We’ve picked the finest treats London has to offer if you’re in the mood for a classic English afternoon tea
It’s rare to find a restaurant where the toilets are more famous than the food, but this Mayfair venue has plenty to offer besides its futuristic all-white, egg-shaped cubicles in which an ambient nature soundtrack plays. The tea itself is thoroughly good fun.
All the classic elements have been given a Sketch twist: the bone china is decorated with playful illustrations by David Shrigley; a finger sandwich comes topped with caviar and a perfect disc of quail egg; and Converse-sporting staff are dressed in utilitarian ensembles designed by Richard Nicoll. It’s all terribly cool. The icing on the cake? It’s the Gallery dining space with its plush pink booths and a domed ceiling which will make you feel like you’re dining inside a giant fondant fancy.
9 Conduit Street, W1S 2XG. (020) 7659 4500
The stunning experience (and rather hefty bill) means afternoon tea at the Savoy is for most a once-in-a-lifetime treat. But it’s the Savoy, the most famous hotel in the world, a self-contained belle epoque world of limitless luxury: of course it’s going to be breathtaking.
Tea is served in the Thames Foyer, which following the hotel’s £220 million refurb (really) is a pillared and chandeliered fantasy of gold and contentment. In a central birdcage-like structure, a pianist provides lustrous American jazz (with the odd cheeky pop cover woven in); the menu is fairly traditional, with finger sandwiches (cucumber and mint, Scottish salmon, Wiltshire ham), bijou cakes, pastries and fluffy scones. It probably doesn’t need to be pointed out that Champagne is a speciality here, and practically compulsory.
100 Strand, WC2R 0EW. (020) 7420 2111
Official grocer to the royal household, and with a history of flogging fancy foodstuffs stretching all the way back to 1707, Fortnum & Mason knows how to lay on a decent spread. Take the wood-panelled elevator up to the department store’s fourth floor where the doors open out on to the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon with its crisp white linen tablecloths, eau de nil china and tinky-tonky piano music.
Immaculately turned-out staff go to and fro with cake stands full of cucumber sandwiches, scones and exquisitely executed pâtisserie. They also visit each table with the ‘cake carriage’ – a heavenly tray packed with tarts, cakes, éclairs and fancies – while specialist ‘tearistas’ will talk you through some 150 single-estate teas and blends from across the globe. Unsurprisingly, booking ahead is advised.
181 Piccadilly, W1A 1ER. (020) 7734 8040
This grande dame of London’s luxury hotel scene is well practised in the finer details. Afternoon tea takes place in the serene, art deco surrounds of the bloom-filled Foyer, whose thick-pile carpets and high ceiling absorb any noise (apart from the pleasant piano). The goodies arrive beautifully presented on a silver stand (exquisite sandwiches, fresh scones, and, of course, fanciful pastries such as a picture-perfect éclair filled with strawberry-and-peach crème pâtissière), while discreet staff are always one step ahead of your needs.
There’s even a kids’ afternoon tea, with dainty fairy cakes and a menu which doubles up as a colouring book. The seamless set-up has been honed during Claridge’s 150-year reign, which is just as well given the eye-watering (though justified) price.
49 Brook Street, W1K 4HR. (020) 7629 8860
Having undergone an elaborate, two-and-a-half-year refurbishment – which didn’t overlook a single gilded cushion, marble pillar or filigreed panel – this London institution stands proud beside the tourist nexus of Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge. There are few hotel entrances as grand as that of The Lanesborough, from the top-hatted doormen to the Regency stylings of the lobby leading to the Céleste, the glass-roofed restaurant, which is bedecked in sky blue and gold with cornicing and chandeliers the size of tractor tyres.
The afternoon tea menu features gluten- and dairy-free options (these need to be booked in advance), as well as the ‘prestige’, which for a little extra money gets you truffle on your egg sandwich, caviar on your salmon and a glass of champagne alongside your tea.
Hyde Park Corner, SW1X 7TA. (020) 7259 5599.
This is an extract from Café London – Brunch, Lunch, Coffee and Afternoon Tea, a brilliant new guide book edited by Zena Alkayat and published by Frances Lincoln, RRP £9.99. www.frances-lincoln.com
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