Forget the typical touristy salons serving the usual creations, these London establishments add a creative twist to the British pastime of afternoon tea.
As soon as you step inside Fleming’s, you feel you’ve entered another world – somewhere that treats you as a special guest and old friend. The service is impeccable and timely, and the newly renovated Drawing Room – which boasts Regency period features, big sash windows, arty coffee table books and a fireplace that dates back to 1851 – is a refined enclave in bustling Mayfair. Three different styles of afternoon tea are served all year round – the Treat Me, Summer Splendour and Drawing Room Delights. All include East India Company tea, ranging from green tea with jasmine pearls and buttery Lis-Han Oolong, to spiced Bombay Chai and Fleming’s Signature Breakfast Blend – to which you can add a glass of champagne, should you wish. A tray of macaroons, petits fours, finger sandwiches and homemade scones – made from a 300-year-old recipe – are then brought to the table for you to linger over all afternoon. Then you can slide into cocktail hour or stay for dinner, if you have room.
Fleming’s Hotel, 7-12 Half Moon St Mayfair, London, W1J 7BH. www.flemings-mayfair.co.uk. Afternoon tea served from 12.30-5pm, Monday-Friday, from £34.50 per person.
2. The Wellesley
Housed in a converted 1920s townhouse and former Hyde Park Corner station, which itself was turned into jazz cabaret venue Pizza on the Park, and hosted the likes of Jamie Cullum and Amy Winehouse, The Wellesley is a stunning Art Deco hotel that serves a very civilised afternoon tea in its Jazz Lounge. Fresh strawberries, brioche rolls and three different flavours of scone – plain, raisin and chocolate – are a nice addition to the usual tea tray, and a range of teas can be sampled throughout the meal, to compliment the food. Live piano music adds to the glamorous, bygone-era ambiance.
The Wellesley, 11 Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7LY. www.thewellesley.co.uk. Afternoon tea is served 3-5pm Monday-Friday, and 2-6.30pm Saturday-Sunday, from £35 per person.
3. The Luggage Room
Located beneath the Marriot Hotel in leafy Grosvenor Square, the Luggage Room feels like a secret drinking den of the kind Bugsy Malone or Jay Gatsby might frequent. Styled like a 1920s jazz bar, it’s reminiscent of a classic train carriage or Prohibition-era speakeasy. The Low Tea – named after the ritual afternoon meal the Duchess of Bedford used to take between 1-4pm at a low table, to stave off her hunger – arrives in an old wooden medicine chest filled with Devonshire wild boar sausage rolls, devilled Balmoral venison, Clarence Court Scotch eggs, jam-jar scone trifles and rum syllabub, brewed from The Luggage Room’s limited-edition Plantation rum. Decadent cocktails are served in vintage-style glasses, and a selection of loose-leaf teas – specially created by Camellia’s Tea Company – are brought to the table for guests to choose from.
The Luggage Room, Grosvenor Square, London , W1K 6JP. www.luggageroom.co.uk. Low Tea served from 12-4pm, Wednesday-Sunday, from £48 per person.
4. Little Nan’s
If you like your scones served with a large dollop of kitsch then head on down to Little Nan’s pop-up in Nunhead for a gin-fuelled feast. Located in the basement of the Golden Anchor pub, Little Nan’s tropical den is decked out in all manner of retro paraphernalia, with leopard-print wallpaper, Pat Butcher portraits, stuffed toys and neon signs. Bottomless teapot cocktails are served with finger sandwiches and homemade Victoria sponge, and the music veers from Bony M to Lionel Ritchie. So much fun, you’ll be hard-pressed to leave.
Little Nan’s, The Basement at the Golden Anchor, 16 Evelina Rd, London SE15 2DX. www.littlenans.co.uk. Bookings for every Saturday from 2.30-4.30pm can be made on Design My Night for just £25, and will continue as cocktail bar late into the evening (and early morning). Also has outposts in Dalston and Hackney.
5. Bea’s of Bloomsbury
Bea’s is an independently owned, award-winning bakery, best known for its cupcakes, muffins and American-inspired baked goods. There are now five cafes dotted around London, and the newest outpost, just off Marylebone High St, has the best combination of location, food and decor, without being too crowded or stuffy. The afternoon tea is of excellent quality, and the cakes varied and tasty – our favourite being the unctuous Valrhona chocolate brownies. Instead of the usual finger sandwiches, fresh brioche rolls come filled with delicious flavour combinations such as avocado and dukkha spiced yoghurt, or parma ham, honey and fig relish. Service is seamless and friendly, and you can happily while away a few hours here. All-in-all this a top choice for an affordable classic afternoon tea in central London.
Bea’s of Marylebone, 27A Devonshire Street, London. 0207 486 9669. www.beas.london. Afternoon tea served every day, from £26.50 per person.
6. Dalloway Terrace
Bloomsbury is the spiritual home of the afternoon tea, so it seems only right and proper that Dalloway Terrace – located on the side of The Bloomsbury hotel (itself a real find) – should do a quintessentially English tea with a picnic theme. A wicker basket is placed next to the table, and an Irish wool rug acts as tablecloth. Finger sandwiches, cupcakes and éclairs arrive tasty and fresh, and the pots of tea are so large you won’t need to ask for a top-up. I’m a big fan of English wine, so it was great to see chilled Sussex Ridgeview ‘Bloomsbury’ bubbly making an appearance – my preference over French champagne. Literary types would do well to pop into the Seamus Heaney library on the first floor before they leave.
Dalloway Terrace, 16 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3NN. 0207 347 1221 Afternoon tea served from 12-6pm, from £35 per person. For more information, visit www.dallowayterrace.com.
7. The Ampersand Hotel
Inspired by the nearby Science Museum in South Kensington, the recently launched Science Afternoon Tea at The Ampersand Hotel is a contemporary take on the traditional spread. Pastry chef Mi Kyung Jeong dazzles with test-tubes full of candies, blood orange and passion fruit Petri dishes, and dry ice for that all-important wow-factor. Pulverulent brownies come topped with mint-dusted chocolate mousse, and Milky Way macaroons are light as air. But the highlight are the glasses of Moet Ice Imperial champagne, which come served with balls of frozen fruit – fabulously refreshing on any day of the week. Taken in the hotel’s chic-looking Drawing Rooms, on scarlet armchairs and teal sofas, the Science Tea is fitting fare for such colourful and creative surrounds.
The Ampersand Hotel, 10 Harrington Rd, SW7 3ER. www.ampersandhotel.com. Afternoon Tea served from 2.30-5.30pm, from £25 per person.
In the heart of St James’s (allegedly the birthplace of the sandwich and Scotch egg) is Dukes – a cosy abode in whose bar Ian Fleming was said to have invented the phrase “shaken, not stirred”. Depending on the weather, the afternoon tea is served in the peaceful Drawing Room or picnic-style in nearby Green Park (which is still beautiful in autumn). Guests can choose from a champagne tea or a heady cocktail of Earl Grey-infused gin and tonic, which is such a successful pairing, it’s a wonder nobody has thought of it before. Service is delightful, and the surroundings so homely, you might never wish to leave. Lucky then that the bar is just next door for those all-important martinis, or yet more inventive libations.
Dukes, St James’s Place, SW1A 1NY, www.dukeshotel.com. Afternoon Tea served from 1-6pm every day, from £35 per person.
9. Radio Rooftop Bar
If you’re looking for an impressive tea with an impressive view, you’ve come to the right place. Radio’s Rooftop Bar – located on the 10th floor of the ME London hotel – overlooks a vast swathe of central London, from Somerset House and the South Bank all the way over to St Paul’s, The Shard and Canary Wharf. On a hot day, or indeed any day, it’s a seriously arresting sight. The Skyline Afternoon Tea is served on the outside terrace, which has a retractable roof, should the heavens open, and it’s a feast that ambles through hot smoked salmon, cucumber, ricotta and black sesame and compressed watermelon and black olive tapenade sandwiches. The addition of croque monsieur is a nice touch. Then there’s a palate cleanser of Earl Grey mousse and liquid nitro fruit topped with popping candy, which is followed by a tray of warm, freshly baked scones, an array of exquisite tarts and pastries, and a finale of strawberry and white chocolate ice lollies. Guests can choose to add champagne or signature cocktails, but you only have a two-hour window in which to dine, so arrive hungry and be prepared to whip through it.
Radio Rooftop Bar, ME London, 336-337 Strand, London, WC2R 1HA. Afternoon tea served from 12-4pm, Monday-Friday, from £45 per person. For more information, visit www.togrp.com.