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Photo: The Ned
Photo: The Ned

London afternoon tea top tips

London’s afternoon tea scene has been given a new lease of life. Fortnum & Mason, The Ritz and Clairdge’s are part of the establishment, but there’s a menu of other options to consider. Here are seven tips for various tastes and budgets.

Photo: Sketch

Pastel dream

Sketch’s afternoon tea is one of London’s fanciest, and the same is true of the pink space in which it’s currently held (the décor changes every few years). The almost otherworldly environment is the work of British artist David Shrigley and Paris-based designer India Mahdavi. Over 200 David Shrigley works line the walls – the largest collection ever exhibited. As for the edible treats, the menu changes regularly – on our last visit, we devoured caviar egg soldiers, chicken coronation finger sandwiches and a parade of colorful cakes. If you can’t make it for afternoon tea, The Gallery at Sketch is open for dinner and cocktails as well. The dress code? “Art Smart.”

Sketch

9 Conduit Street

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Photo: Hotel Café Royal

Light my candle

Candles and cakes are a natural fit, especially when the candle-maker is French perfumier Dyptique. Hotel Café Royal is the venue for this particular fusion and Sarah Barber, the 5-star hotel’s executive pastry chef, has developed delicious flavors inspired by signature Dyptique scents. The raspberry and lemon mousse cake relates to the Oyebo fragrance, while you’ll get a whiff of Noisetier when nibbling on the hazelnut, caramel and chocolate cream cake (check the menu for the latest inventions). Housed in the gilded Oscar Wilde Bar (est. 1856), the surroundings are as ornate as the delicacies emerging from the pastry kitchen. Book this complete afternoon tea experience early and you may get to sit in Princess Diana’s favorite chair at the back of the room.

Hotel Café Royal

68 Regent Street

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Take tea with Ned

5-star hotel and members’ club The Ned opened with a bang in August 2017, breathing new life into the Midland Bank Building, designed in 1924 by Sir Edwin ‘Ned’ Lutyens. Afternoon tea in this opulent setting is a luxurious affair, but more affordable than you’d think (£35 including champagne). It’s served in Millie's Lounge in the Grand Banking Hall, where African verdite columns support soaring ceilings. Laid out on bespoke Burleigh china tea sets, this offering is classic in style, consisting of scones, traditional finger sandwiches and a cake selection that includes the brilliant Battenberg. Even if afternoon tea is not on your agenda, The Ned is a new London-opening not to be missed for its sheer eye-watering grandiosity and scale alone – there are eight restaurants on the ground floor to explore.

The Ned

27 Poultry

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Photo: Thomas's Café

Tasty escape chez Burberry

Offering respite from the bustle of nearby shopping mecca Regent Street, Thomas’s café opened within Burberry’s flagship store in 2015. Named after the brand’s founder Thomas Burberry, this artfully designed two-floor eatery has its own entrance, and serves up a wholly British menu. Afternoon tea is dished out on angular cake plates filled with finger sandwiches and an assortment of cakes and biscuits, plus your choice of fresh baked goods from the AGA cooker – take your pick from scones, toasted teacakes and hot buttered crumpets. Before returning to the outside world again, you’ll get a boxed-up jar of jam made by a small-scale British producer to take home with you.

Thomas’s Café

5 Vigo Street

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Photo: The Wolseley

Art Deco dalliance

Housed on Piccadilly in a former 1920s car showroom, The Wolseley restaurant has remained a favorite haunt of the style set (and many a celeb) since it reopened in its current incarnation in 2003. Designed by the late architect David Collins, the aesthetic is grand yet modern, with a definite Art Deco vibe. Afternoon tea is classic in style and can be taken either in the main space or in one of the smaller, more intimate rooms. Choose between the full offering, consisting of a range of finger sandwiches, freshly made scones and cakes (and a glass of champagne, if you wish), or the lighter cream tea option, simply involving tea, scones, jam and cream. This is a lovely, un-touristy spot in which to spend an afternoon.

The Wolseley

157 Piccadilly

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Photo: V&A /Benugo

A taste of history

Travel back in time courtesy of the Victoria & Albert museum. Developed by food historian Tasha Marks (founder of AVM Curiosities) in partnership with Benugo, this historic afternoon tea offering is held every Sunday in the gold-paneled Morris Room, which was designed by William Morris in 1868. Every detail is designed to evoke the experience Queen Victoria herself would have had back in the day. Ornate silverware rests on linen napkins, and you’ll be sipping tea from intricately patterned Burleigh teacups. Menus change seasonally – on our last visit, the tiered platter was filled with delicacies such as Indian-style ham hock sandwiches, gooseberry tarts and seed cake, a Victorian staple.

Victoria & Albert Museum (Morris Room)

Cromwell Road

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Held every Sunday. Reservation only – early booking recommended.

Photo: Dalloway Terrace

Brit with a twist

Located in Bloomsbury, Dalloway Terrace is named after Virginia Wolf’s eponymous character. The afternoon tea at this tranquil spot is the brainchild of Candice Brown – 2016 winner of The Great British Bake Off. Fans of the TV celebrity congregate here to sample Brown’s alternative take on afternoon tea – she recently updated the classic scone with touches of cardamom and orange, and one of her cakes includes the rather daring combination of peanut butter and blueberry jelly. A mid-price option, Dalloway Terrace is located a stone’s throw from Oxford Street’s eastern end, and its relaxed environment serves as a good post-shopping destination.

Dalloway Terrace

16-22 Great Russell Street

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Photo: Maison Assouline

Tomes and treats

Bibliophiles rejoice! Afternoon tea can be taken in Maison Assouline – arguably London’s most spectacular bookshop. On our last visit, the lux publisher (founded in Paris, headquartered in New York) had teamed up with the equally high-end Milanese patisserie Cova to come up with an afternoon tea experience involving a slice of panetone served with cream and warm dark chocolate. New versions are introduced on a regular basis, with an international rather than traditional English slant, while the standard menu is studded with treats such as opera cake and mini eclairs. Make sure to have a wander around the rest of this grand Edwin Lutyens-designed building – Maison Assouline houses unusual antiques, art and furniture in addition to a myriad of style-driven books.

Maison Assouline (Swans Bar)

196A Piccadilly

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Text: Emma Holmqvist Deacon

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