You’d be hard pushed to find anything more quintessentially English than the afternoon tea. Centuries-old tradition,a jolly spiffing slice of cake or two and a brew – no wonder it’s never gone out of fashion.
But that’s not to say London’s afternoon teas haven’t begun mixing it up a bit for the modern day. We’ve noticed a new wave of twists on the traditional tea sweeping the city, which is why we’ve put together TNT’s ultimate guide to London’s best.
Afternoon tea is all about decadence and indulgence, and you don’t get much more sinful than Afternoon Tease!, which serves a side of burlesque with your sponge. Once a month, this saucy event at the Volupté Lounge near Chancery Lane invites you to enjoy a full spread (pardon the pun)while ladies sporting feathers, fans and stockings are on hand to entertain.
Tempest Rose, one of Afternoon Tease!’s smoking hot performers, tells TNT: “We encourage our audiences to cheer and stamp their feet when ever they see something they like. The audiences laugh, whoop and get thoroughly entertained.”
Each Tease party features a series of naughty shows, during which a bevy of women dance, sing, act and … um… improvise. Joining them is seldom frowned upon. As well as burlesque performances to get involved in and finger sarnies and warm scones to stuff down, Afternoon Tease! provides Gateaux Vivants – static nudie ladies dotted about the place, covering their bits with cakes. This is art. Appreciate it.
If Afternoon Tease! is London’s naughtiest afternoon tea, then the Tea-Tox at Brown’s hotel in Mayfair is the one to wash away your sins. Reposition your halo with this healthier take on an afternoon binge, where sandwiches are served on rye bread and flourless chocolate cake makes your scoffing that bit more excusable.“It’s not a lesser option from a deliciousness point of view,” insists Sophie Darley, communications manager at Brown’s. “Anyone eating this alongside a friend who’s tucking into the traditional version of our tea wouldn’t feel left out.”
Dishes include smoked mackerel– which is high in health-boosting Omega-3 – served with soft-boiled quail’s egg; smoked chicken and guacamole on spelt bread (“It’s great for digestion and has a lovely, nutty flavour,” reckons Darley); fruit skewers with yoghurt and honey; and sugar-free orange cake baked with low-fat crème fraîche and smothered with ayoghurt topping. And if you go for thechampagne option, you’ll be served alow-calorie Dosnon and Lepage Extra-Brut. Bonus.
Super-chef Mark Hix is director of food at Brown’s, and as such the Tea-Tox is very much focused on seasonality (in keeping with Hix’s food philosophy),giving you yet another reason to feel extra-good and smug.Neither of these tickle your fancy?There are plenty more to tempt you over the page, from a gents’ version with Jack Daniel’s to the Mad Hatter’s.
Afternoon Tease! Next show March 2, 2.30pm-5pm. £42.
Volupté, 9 Norwich Street, EC4A 1EJ
Tube: Chancery Lane
Tea-Tox. Mon-Thur,3pm-6pm; Fri, 2pm-6pm; Sat-Sun, 12pm-6.30pm. £39.50; add £10 for champagne.
Brown’s Hotel, Albemarle Street, W1S4BP
Tube: Green Park
More of London’s marvellous afternoon teas…
Sketch Afternoon, Mayfair
At Sketch – a space for food, art and music spread over two sprawling floors in an 18th-century building – the tea is as much a feast for the eyes as the tastebuds. Never mind that you’re seated in what very much resembles a fairytale forest (below); beautifully presented macaroons, caviar and quail egg and diddy sandwiches look good enough to, well, eat. The venue is the brainchild of French mega-chefs Mourad Mazouz and Pierre Gagnaire, so expect it to be special.
Daily, from 1pm
9 Conduit Street, W1S 2XG
The Tea Rooms, Stoke Newington
For a homely option, these pretty tea rooms in Hackney (true, ‘pretty’ and ‘Hackney’ rarely go together, but the venue really does smack of country-cute) serve up pots of brew, sandwiches, cakes and scones for just £20 per person, or they’ll chuck in a glass of Prosecco for an extra £3. A deposit of £5 per person is required when booking.
Sat & Sun, 2pm-5pm
155 Stoke Newington
Church Street, N16 0UH
If you’re planning on taking tea during London Fashion Week (Feb 15-19), you couldn’t find a better spot than this, darling. The designer spread changes every six months to follow changing fashion trends, serving up, for example, cakes in the shape of Manolo Blahnik pumps or a Marc Jacobs double-breasted chocolate biscuit blazer.
Berkeley Hotel, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, SW1X 7RL
Afternoon tea in Organgery, Greenwich
Possibly London’s cheapest afternoon tea, this little stunner in The Fan Museum’s Orangery includes tea/ coffee, cakes and scones, but is so popular you’ll have to book early.
Tue & Sun, 2.30pm & 3.45pm
12 Crooms Hill, SE10 8ER
Dean Street Townhouse, Soho
This is a super-cheap deal considering the locale: a four-storey Georgian townhouse in the heart of Soho. You can add on extras at a price, such as buttered crumpets for £3, too. Go binge on a budget.
69-71 Dean Street, W1D 3SE
Tottenham Court Road
The Lanesborough Afternoon Tea, central London
Along with all the usual trimmings, this tea has a USP in that it provides guests with the expertise of England’s first tea sommelier. Seriously. Heaven for tea geeks.
Hyde Park Corner, SW1X 7TA
Hyde Park Corner
The Goring, Victoria
Overlooking some of London’s very prettiest manicured gardens, this genteel affair comes with the best view of anything listed here. In winter, enjoy tea by the fire as you gaze out at the lawns, or go al fresco in summer. And look out for the mulled wine jelly.
Beeston Place, SW1W 0JW
Mad Hatter’s Tea, central London
Held within the Courtyard Garden of the uber-posh Sanderson hotel, you’re invited to “tumble down the rabbit hole” for an Alice In Wonderland-themed afternoon (below). Alas, this is strictly without fancy dress or even a host of barmy characters, plumping instead for an exercise in “culinary whimsy”. We think they mean cakes and stuff that they’ve shaped in tandem with the theme.
50 Berners Street, W1T 3NG
Tottenham Court Road
The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell
Being a modern pantry, the spread here looks beyond classic Brit fare to international flavours for inspiration, incorporating the likes of wasabi into its sandwiches and green tea into its scones. We hear the cherry brownies are particularly moreish, too. You can also plump for trendy Caravan coffee over tea.
47-48 St John’s Square,
Claridge’s Afternoon Tea, Mayfair
Continually winning awards from the prestigious Tea Guild, this is as good as tradition gets. Served on fine china in the hotel’s Foyer and Reading Room (below), you can expect the usual finger sandwiches and pastries, but done to absolute perfection. There are also 40 types of tea to choose from and freshly baked apple and raisin scones with clotted cream. Reserve well in advance.
Daily at 1pm, 3pm, 3.30pm,
5pm or 5.30pm
Brook Street, Mayfair, W1K 4HR
Rose tea, central London
Set in the archetypal British stately home environment – and overlooking Hyde Park, no less – the Park Room and Library at the Grosvenor House offers a rose-themed tea with rosé wine (for an extra tenner), rose-flavoured cream on your scones, rose-flavoured cakes and the rare Golden Rose Heart tea.
Park Lane, W1K 7TN
The Montague, Bloomsbury
The gorgeous garden view makes this tea – be sure to ask for a seat on the Wood Deck if visiting in summer.
15 Montague Street, WC1B 5BJ
Bond & Brook, central London
On the second floor of the Fenwick department store, this glam restaurant is girlie style heaven, with its huge silver cocktail bar, shelves of fashion books and oversized perfume bottles decorating the walls. You can enjoy modest tea and scones for £8.50 or, for a tenner more, go for the full sandwiches, scones and cakes spread.
Daily, from 3pm
63 New Bond St, W1A 3BS
Grand Imperial, Victoria
This elegant Cantonese restaurant’s take on tea (below) is as refreshing a deviation from the norm as it is utterly delicious. The likes of prawn and spinach dumplings and deep-fried black cod rolls kick things off, with a light crispy duck salad and then an egg tart with mango and sago cream rounding the afternoon out. It’s £20 for two people, or a reasonable £28 with two glasses of champers.
101 Buckingham Palace Road, SW1W 0SJ
Vintage afternoon tea, Marylebone
The best of British’ is offered at this stylish extravaganza at the Reform Social & Grill, itself modelled on classically dapper English gentlemen’s clubs. There’s a selection of six fancies and four sarnies to tuck into, with ingredients sourced from around the British Isles, and more loose-leaf teas than you can gently shake a dainty china cup at.
Sat & Sun, 12pm-5.30pm
Mandeville Place, W1U 2BE
Japanese rituals afternoon tea, Belgravia
Designed by four-time winner of ‘Britain’s Best Chocolatier’ William Curley and his Japanese wife Suzue, this special twist on tea includes cakes and desserts with notes of wasabi, jasmine, yuzu and green tea running through them. There’s also a selection of Japanese teas and infusions to choose from. Must be booked 48 hours in advance.
Halkin Street, SW1X 7DJ
Hyde Park Corner
Gentlemen’s afternoon tea, Central London
Think afternoon tea is all about girls nibbling tiny sandwiches and quaffing bubbly? Man up at this gents’ version, a red meat feast of steak, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, mini-burger, lamb hotpot and rabbit, rounded off with chocolate fudge cake, a tankard of Jack Daniel’s and a cigar. Natch.
Sanctum Soho Hotel, 20 Warwick Street, W1B 5NF
Athenaeum afternoon tea, Mayfair
Winner of the Tea Guild’s best tea in 2012, and with a ‘living wall’ of plants to look at. Obvs.
16 Piccadilly, W1J 7BJ