London's 10 best afternoon teas

John O'Ceallaigh
Afternoon tea at Claridge's hotel

The ritual of afternoon tea owes its origins to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. As a young women in the early 1800s she lived during a time when it was common to eat only two main meals a day, with breakfast scheduled early in the morning and dinner occurring late in the evening. Routinely weakened and irritated by hunger pangs, she decided to schedule time to take tea and snack each afternoon. This private ceremony was firstly done furtively in her bedroom, but over time well-heeled acquaintances joined her and the practice was perpetuated. Nowadays tea rooms and hotels in London and throughout the country offer permutations of this centuries-old tradition. Plenty are pretty much indistinguishable but quite a few offer something unique.

As National Afternoon Tea Week continues, here we round up some of the capital's best afternoon teas for those who want to experience something special.

Brown's Hotel tea-tox afternoon tea Credit: Adrian Houston Limited/Adrian Houston

Best for healthy indulgence: Brown's Hotel's Tea-Tox

Encased in original wood panelling and ornamented by an antique marble fireplace, The English Tea Room at Brown’s, where Queen Victoria used to take her tea, offers the quintessential British experience with the twist the nation is obsessing over. With health and fitness the craze of the moment, Brown’s ‘TeaTox’ gives the traditional spread of finger sandwiches, pastries and cream-covered a relatively healthy makeover.

Cascading down a three-tiered cake stand, this low-carb, low-fat offering is as light as the ivory-tinkling in the corner. Creamy avocado and hummus puree enveloped by beetroot crepes injects colour into the savoury plate, laden too with spinach bread carrying fragrant, miso-infused salmon. The second course comprises fresh fruit with blueberries, melons and pineapple, doused in honey and chia seed yoghurt, serving as a welcome palette cleanser before the eye-popping top tier arrives. Here raspberry and pistachio brownies are gluten-free, while you’d be forgiven for thinking the raw white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake contains sugar. And with over 14 types of tea to choose from, as well as knowledgable staff to guide you, the selection will certainly leave you satisfied (even if the 90-minute turnaround time means you might have to leave earlier than intended). 

Reviewed by Belinda Maude

Top treat: The rich flavours of the raspberry and chocolate brownie left this diner spellbound. 
Address: Brown's Hotel, Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BP
Days and times: daily from 12pm-6.30pm
Cost: £55; champagne afternoon tea £65 
Read the full hotel review: Brown's Hotel
Check tea availability with Bookatable

Read more: the best hotels in central London

Afternoon tea in the Ritz

Best for traditional afternoon tea: The Ritz

Afternoon tea has been served at the Ritz since its 1906 opening and that sense of heritage is partly why it remains so popular today. Served with precision in the hotel's ornate Palm Court, the tea includes the requisite finger sandwiches with smoked salmon, roast ham et al, alongside fresh raisin scones and cakes on a tiered cake stand.

Service is assured and seamless if occasionally a touch perfunctory - perhaps an inevitability when staff serve so many customers each day. The company, meanwhile, is polite: here it is required that one dresses for tea, with (gentle)men expected to wear jacket and tie; jeans, sportwear and trainers are forbidden. That sense of formality seems an especially strong lure for foreigners eager to experience a true sense of British pomp and ceremony, and extended serving times mean visitors can don their finery late in the day should they wish to make an evening of it. Commencing at 7.30pm and with the meal accompanied perhaps by an opera singer and pianist, the last seating of the day feels particularly elegant and, for special or romantic occasions, makes for a nice alternative to an evening dinner.

Reviewed by John O'Ceallaigh

Top treat: It's hard to beat a well-done scone, and we were particularly impressed by the springy offering from the Ritz, served fresh from the oven and with a generous offering of strawberry preserve and Cornish clotted cream.
Address: The Ritz, 150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR
Days and times: daily 11.30am-7.30pm
Cost: £54, or £71 for a champagne afternoon tea 
Read the full hotel review: The Ritz
Check tea availability with Bookatable

Children's afternoon tea at The Langham

Best for families: The Langham

With its pillars of swirling marble, lofty mirrored ceilings and tinkling ivories, Palm Court at The Langham is among the most lavish options for afternoon tea in London. But does its opulence suit younger diners? The answer - according to my pair of under-five critics - is a resounding yes. Despite the grandeur of the surroundings, service was unstuffy and child friendly (you don't get disapproving looks as crumbs spill on the carpet). And there are some imaginative touches: sandwiches cut in the shape of jigsaw (although the brown rye bread got a "yuk"), a “Cookie Monster” macaron, a Maltesers chocolate mousse and, memorably, a complimentary Hamleys teddy bear for each child. Eating out with the oldies has never been more fun.

Reviewed by Jolyon Attwooll

Top treat: The Langham Cold Chocolate drink, lined with hundreds and thousands and served in a cone. It was eyed suspiciously at first, then slurped with relish.
Address: The Langham, 1C Portland PLace London, W1B 1JA United Kingdom.
Days and times: Daily 12.15pm to 5.30pm.
Cost: £27.50 per child. Wedgwood afternoon tea for adults costs from £49 per person.
Read the full hotel review: The Langham
Check tea availability with Bookatable


Best for festive setting: Sketch

Afternoon tea at this eccentric Mayfair spot is taken in the Gallery restaurant, decorated throughout in the prettiest shades of pink and topped with a domed ceiling - thereby creating the illusion of dining inside a giant fondant fancy. Scalloped chairs and velvety-soft banquettes add to the whimsical setting, which is then irreverently subverted by the inclusion of more than 200 illustrations from artist David Shrigley.

Tea gets underway with a glass of champagne poured with theatrical aplomb by a member of the designer-clad staff. Next up comes the tea master, who provides a sensory tour of the various brews, including a rosebud concoction, followed by a caviar tasting lesson from a pink-suited butler. The feast proper is a delightful (and generously replenished) array of sandwiches, cakes, pastries and scones, served up with a delicious slice of Shrigley witticisms on the Caverswall china. The Gallery at Sketch is part afternoon tea, part masterpiece.

Reviewed by Caroline Shearing

Top treat: Igor, named after chef Pierre Gagnaire’s dog, is a moreish layering of pumpernickel bread, velvety tomato chutney, baby gem lettuce and homemade mayonnaise, topped off with a bow of chives and a peppery strip of daikon radish. Woof.
Address: 9 Conduit St, London W1S 2XG
Days and times: daily midday to 4.30pm
Cost: £58pp or £72pp with champagne.
Check tea availability with Bookatable

Afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason

Best for tea selection: Fortnum & Mason

Did you know that if you're served yellow tea (first introduced in the 17th-century and only reproduced again in the 1960s in small batches) in China, you're either royalty or a VIP? During afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason, it's one of the fun facts you might learn from your waiter during an optional tea-tasting session. (You'll also be taught how to smell, steep and sip tea the right way and provided with the chance to sample various blends of teas both popular and rare.) Then it's on to the main affair: a riotous confection of high-quality finger sandwiches (coronation chicken, rare-breed hen's mayonnaise with chives, smoked salmon), scones and petits fours - all unlimited so you can eat to your heart's content. What if you don't have a sweet tooth? There is a savoury option, served with a delicate florentine egg mayonnaise and a tasty sun-blushed tomato scone and watercress cream cheese.

There's a pianist playing classics on a Steinway; smiling waiters standing by attentively; and a trolley lined with cakes of all shapes and sizes, including bakewell tart and Brittany brattenberg. They say you can never have too much of a good thing. At Fortnum and Mason's, this certainly rings true.

Reviewed by Trisha Andres

Top treat: The private tea-tasting session (costing an extra £10), where you'll get to grips with the intricacies of tea - from history, terroir and the ideal steeping time and temperature (2-3min; 70-75°C). 
Address: 181 Piccadilly, W1A 1ER
Days and times: Monday to Saturday 11.30am-7pm; Sunday midday to 6pm
Cost: £44 - £48 dependent on choice of tea
Check tea availability with Bookatable


Best for non-traditional afternoon tea: Sosharu

One for lovers of Japanese food or those who would prefer not to stuff themselves completely, Sosharu's Japanese afternoon tea provides an alternative to the predictable in a hip eatery: expect chairs decorated with leather braces and minimalist East Asian crockery displayed on illuminated shelves.

Instead of sandwiches, you can choose a tuna or salmon temaki - pulsatingly fresh fish flushed with colour, encased in a firm pillow of sushi rice, in turn wrapped in crunchy tracing-paper-thin seaweed. Sugar-hit highlights include the raspberry sugar-dusted donuts -  plump, round parcels oozing with thick, tart matcha-flavoured goo. Also of note are the coconut and pineapple roulades with ice cream, the flavours of the sponge spiced up with a hit of bergamot; and the hot, comforting fish-shaped pancakes piped with jam. The Japanese teas are exemplary, served from eccentric double-spouted pots. Make sure you try the kokicha with cherry blossom, with its surprising smoothness making it almost akin to swallowing liquid silk. The extra £7 for a sparkling cocktail is a decent investment - the sprightly sabi prosecco concoction with zippy yuzu, rhubarb and lemon sorrel is particularly good. 

Reviewed by Sherelle Jacobs

Top treat: The desserts for their unorthodox flavour combinations
Address: 64 Turnmill St, London EC1M 5RR
Days and times: Friday and Saturday from noon to 4pm
Cost: £28 or £35 with a cocktail
Check tea availability with Bookatable

Afternoon tea at Claridge's

Best for a celebration: Claridge's afternoon tea

To the delicate question of what should be applied first to the deliciously light, raisin-infused scone – Cornish clotted cream or Marco Polo gelée – came the Belgian waiter’s impeccably diplomatic answer: “There is no one way to eat your scone, sir. It is a matter of taste.” Afternoon tea in Claridge’s is all about good taste: of the interior designers who have laid on a supremely elegant (and yet informal) setting; of the pianist/cellist duo whose harmonies blend so well with the warm chatter (of sons and mothers; friends and lovers); of the sumptuous delicacies upon which you feast: cucumber (and organic chicken) sandwiches, scones to sigh for; perfectly formed pastries fusing the flavours of pears and walnuts, chocolate and crème brûlée. 
There’s a reason why Claridge's has succeeded in serving afternoon teas for 150 years. Book well ahead.

Reviewed by Adrian Bridge

Top treat: the Second Flush Muscatel Darjeeling, one of 24 specially blended teas on offer and just the thing to accompany those pastries.
Address: Claridge’s, Brook St, Mayfair, London W1K 4HR
Days and times: tea is served daily between 2.45pm and 5.30pm
Cost: £60; champagne afternoon tea £70 to £80 
Read the full hotel review: Claridge's

The view from Ting

Best for views: Ting restaurant, Shangri-La at the Shard

On the 35th floor of the Shangri-La at the Shard hotel, we were welcomed with an unforgettable spectacle.
Chinese saucers of chilled, delicate white tea were presented on a tray that, with a flick of our waiter’s wrist, began billowing dry ice across the table and into our laps. Welcome to “tea in the clouds,” he declared, before offering us a choice of menus - classic or South-East Asian - accompanied by more than 30 teas and three champagne options. 

From our sofa at Ting restaurant we enjoyed one of the capital’s most sought-after views and could peer down at boats edging along the Thames and into the grounds of the Tower of London. On the Asian menu, scones were paired with gooseberry jam, while the savoury options were much more interesting than your average crustless ham sandwich - for example, beetroot-cured salmon on dark rye and a impressively light pandan cream gateau, with a coconut jaconde.

Reviewed by Natalie Paris

Top treat: The mango rice paper roll, with shredded smoked duck, coconut and sesame. A little bit crunchy, a little bit sweet and beautifully fresh.
Address: Shangri-La at the Shard, 31 St Thomas St, SE1 3QU
Days and times: daily midday to 4pm
Cost: Classic English afternoon tea: £56, or £64 with a glass of champagne; Asian afternoon tea: £56, or £64 with a glass of champagne 
Read the full hotel review: Shangri-La at the Shard
Check tea availability with Bookatable

Rosewood London's Rodin-themed afternoon tea

Best creative concept: Art Afternoon Tea at Rosewood London

"Don’t touch the art, eat it." So says Mark Perkins, executive chef at the Rosewood London hotel and the mastermind behind their ‘Art Afternoon Tea’. The concept pays homage to the greats of painting through pastry, and the latest iteration has been whipped up to elide with the British Museum’s ‘Rodin and the art of Ancient Greece’ exhibition.

In an artsy shift away from the tiered cake stand, perfectly cuboid sandwiches, scones and a final flourish of dramatic cakes and pastries are served on a triptych of marble tablets. It's a thoughtful display which sits well within the neoclassical skeleton of the Rosewood’s Mirror Room, where mustard-tone sofas and carefully placed tomes contribute to a smart but fusty-free atmosphere.

The staff not only know the provenance of every component in the jasmine vanilla choux by rote but they’re up on their art history too - sprinkling their service with facts. Admittedly, some connections are a trifle contrived. Their suggestion that a squidgy globule of mousse is a symbolic representation of Lancelot and Guinevere’s love (the Arthurian couple depicted in Rodin’s The Kiss, duh) leaves a slightly patronising aftertaste to what is an otherwise impressively composed final course of sculpted fancies.

But the concept is yet young, holds great potential and - with the British Museum but a ten-minute walk away - makes for a stimulating digestif after a provocative exhibition.

Top treat: The Thinker by Rodin as rendered in tempered white chocolate propped and filled with earl grey-flavoured mousse.
Address: Rosewood London, 252 High Holborn, WC1N 7EN
Days and times: 2pm-6pm Monday to Friday; midday-7pm Saturday & Sunday. The tea is available until July 29
Cost: £55pp or £65pp with a glass of champagne 
Read the full hotel review: Rosewood London 

The Wyld Tea at Mondrian London

Best boozy tea: Wyld Tea at Mondrian London

The Seventies-inspired Wyld afternoon tea, served in the Mondrian hotel's playful, bubble gum-hued and riverfront Dandelyan bar (recently named the best bar in the world at The World's 50 Best Bars awards, among other accolades), pairs deceptively light yet potent cocktails with artfully presented sweet and savoury bites. Here creative drinks, concocted by award-winning mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana, are paired with four courses of edible treats to provide a seamless fusion of inviting botanical flavours.

To drink we enjoyed, for example, bergamot liqueur infused with rosehip and lavender in the palette-cleansing Knoll House Cup and the refreshing Bankside Swizzle, made with pineapple cordial, citrus and lemon balm. To eat, options included an elderflower-compressed cucumber and burnt herb cream sandwich, as well as retro desserts with a floral twist including a pine-scented baked Alaska with a berry-busting centre.

Reviewed by Soo Kim

Top treat: The foamy ‘Fluff & Fold Royale’ prosecco cocktail, adorned with a pistachio-powdered lemon marshmallow and mixed with fresh basil, orange bitters and a cacao liqeuer, made for a sweet and enticing opening drink to whet the palette.  
Address:  Mondarian London, 20 Upper Ground, Southwark, London, England, United Kingdom, SE1 9PD.
Days and times:  Thursday to Sunday between 12-5pm
Cost: £55; £65 with champagne; £35 without booze
Read the full hotel review: Mondrian London

Afternoon tea offers

This article was originally published on March 5, 2012, and updated most recently on May 25, 2018.