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Best afternoon tea in London: the finest traditional offerings, including The Ritz, Claridge's and The Savoy

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 3 days ago David Ellis
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Here’s a fun fact: afternoon tea came to be because a grumpy aristocrat couldn’t make it through the day without a snack.

Queen Victoria’s Lady of the bedchamber, Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, grew tired of having to wait for her late evening supper and mid-afternoon would ask servants to sneak her tea and slices of bread and butter.

This grew to cakes and sandwiches, until her friends began to join in, and the starving upper classes hungrily adopted the practice. Since then, afternoon tea has become a staple of the English diet.

London is, without question, the capital of the world for tea and cakes, and offers the afternoon tea in all sorts of curious guises. Still, the gallery above details the finest traditional serves going – those with lashings of luxury, gilded in gold. You come to eat cucumber and salmon, to drink fine English tea and to brighten the day with a dash of champagne. Granted, there may not be anything experimental, but isn't experimental tiresome, sometimes? Forget it: indulge your inner Wooster for a day, and sink into soft chairs, to the sounds of pianos and harps and silverware on china. Heavenly.

Below are our favourite teas across London, listed in no particular order. All prices are per person. 


The Savoy

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The Savoy serve their afternoon tea in style: you’ll be seated in the beautiful Thames Foyer, under light streaming down from the glass cupola, looking out over a black and white marble floor. A pianist plays, tea comes in upright, sterling silver teapots and all the usual suspects are all here: raisin and plain scones, finger sandwiches, French pastries, and a cake selection served from a trolley. There are 30 types of tea on offer, while they also offer high tea and champagne tea. The mint tea is the finest mint tea in London – genuinely – while the chai offers a delicious and reasonably authentic experience.

This and a little magic means The Savoy is very possibly the finest afternoon tea in London: if you so desire, the first-rate food is unlimited, while staff are extremely courteous, managing the fine balance of keeping a little distance while always remaining attentive. Though constantly busy and lit up with conversation, things thankfully aren't run like a military option, so guests remain unrushed.

Cheque out: from £60

Strand, WC2R 0EU , fairmont.com

The Lanesborough

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Afternoon tea venues don’t come much more sensational than The Lanesborough’s recently refurbished Venetian dining room – a richly decorated space adorned with Bas-relief friezes, spectacular chandeliers and a beautiful domed glass roof that naturally illuminates the room during daylight hours. The culinary servings are rich and plentiful – comforting and homely British classics served with a fine-dining finesse and exceptionally attentive service. There's a tea sommelier on hand to advise guests on blends to suit their palate, while the hotel's award-winning pastry chef Nicolas Rouzaud serves up fresh scones with thick, velvety clotted cream and fresh fruit preserves.

The sandwich selection is particularly generous, with both gluten and dairy-free options available, and the double tier of beautifully presented cakes makes for possibly the most Instagrammable afternoon tea in the capital. Come with an empty stomach and a couple of hours to while away in front of the tinkling piano with a glass of champagne.

Cheque out: from £48

Hyde Park Corner, SW1X 7TA, lanesborough.com

Fortnum & Mason

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Fortnum & Mason is celebrated for its selection of fine teas – perhaps unsurprising since they’ve been importing and blending leaves since 1707. They do elegance with a certain pleasing quietness, and offer generous selection of sandwiches and the scones come with a marvellous array of jams (wild blueberry is especially good). Out of all the afternoon teas in London, Fortnums offers some of the finest cakes, with very generous helpings. The staff also kindly encourage customers to take some away with them, and the cakes are good enough that they'll easily stay fresh for a couple of days afterwards.

Fortnums also offer a savoury option, for those without a sweet tooth, and High Tea, which has a mix of both savoury and sweet goodness. If you’re splashing out for champagne, the menu includes a number of Grower Champagnes, which is wonderful if you fancy something a little different.

Cheque out: from £44

181 Piccadilly, W1A 1ER, fortnumandmason.com

The Ritz

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Considered the granddaddy of afternoon tea, the Ritz has earned itself the reputation as the one to beat. Held in the almost cartoonishly opulent Palm Court, which is all gold leaf and crisp linen, flowered plates and immaculate service. The food is as you’d expect – finger sandwiches, scones and sponge cakes – and as good as you’d expect, too. There is a fine selection of 16 teas to ponder over while either a harpist plays across the hallway.

We admire the fact there is a dress code (jacket and tie for men, no jeans, no sportswear), which only adds to the sense the Ritz are holding up centuries worth of standards. We’ll (politely) toast to that. However, holding the reputation this tea does means this afternoon is incredibly popular. You may find it difficult to book, and one should be aware they turn around tables quickly, so guests don't have all afternoon to luxuriate over the hotel's excellent offerings. Still, this is the bona fide Tea at the Ritz – hard to ignore how good that sounds.

Cheque out: from £54, £30 for children

150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR, theritzlondon.com

Hotel Cafe Royal

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Hosted in the stunning Oscar Wilde bar, this tea is all about location: the room is one of London's most beautiful, and has hosted the likes of the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Elizabeth Taylor and its namesake, who fell in love with Lord Alfred Douglas here. There is a sense of occasion in the Oscar Wilde bar, made all the more so by the pianist who plays throughout the afternoon. It is one to head to when you're looking to make somebody very, very happy.

The afternoon tea itself is lovely: the cakes are particularly exquisite and look marvellous, with the London Royal Tea benefiting from a heavy London-theme. Instagram heaven, if you're the sort who can't possibly eat something without letting the world know first. The macaroons are a highlight.

Cheque out: from £41

68 Regent Street, W1B 4DY, hotelcaferoyal.com

Sketch

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Afternoon tea at Sketch is not just a feast of pretty little sandwiches and sweet treats, it’s a feast for the eyes too – and your Instagram following too. It’s held in the David Shrigley Gallery downstairs which is an explosion of millennial pink from scalloped velvet chairs and booths to the waiters’ double-breasted suits.

You’ll be spoilt with a pretty presentation of finger sandwiches with gourmet fillings such as Oxfordshire duck egg and mayonnaise and Scottish Smoked Salmon with Jacob’s cream as well as sponges, cakes, scones and petits gateaux. This one is just the things for mother and daughter bonding, baby shower or non-naff hen celebration.

Cheque out: from £58

9 Conduit St, W1S 2XG, sketch.london

The Orangery

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This beautiful spot is set within Kensington Gardens and the view of Kensington Palace is enough to justify their claim of a “Royal” Afternoon Tea. The Orangery is bright, tasteful and, when we went, was pleasantly full of a crowd enjoying themselves. Tea often comes second to the bites on eat, but the actual tea served here is liquid deliciousness. The Royal London Blend and Palace English Breakfast are some of the tastiest traditional style teas offered anywhere – really, they're that good.

The scones come warm and taste best that way, and the staff are charming and unobtrusive. Also, for the money, it's terrific value – afternoon tea is a curious beast, so paying a lot for it can grate somewhat. The Orangery have pitched it better than most.

Cheque out: from £28.50

Kensington Palace, Kensington Gardens, W8 4PX, orangerykensingtonpalace.co.uk

The Dorchester

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Served in the rather grand Promenade lobby, take them up on the option to be greeted by a glass of champagne and a selection of finger sandwiches, with different fillings for every day of the week. More warm scones than you could possibly hope to eat quickly follow, after which French pastries promptly arrive.

The hotel also lay on high tea, with a selection of bigger dishes available. We're most keen on the quail scotch egg on black pudding with home-made ketchup which, frankly, sounds outrageous. They're also proud of their tea offerings, and especially worth noting are the Dalreoch White Tea, Dalreoch Smoked Tea, and the Garrocher Grey.

Cheque out: from £58

53 Park Lane, London W1K 1QA, dorchestercollection.com

Claridge's

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Although somewhat more understated than some of its Piccadilly cousins, Claridge’s is no less luxurious. Bow-tied waiters in white jackets serve in the art-deco surroundings. Sandwiches, scones and even the tea itself is all excellent, but note that the service here is more hands-off than you might expect. Rather than constant attentiveness, the staff leave parties to themselves for much of the time. This suits many people, but others prefer to be attended to a little more closely, so decide what you prefer before you head down.

However you feel about what kind of service you prefer, there's no getting away from the fact the food and tea is delicious. It's more expensive at £82, but they get points for the seasonal afternoon tea, too, which, as the name suggests, uses seasonal ingredients. Find the bar afterwards, too, it's pretty marvellous.

Cheque out: from £60, children £30

Brook St, W1K 4HR, claridges.co.uk

The Connaught

Like the Ritz, this is another popular choice that limits your visit, but you're able to squeeze a lot into your hour and forty-five sitting: Espelette, where the tea is served, is a conservatory, so it's a light and airy spot to enjoy yourself. They're serious about tea here, enough to have been awarded membership by the British Tea Council and to have won an 'Award of Excellence' from the Tea Guild, back in 2013. So if tea really is your thing, it's hard to better The Connaught.

In a dream world, where pockets are bottomless, we'd use the lovely finger sandwiches – points for changing seasonally – and the fine, fine scones (fresh from the hotel's bakery), and not forgetting the cakes and pastries, as a hearty meal prior to a trip to their wonderful bar. Still, you're not us, so enjoy the afternoon tea exactly for what it is: a really rather splendid way to enjoy an afternoon. 

Cheque out: from £60

Carlos Place, W1K 2AL, the-connaught.co.uk

Related: Why You Must Go to the Most Instagrammable Place in London (Provided by Popsugar)

Why You Must Go to the Most Instagrammable Place in London: <p>What is <a href="https://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/Millennial-Pink-Travel-Destinations-43335698">millennial pink</a>, has a "caviar man," and causes popular bloggers to <a href="http://www.designlovefest.com/2016/03/london-travel-guide-part-1/">burst into tears</a> from pure joy? London's <a href="http://sketch.london/">Sketch</a>, that's what. After enjoying afternoon tea in the Wes Anderson-esque "pink room," aka the Gallery, I can attest that it is, in fact, worth the hype. </p><p>Do it for the 'gram, sure, but also for the experience - it'll literally have you tickled pink!</p><p>A few things to keep in mind before you go: it is expensive but comparable to other fancy high teas. You're paying for much more than tea (as you will see), and it's definitely a full meal. The classic afternoon tea is $72 per person, while the Champagne afternoon tea is $90 per person. Be sure to make a reservation well in advance and specify the Gallery, as there are multiple rooms with different food offerings.</p><p>Related<br><a href="https://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/What-Do-London-Three-Days-41515876">3 Days in London: What to Do, See, and Eat!</a></p> Why You Must Go to the Most Instagrammable Place in London

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