Afternoon tea is much more than a meal, it’s dining experience.
Invented by a hospitable and peckish Duchess of Bedford in the early 19th century, this most English of rituals includes a selection of delicate sandwiches with the crusts cut off, tasty cakes and scones slathered with clotted cream and jam, washed down with gallons of tea drunk from delicate tea cups. Forget the Ritz, which is the most famous place to try it, and graze your way through the afternoon at one of these superlative options.
Brown’s Hotel: The most genteel place to sit down for afternoon tea, Brown’s has been hosting the British institution since the hotel opened more than 160 years ago.
Select an armchair to sink into in this distinguished wood-panelled lounge, and you can get started on a serious tower of afternoon treats including elegant finger sandwiches, fresh scones and traditional home made cakes and pastries.
Be sure to try the Cornwall-produced tea, exclusive to Browns, and if you really plan to bed in, order a few glasses of Tattinger.
Tea time: Mon to Fri 3-6 p.m., Sat and Sun 2-6 p.m.
Cost: From $60.
Location: Albemarle Street, W1S 4BP
The Mandeville Hotel: The super stylish deVille restaurant at the Mandeville hotel with its trendy flock wallpaper and floral sculptures is host to the Fashion Tea for two, inspired by colourful and flamboyant British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes. As well as delicious sandwiches, and home-baked scones served Rhodes-designed fine bone china decorated with pale pink and blue butterflies, you can snack on pastries including chocolate fudge brownies, lemon tarts and cupcakes in Rhodes’ trademark colour, pink.
For the gentlemen there’s the Men’s Afternoon Tea, with macho roast sirloin sandwiches and chicken satays followed by hearty chocolate brownies and washed down with fine whiskies.
Tea time: Mon to Sat., 3-5:30 p.m.
Cost: From $40.
Location: The Mandeville Hotel, Mandeville Place, W1U 2BE.
The Athenæum: The most ladylike of afternoon teas, the Athenæum’s Pink Tea is hosted in the newly refurbished ground floor, with its sunken secret garden, silk drapes and freshly cut Damask roses. Everything in this decadent tea is pink; for first course are smoked salmon, freshly carved ham and mustard and poached salmon and dill open sandwiches, followed by warm, bite-sized scones with cream and homemade strawberry jam. You’ll be fuelled with a glass of pink Champagne before cherry-picking from the trolley — light and crisp raspberry macaroons, strawberry meringues, fairy cakes and mini strawberry tartlets, all prepared by the Athenæum’s pastry chefs. Still not satiated? Then dip into the giant glass jars of strawberry jellybeans, marshmallows and candy sticks.
Tea time: 2:30-6 p.m.
Cost: From $45.
Location: Athenæum Hotel, 116 Piccadilly, W1J 7BJ.
The Berkeley Hotel: The perfect choice for the shopaholic, the Berkeley Hotel’s fabulous fashion-themed tea, Pret-à-Portea, features cakes and pastries inspired by the current season’s catwalk designs served up on exclusively-designed Paul Smith striped fine bone china.
Highlights for Autumn/Winter include an Alexander McQueen fromage blanc chiffon dress balanced with raspberry meringue, Christian Dior duo of apple and hot pink cassis mousse & elegant fondant hat, and a Prada dark lace Valrhona chocolate crème.
Carb-cutting fashionistas will enjoy the sophisticated taster spoons and canapés that replace traditional afternoon tea sandwiches, and can take home unfinished treats in a handbag-shaped doggy bag. You can also get the Pret-à-Portea delivered on their pistachio-green-and-pale-pink Vespa.
Tea time: 2-6 p.m. daily.
Cost: From $60.
Location: The Caramel Room at The Berkeley, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, SW1X 7RL.
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