Tea with a twist

Once the current crisis is over, why not treat yourself to a slap-up afternoon tea in one of London’s grand hotels? For a fresh and quirky take on tradition, try one of these themed afternoon teas

For many, partaking in the wonderfully decadent tradition of afternoon tea is a must when in London. Such is the demand that hotels and restaurants have upped their game in recent years, coming up with ever more outlandish themes to evolve their offering from a teatime treat to an experience to remember.

In the name of research we’ve sipped tea and sampled scones at top tea venues across the capital. Here is our selection of London’s quirkiest cuppas.

Mad Hatter’s tea, Sanderson

Sanderson hotel, with its out-there Philippe Stark interiors, has always been quirky – and its afternoon tea, served in the courtyard garden, is as whimsical as they come: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland provides the inspiration for a wildly imaginative afternoon tea.

Menus are hidden inside vintage books, teapots adorned with kings and queens, and sandwich plates feature ticking clocks. The menu includes outré offerings such as a ‘Drink me’ potion of exotic fruits, a chocolate and pistachio Blue Caterpillar, Queen of Hearts rose and strawberry Jammy Dodgers and a Mad March Hare vanilla pocket-watch macaroon; all curious concoctions, but traditionalists will be pleased to note that scones and jam are also on the menu.

Wash it all down with Alice-inspired tea infusions and a glass of champagne, for Cheshire Cat grins all round.

From £48. 50 Berners St, Fitzrovia

London Landmarks tea, Town House at The Kensington

Taking their cue from the capital’s iconic landmarks, Town House at The Kensington offer a sweet homage to the city’s skyline. Tea is served in an elegant salon, warmed by a roaring fire in winter. Each table has a stunning centrepiece: a London Eye-inspired tea stand, its tiers decked with a skyline of sweets, sandwiches and scones.

Tempting though the cakes are, tradition dictates that you start with the savouries, and these are a cut above, with a stilton and broccoli quiche, mini steak and London ale pie and crab cake, alongside an array of sandwiches.

But it’s the sweets that steal the show: a white chocolate Gherkin filled with dark chocolate ganache, a carrot cake Shard, the classic red telephone box made of rhubarb jelly, and a lemon curd tart Big Ben.

After nibbling on these mini-masterpieces, you can visit their full-size counterparts: guests are given an illustrated map of the city to take home.

From £42. 109-113 Queen’s Gate, Kensington

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tea, One Aldwych

In Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the sweet-toothed hero finds a Golden Ticket and is granted access to Willy Wonka’s factory of delights. The recently remodelled One Aldwych hotel, in the heart of Theatreland, recreates the magic with a scrumdiddlyumptious slap-up tea.

Proceedings begin with savouries such as meal-in-marshmallows and a not-quite-as-it-seems salmon and beetroot macaron. Save room, though, for the main event: a parade of Wonka-worthy cakes, from whipple-scrumptious red velvet cake pops and lemon candyfloss to scones with snozzberry jam.

Drinks are as delightfully bonkers as the food – minty chocolate milk mixed by waterfall; chocolate or lemon sherbet tea; Swimming Pool Fizz or Pistol Punch cocktails, or fizzy lifting Champagne. Looking for a tea with a touch of magic? This is just the (golden) ticket.

From £45. 1 Aldwych, Covent Garden 

Saint and Sinner tea, L’oscar

Credit: Jean Cazals

Be sure to work up an appetite before tackling afternoon tea at the L’Oscar hotel – perhaps with a few laps of the nearby British Museum, or a stroll through the garden squares of Bloomsbury.

Chef Tony Fleming has had some fun with his Saint and Sinner menu – a nod to the hotel’s setting in a former Baptist church: a sticky apple tart – Adam and Eve’s pudding – is topped with an icing sugar serpent, while the gooey chocolate Devil’s Food Cake has horns and a tail. Saints can choose from a variety of exotic teas, while sinners can opt for tea-infused cocktails.

The richness of the food is matched by the opulence of the hotel café. Deep purple banquettes, dark walls with gilded accents, a mirrored ceiling and warm light filtering through glass and translucent stone complement the baroque-style architecture and evoke Venetian cafés. A suitably sumptuous setting for a properly indulgent afternoon.

From £38. 2-6 Southampton Row, Holborn

Seasonal tea, Dalloway Terrace

Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury Hotel must be London’s most-photographed restaurant terrace: the hashtag #dallowayterrace has almost 11,000 Instagram posts at the time of writing. Its secret? A fabulous nature-inspired backdrop that’s almost an art installation in itself. The display changes seasonally, as does the afternoon tea, which is themed to match the installation.

Visit in winter and you might find yourself in an alpine forest, the foliage dusted with snow, and cheesecake fondue and a Swiss chocolate snow-coated pine tree on the menu. In spring, the terrace might be covered with a lush jungle canopy woven with fuchsia orchids and passionflowers. In summer, botanical blooms make a pretty backdrop to flower-themed cakes; while autumn is celebrated with flame-coloured foliage and treats such as “conkers on a string” (chestnut and milk chocolate cream). It’s pretty as a picture at any time of year; selfie obligatory.

From £40. 16-22 Great Russell St, Bloomsbury

NY-Tea, Balthazar

Balthazar has been a staple of the London restaurant scene since opening in Covent Garden to wild reviews in 2013. Its all-day French bistro menu and buzzy atmosphere continue to pull in punters looking for a memorable dining experience in the heart of theatreland.

Their ‘NY-Tea’ pays homage to the original Balthazar in Manhattan, introducing some all-American flavours alongside familiar British afternoon tea favourites.

A pastrami brioche accompanies the more classically British sandwich selection, but it’s the cakes and pastries that really evoke the spirit of the Big Apple. A bittersweet key lime pie, moreish cookies ‘n’ cream tart and – our favourite – the ‘Liberty’ peanut butter and apricot eclair are all beautiful to look at and even better to eat. Wash down the cakes with a selection of teas, and finish with ‘The Yankie’, a sweet cocktail of bourbon and champagne. Yee-haa!

From £29.95. 4-6 Russell St, Covent Garden

Science tea, the Ampersand Hotel

The Ampersand Hotel is a mere scone’s throw from London’s Science and Natural History museums, so it’s no wonder that the hotel used its neighbours as inspiration for a themed afternoon tea. The room – part English drawing room, part French salon – is relaxed and a touch quirky: the perfect setting for an unconventional tea.

Dust for mini dinosaur biscuit ‘fossils’ hidden beneath chocolate soil; sample orange and lemon half-moon cakes alongside milk chocolate spacemen; and tuck into an out-of-this-world caramel and passionfruit ‘planet’ mousse. Well-chosen props – lab beakers, petri dishes, test tubes – and special effects such as smoking teapots add to the fun.

The Teapot Tails menu offers a tipsy alternative, with curious cocktails such as the Marie Cure-All, a mix of Genmaicha-infused rum with Aperol, vermouth and Amer Picon, to fuel your voyage of discovery.

From £39.50. 10 Harrington Rd, South Kensington