tiffin and Victoria sponge. Tea doesn’t get much of a look-in (well, it does say squiffy) with guests instead offered a choice of post-war cocktails circa 1946, pick the Starlets & Sirens option, for instance, and your hamper will include a bottle of wine along with a hip flask of Sipsmith Sloe Gin and tonic. While you’re making your choice, you can expect to be offered a ‘Starting Swig’ cocktail in a china teacup while the live swing music gets under way.
Cahoots’ Squiffy Picnic, Kingly Court, 13 Kingly Street, London, UK, +44 20 7352 6200
Squiffy Picnic | © LarryJ.Photgraphy/Cahoots
Harrods Georgian Restaurant
Another staple as far as classic afternoon teas go, the sumptuous Georgian Restaurant has been serving Londoners for over a hundred years. Though recently given a fresh look by bespoke interior designer Christopher Guy Harrison, The Georgian remains one of the iconic department store’s last remaining historic sections. Expect plenty of 1920’s and 30’s classicism, with a supremely opulent feel, and on Fridays and weekends, there is a classical pianist to round off the experience. The Champagne Afternoon Tea here is a bit of an institution, with a glass of Harrods Champagne accompanying a colourful selection of pastries from their in-house patisserie, delicate sandwiches, and freshly baked scones with rose-petal jelly, jam and cream. Fresh strawberries in a Pimm’s syrup are an added extra.
Harrods Georgian Restaurant, 87-135 Brompton Road, London, UK, +44 20 7225 6800
Glam Rock Afternoon Tea
Hotel Barge, Hotel, Spa Hotel
Glam Rock Afternoon Tea
One of the less pricey options on this list, K West’s afternoon tea is inspired by the hotel’s music heritage, bands playing at the nearby O2 Shepherds Bush Empire and Hammersmith Apollo frequent it. K West’s afternoon tea, which can be enjoyed at midnight, if you so choose, and with a tea-infused cocktail in lieu of a hot beverage, includes an array of fun desserts such as candy floss, mini donuts and ‘rolling scones’ (spoiler: they’re just scones) alongside savoury options that feature mini beef sliders, hot dogs and scotch eggs. The aesthetics are particularly playful, with the tea served in metallic blue and pink teapots and cups on vintage record cover place mats.
K West Hotel and Spa, Richmond Way, London, UK, +44 20 8008 6600
Courtesy of K West Hotel and Spa
Pret a Portea
The renowned afternoon tea at The Berkeley will delight fashionistas. Served in the bright and airy contemporary Collin’s Room, this novel take on afternoon tea is ‘inspired by the themes and colours of the fashion world’, with the menu changing every six months to reflect the goings-on in the world of fashion. The Berkley’s current Spring/Summer collection, yes, really, features a striped Stella McCartney dress recreated in a towering green and white sponge cake, a Prada-inspired red velvet chocolate handbag cake, and shoe-shaped vanilla biscuits topped with white icing and red polka dots to channel a pair of coveted Manolo Blahnik stilettos. The colourful fancies are served up on equally snazzy crockery and are accompanied by a selection of loose leaf teas and optional bubbly.
The Berkeley, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London, UK, +44 20 7235 6000