Afternoon Tea in London: My Experiences Through The Years

Friday, 6 November 2020

My love for Afternoon Tea started with a simple cream tea (scones, clotted cream, jam and tea). It was around 2006, at one of the cafes in St Michael's Mount in Cornwall. Scones became my favourite tearoom treat following that trip, and I was delighted when I found out that scones are actually an important part of Afternoon Tea. Ever since that discovery, I have been having an Afternoon Tea with friends at least once a year.

Afternoon Tea is a quintessential British tradition. It was introduced in 1840 by Anna, Duchess of Bedford. I read somewhere that for Anna, the time between lunch and dinner was quite long and that she would normally get hungry around 4 or 5 o'clock in the afternoon. So, she requested tea, bread, butter, pastries and cakes to fill in the void until dinner was served around 8pm. Then she started inviting friends to join her for tea in their drawing room- and that's how the Afternoon Tea was born.

Now, there is a difference between an Afternoon Tea and a High Tea in that Afternoon Tea is often served in mid-afternoon and consists of sandwiches, scones, sweets and cakes. High Tea on the other hand, is less fancy than Afternoon Tea (according to experts). It is served after 5pm and consists of meat, fish and vegetables. It is referred as High Tea because historically, it was served on high tables and high chairs to working class people at the end of working day.

There is also this unending debate of whether you should spread the clotted cream or the jam first on the scones. Personally, I always spread the clotted cream first before the jam because I find it easier this way and it's not as messy. Apparently, the Queen of England always spreads the jam first, so there you have it!

So yes, I love Afternoon Tea so much that I threw my own Afternoon Tea party at home during my lockdown birthday because I didn't want to break my annual birthday tradition. Through the years, I've been blessed to have experienced some of the best Afternoon Teas in London, and I want to share this with you. 

1. The Ritz- 150 Piccadilly, St James's
- The Ritz is first on my list because I went there with one of the most important people in my life and we had a breathtaking experience. The Ritz in my opinion, sets the standard for Afternoon Teas in London. Their Afternoon Tea is indeed one to beat. The Afternoon Tea is served in The Palm Court, which is a true definition of grand. Everything is immaculate, from the furniture, to the tableware to the service. If there is one place anyone should go to for the ultimate Afternoon Tea experience, it should be The Ritz. Their selection of tea is not that extensive, so it makes it easier to choose. I had the Dragon Pearls and Farrah had their Ritz Royal English tea. Their sandwiches are some of the best sandwiches I've had (the chicken breast with tarragon creamed mayonnaise was my favourite) and they were served endlessly. I mean our plates were never left empty until we said we were okay. The scones were impeccable and their selection of pastries and cakes were delectable. The Ritz has a dress code: jacket and tie for gentlemen and no jeans or sportswear for both ladies and gentlemen. Current price for afternoon tea is £53.50pp, and they do not include a discretionary service on the final bill ( to maintain their traditional values apparently).

2. The Savoy- The Savoy Hotel, Strand 
- To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure if I should include my Afternoon Tea experience at The Savoy or not. But I decided to write about it for the sake of sharing my experience. Essentially, my ex brought me at The Savoy a few years ago, perhaps to try and make me feel better after hurting me. It was a surprise (I think). The Afternoon Tea was (and still is) served at the glamorous Thames Foyer. What impressed me the most was the glass dome atrium and the gazebo underneath it, where a pianist plays heartwarming music. The food was a selection of finger sandwiches, scones, seasonal pastries and signature cakes. Their selection of teas is extensive, ranging from black, green, white and infusion teas. It was December when we went, so we got treated with the sight of their stunning giant Christmas tree and beautiful Christmas ornaments. Current Traditional Afternoon Tea price is £65pp and dress code is smart casual. (P.S. I have no photos at The Savoy because I deleted them all). :) 

3. Harrods Tea Rooms - 87-135 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge
- It was a celebration of friendship with two of my favourite work colleagues- Louiegi and Ate Janet. The three of us went through some stressful times in 2019, so this Afternoon Tea was our treat to ourselves for successfully surviving a challenging year at work. Harrods has their own selection of teas in a separate menu. The tea menu was quite extensive, it made it quite difficult to choose. Their sandwiches were perfectly cut and lined on the bottom of the 3-tiered cake stand. Their chicken coronation sandwich inspired me to create my own for my birthday this year. Their imperfectly shaped scones were freshly baked and gloriously tasty. The too-beautiful-to-eat patisseries were delicately placed on top of the tiered cake stand. The service was friendly and obliging. We were having so much fun chatting that we didn't realise the restaurant was closing. We were the last ones to leave the restaurant and the staff didn't pressure us at all. This made the experience a whole lot more meaningful. Current Afternoon Tea price is £59pp. There is no dress code specified on their website, however bloggers and critics recommend smart casual. 

4. Hotel Cafe Royal -  68 Regent Street
- My Afternoon Tea experience at the Hotel Cafe Royal was not about the food nor the opulent Oscar Wilde Lounge. It was about the company I was with. Whilst I am used to solemn afternoon tea, when my friends from Chicago visited, I experienced an Afternoon Tea like no other. It was with the company of lovely and happy ladies celebrating their 50th birthdays and 33 years of friendship. It was fun to say the least. They sang along with the piano to the tune of Just the Way You Are by Billy Joel and That's What Friends Are For. After the pianist played Happy Birthday, they sang it in acapella one more time- with celebratory candles lit up on top of the delicacies served. This celebration was well documented with countless photos and videos. It was a different experience for me and I quite enjoyed it. Current Afternoon Tea price is from £65pp and dress code is smart casual.

5. The Goring- Beeston Pl, Westminster
- Located just across from Buckingham Palace, The Goring Hotel is a known favourite to royals. Kate Middleton was reported to have stayed at the hotel the night before her wedding, and the Queen apparently attends the annual festive lunch in their dining rooms. But I didn't choose The Goring for an Afternoon Tea for those reasons. Afternoon Tea at The Goring has been mentioned in most blogs and by most "influencers" on instagram, and this piqued my curiosity. So, I asked Kuya Dennis if he would come to The Goring for an Afternoon Tea with me and he happily obliged. The hotel oozes luxury and class. The Afternoon Tea was served in the veranda that is overlooking their private garden. The staff were very warm and accommodating. We asked to be moved to a corner table by the window and our request was granted without much ado. The food was less impressive than I thought, but I enjoyed the egg sandwich. The scones were  what I expected but the cakes were a bit too sweet to eat. In the end, we had to take them home. One thing that I loved about the whole experience was the fact that we were allowed to stay for almost four hours. Their Traditional Afternoon Tea is currently at £50pp and dress code is smart casual.

6. The Sanderson Hotel- 50 Berner's Street
- The first themed Afternoon Tea that I have ever been to and it was a wonderful experience because I shared it with two important people. The theme was and still is "Mad Hatter's". It is everything that could take you to the whimsical world of Alice in Wonderland. Their Afternoon Tea menu is hidden in a classic book- in our case "Emma". They don't have a tea menu, instead they are presented in four small jars on a silver tray. The food was presented in a very unique way. When we went (not sure if they change their menu) there were chocolate crumbles on a plant pot, a chessboard mocha gateau, a blue caterpillar made of chocolate and pistachio, marshmallow mushrooms and a "Drink Me" potion. It was indeed a delicious treat. Current Afternoon Tea price is from £48. Dress code is smart casual, no fancy dress.

7. Sketch - 9 Conduit St, Mayfair
- Sketch comes up almost every time I google "best afternoon tea in London", and now I know why. As our catch-up tradition, Farrah and I went for an Afternoon Tea in Sketch for the first time in 2018. If you love baby pink, this place is definitely for you. Their Afternoon Tea menu was a bit interesting as it tells you a bit of story about what to expect. First was the tea master who brings you a cart of specialised tea mostly from China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and India. Then, their version of "egg and soldiers" in the form of light mousse and cheese sticks was served to start with. Then a gentleman in pink suit known as the Caviar Man came to serve us a teaspoon of caviar to go with the eggs and soldiers. It was all impressive from the beginning until the end. The sandwiches were a selection of coronation chicken, salmon and cream, asparagus cucumber and ricotta and foie gras tartelette. The petits gateau consisted of pistachio and apricot cake, marshmallow, white peach and verbena cheesecake, vanilla and strawberry battenberg and caramel and chocolate eclair. The food feast didn't end there as there was a Victoria sponge served at the end. Also, take note of those little messages hidden in their teaware. I must admit, we were defeated by the food. This is an experience that anyone who loves Afternoon Tea shouldn't miss. Current Afternoon Tea price is £59. Dress code is not specified but according to bloggers, they ask their guests to "dress with a sense of style and character". :)

8. The Connaught- Carlos Pl, Mayfair
- The Connaught is another popular place for an Afternoon Tea and I have always wanted to go here. So, when my friend asked me recently to look for a restaurant where we can bring one of our friends for an Afternoon Tea, I chose The Connaught. Our friend is moving to Australia for good, so this was her leaving do. Also, this was her first Afternoon Tea experience in London so we were pleased to share this experience with her. The Connaught's Afternoon Tea is served at Jean-Georges. For my tea, I chose the Thé de la Longévité which is a fresh taste of apricots and vanilla. When the food came, I knew I was in for an amazing food experience. They were presented exquisitely and tasted divine. The egg and dill was my favourite amongst the sandwiches. The pastries looked so delicate, I didn't want to eat them. It was also my first time to eat wholemeal scones and it was delicious. Current Afternoon Tea price is £52.50. There seem not to be a dress code policy, but I probably will say smart casual.

9.  Corinthia- 10 Whitehall Pl, Westminster
- After the lockdown was lifted, my friend Pearl and I decided to meet up after 5 months of not seeing each other. And what a better way to celebrate this than an Afternoon Tea at the Corinthia! The Corona Virus measures were reassuring, we both felt safe. Well, apart from other diners roaming around the Crystal Moon Lounge without masks on. The afternoon tea experience was marvelous. What's unique about this experience was the fact that there was no three-tiered cake stand on the table. The delectable sandwiches were served first, meticulously arranged on a rectangular serving plate. Then the scones followed in a box with a message that says,"Let's have some tea and talk about happy things" which was very appropriate at the time. And then a floor standing tiered cake stand was brought to our table, followed by a trolley of mouth-watering sweet delicacies. The staff patiently went through each and one of them then one by one, she put the sweets on our plates and left it on the stand for us to take when we were ready. The service was attentive, but unobtrusive. The staff was actually very caring, ensuring that we were okay all throughout. Current price for their Traditional Afternoon Tea is £55pp. Dress code is smart casual.

10.  Dalloway Terrace - The Bloomsbury Hotel, 16-22 Great Russel St, Fitzrovia
- Definitely one of the most instagrammable restaurants in London, the decoration as well as the Afternoon Tea menus in Dalloway Terrace change every season. I've only been there in the winter and indeed, it was magnificent. Of course, this is another unforgettable experience in my books as I was with one of my favourite people and it was her first time in London, and her first Afternoon Tea experience, too! The sandwiches selection was small compared to other Afternoon Teas that I've had but it was good nonetheless. Smaller options also meant that I was able to taste all the food without feeling too full. More than the food and decorations, I mostly enjoyed my time with Kristale- so much laughter and "hugot" stories. I hope that one day she will be able to come to London so we can go for an Afternoon Tea again. Current Afternoon Tea price is £35pp and dress code is smart casual.

11.  Radio Rooftop - ME London, 336-337 Strand
- When one of my university close friends visited from California, I brought her to one of the restaurants that I have always wanted to visit - the Radio Rooftop at the ME Hotel. I wanted to go there for the amazing views, but that was just a bonus. The part of the whole experience that I loved the most was the fact that I was able to catch up with my friend over Afternoon Tea- also her first in London. I requested a table by the window to enjoy the view and we got just that. The food was unique in a way- from creme brulee to gin and tequila infused sweets. There was only about 6 loose leaf teas to choose from if I can remember it right. Their Afternoon Tea menu has changed since we went last year. Current price is £45pp and dress code is smart casual.

12. Townhouse at the Kensington Hotel- 109-113 Queen's Gate, Kensington
- Who would have thought that there is actually a London Landmarks inspired Afternoon Tea? It was one of the most special Afternoon Tea experiences that I had because I spent it with Ethan. He is obviously not a fan of Afternoon Tea, but her mom and I are. The only reason why he came with us was because we told him that it will be a London Landmarks theme. It was rather clever how they managed to create such wonderful London Landmarks inspired sweets. The food was even served on a London Eye inspired cake stand. Everything about this Afternoon Tea experience was wonderful- from the warm and welcoming ambience to the flawless service and the delicious food. Current Afternoon Tea price is £42pp. Dress code is smart casual.

13. Kona Restaurant- Taj Hotel, 51 Buckingham Gate
- My friend Pearl and I have this yearly tradition of celebrating our birthdays with a visit to a flower field, followed by an Afternoon Tea. In 2019, we chose an Alice in Wonderland themed Afternoon Tea at the Kona restaurant, which is located in the 5-star Taj hotel. The restaurant from what I can remember was simple, yet classy. Our table was beautifully adorned with pearls, giant playing cards and artificial flowers. The food when it came seemed a lot, however it was really just the right amount for two. As it was an Alice in Wonderland theme, the sweets included macarons designed as a clock and queen of hearts mango tart. There was also a "drink me" strawberry potion which was rather delicious. They now have changed their theme to another Alice's Adventure in Wonderland character that is the "Queen of Hearts". Current price is £45pp and dress code is smart casual.

14. The Tea Terrace- House of Fraser, 5th Floor, 318 Oxford St
- We brought our little Princess Poppy here for a fairy-tale afternoon tea experience. What inspired us to go here was the Cinderella-style carriage which we had to book in advance for £12.95 per person. You can also hire a  Cinderella Princess actress separately if you want the whole Cinderella experience. This Afternoon Tea experience was really not for me and Kristy, but for Poppy. She enjoyed the experience so we were happy. Minimum spend is £21pp for adults and £10.95 for children below 12 years old. No dress code as far as I remember.

15. Brigit's Bakery - 6-7 Chandos Place, Covent Garden
- B Bakery's Afternoon tea is British tradition with a French twist. Their savoury sandwiches consisted of quiche, mini-burgers  and mini French breads. Their sweet delicacies were a selection of chocolate cupcakes, macarons and tarts. I really enjoyed my first Afternoon Tea experience here and so on one of my birthdays, I ordered an Afternoon Tea picnic for £19. And if you fancy a tour of London whilst having an Afternoon Tea they also have an Afternoon Tea Bus Tour for £45pp. I have yet to try this as I am afraid I might get dizzy. For a traditional Afternoon Tea at Brigit's, price is £35pp. No dress code as far as I am aware.

In addition to the above, I also had a very good Afternoon Tea experience in Thomas Burberry Cafe which is located just behind the Burberry flagship store in Regent St. J had his first afternoon tea here with me. We also shared this beautiful afternoon tea experience with Poppy and her parents. Another place that I would want to go back to for an Afternoon Tea is The Delaunay. Unfortunately, when my friend (whom I so look forward to seeing) and I went to the Delaunay, we were sat in the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by screaming little girls. It was so difficult to understand what my friend was saying. However, with quite a cheap Viennese Afternoon Tea at £19.75, it is worth a second chance. My friend Kristy and I also went to Hush which is located in a quiet courtyard in Mayfair. I loved it there because it was cosy and the food didn't disappoint. It was overall a pleasant experience with a very good friend.

I go for Afternoon Tea because I genuinely love the tradition and how it's carried out. It is also an opportunity for me to indulge myself and spend a special time with friends who are willing to share this wonderful experience with me. 

I had my first Afternoon Tea without fully knowing the etiquette. I honestly didn't know this even existed. As someone who likes to dress up, it is normal for me to go to restaurants in smart casual attire anyway. As for which of the food you should eat first, I always start at the bottom of the tier stand, which are selection of sandwiches then followed by the scones. I always eat the pastries and the sweets last. I love green tea, so more often than not, I order green tea. I hold the teacup the way I am comfortable with. When I feel playful, I will extend my pinky finger for fun- and for the camera. However, extending your pinky finger is apparently unacceptable, so I will probably not do it again. :)

If you want to learn more about the British Afternoon Tea Etiquette, Corinthia has a very helpful article on their website, which I only discovered when I was writing this blog.

So, are you going to join me for an Afternoon Tea one day?

TIN x

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