Invented by the seventh Duchess of Bedford in 1840 – who thought the gap between lunch and dinner was too wide – afternoon tea is essentially a tradition born of the oh-so familiar 4pm hunger pang. Here we round up some of the best places to enjoy a dainty sandwich, a selection of delicate pastries and, of course, a fruit scone or two. Fine china and pinky finger at the ready, the only thing left to do is decide whether to add the clotted cream or the jam first.
Seasonalitea at Palm Court, The Langham Hotel
Like an Aladdin’s cave, Palm Court is an opulent, high-ceilinged room with jewel-edged mirrors and soft lighting, complemented by a neutral decor of comfortable lounge chairs and banquettes. Using fresh, seasonal ingredients Palm Court’s new Seasonalitea offers crust-free sandwiches (including a delicious Cornish crab salad and avocado brioche and a confit chicken coronation), exquisite patisseries (ranging from a light Japanese sponge with Tulameen raspberries and cream and a fresh peach and verbena meringue) finished with bottomless warm scones and washed down with a vast selection of teas. Try the refreshing and deliciously complex 150th anniversary tea – a blend of white, green, oolong and black tea combined with herbs, spices, fruits and flowers from around the globe.
Afternoon tea from £55 per person; Palm Court, The Langham, 1C Portland Place, London W1B 1JA; palm-court.co.uk
The Zetter Townhouse
If you fancy teaming your afternoon tea with a cocktail or two then head to the resplendent surroundings of Seymour’s Parlour at The Zetter Townhouse in Marylebone. Choose from a selection of finger sandwiches from the lighter Aunt Wilhelmina’s menu – including Lohmann Brown egg mayonnaise, and honey roast ham and mustard – or opt for some heartier treats, such as truffled sausage roll and a mini croque monsieur from the Uncle Seymour’s menu. Of course, you can stick to the selection of teas to accompany your round of scones and cakes but there’s something inherently decadent about sipping on a vieux kir (oaked nooch liqueur and Perrier-Jouët champagne) while nibbling on a dark chocolate and passionate fruit choux of an afternoon.
Afternoon tea, from £33, Seymour’s Parlour at The Zetter Townhouse, 28-30 Seymour Street, Marylebone, London W1H 7JB; thezettertownhouse.com
Fika at Aquavit London
From hygge to fika, Scandi influences are still making their mark on British shores, and this Nordic afternoon tea offering from the new Aquavit restaurant in St James’s Market is just the ticket. Serving a selection of smørrebrød (Danish open sandwiches) on house-made rye bead with such toppings as gravlax, shrimp skagen and beef tartare alongside some traditional Swedish cakes and tarts, it’s the perfect excuse to switch off and indulge in the art of fika (a Swedish coffee break). Fika is £25, where you can enjoy your coffee from Johan & Nyström and tea from Hoogly, with a traditional punsch-roll (a pastry wrapped in green marzipan and dipped in chocolate) or upgrade to either a champagne afternoon tea (£37) or the ultimate package (£65) designed in collaboration with Danish designer Georg Jensen, which includes a glass of Dom Pérignon, freshly baked cinnamon and cardamom buns and tea served in an award-winning tea service from designer Henning Koppel.
From £25, Aquavit London, St James’s Market, 1 Carlton Street, St James’s, London SW1Y 4QQ; aquavitrestaurants.com
Palm Court at The Principal Hotel
Satisfying the need for afternoon tea all year round is the offering at The Principal London’s new Palm Court. Flooded with light and dotted with olive trees, the outdoor summer terrace and indoor winter terrace is the ideal setting for the traditional treat. Devised by chefs Roger Olsson and Ryan Thompson as well as pastry chef Thibault Marchand, each course is divided into four quadrants: four finger sandwiches, four scones (freshly baked to order in a number of flavours – from classic to lemon, matcha and sesame, or Earl Grey), and eight individual cakes. The Bloomsbury chocolate and tonka mousse is a particular highlight, as is the apple and vanilla custard tartlet and there’s a decent selection of teas from the Rare Tea Company to choose from. From September, evening tables at Palm Court will include a gin-trolley and botanically-infused cocktails.
Afternoon tea from £xx, Palm Court, The Principal London, 1-8 Russell Square, London WC1B 5BE; palmcourt.london
British favourites at Thomas’s Cafe at Burberry
Duck into Burberry’s flagship store on 121 Regent Street and head straight to Thomas’s Cafe to rest those weary shopping legs with a refreshing and satiating afternoon tea. In elegant and calming surroundings, tuck into an array of finger sandwiches and teacakes served alongside bottomless 2nd Flush Reserve Darjeeling India tea and a complimentary glass of classic Nyetimber. To follow there’s generous scones served with clotted cream and preserves, and Thomas’s signature selection of British teatime treats, including a fondant fancy, a mouthwatering lemon meringue tartlet and a walnut whip: the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle on the street outside.
Afternoon tea from £32, Thomas’s Cafe at Burberry, 5 Vigo Street, London W1S 3HA; uk.burberry.com
The Modern Pantry
Ten years ago, chef Anna Hansen opened The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell, fusing store-cupboard ingredients with global flavours for a bold, innovative and award-winning menu. As part of the 10th birthday celebrations, Hansen has created a special limited-edition afternoon tea and diners can expect more of the chef’s pioneering flavour combinations. From a smoked salmon, avocado and yuzu mayonnaise sandwich, to cheddar, caramelised onion and sumac scone with whipped black garlic and umeboshi butter, and a delicious Earl Grey panna cotta with garam masala shortbread, it’s an afternoon tea with The Modern Pantry twist. Hansen, who was awarded an MBE in 2012, is known for her charitable contributions and this is no exception as £1 from every afternoon tea sold will go to the charity #BakeForSyria.
Afternoon tea, £23.50, or £40 with Laurent-Perrier Rosé Champagne; The Modern Pantry, 47-48 St John’s Square, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 4JJ; themodernpantry.co.uk