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The best London hotels for afternoon tea: Where to visit for city views, tradition and sweet treats

Pinkies up for some of the finest finger food in the capital

Natalie Wilson
Tuesday 30 April 2024 16:07 BST
Tiers of scones, sandwiches and sponge cake await
Tiers of scones, sandwiches and sponge cake await (The Ritz )

The afternoon tea is a sophisticated staple at most of the major players on London’s hotel scene, but where some shine with scones, others fall as flat as a limp cucumber sandwich.

Planning a visit to England’s capital? Don your glad rags for a taste of tradition with tiers of finger sandwiches, pastries and brilliant brews.

Gone are the days when afternoon tea constituted a “light meal”, nowadays the ritual can be as experimental in cuisine as it can with theme, with everything from Asian-fusion feasts to sci-fi confectionery on the menu.

From high tea heavyweight The Ritz to The Shard’s city panoramas and the regal offerings of Park Lane, there’s something for everyone to relish in style.

Here are the best London drawing rooms to indulge in stacks of sweet and savoury treats with trusty teapots or flutes of champagne to sip on the side – it’s always five o’clock somewhere after all.

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Afternoon Tea at Hotel Café Royal

Neighbourhood: Soho

The Café Royal’s golden Grill Room
The Café Royal’s golden Grill Room (Hotel Café Royal)

Best for: Elegance

For a timeless afternoon tea in Oscar Wilde style, pastry chef Loic Carbonnet puts on a decadent display of sandwiches, scones and desserts in the Hotel Café Royal’s Grade II-listed Grill Room. Over 20 blends of white, green, black, tisane and oolong tea flow into fine china as egg and truffle, roast beef and curried chicken savouries are brought out for sampling. Delicate sweet treats are what Carbonnet does best, with apple tartlets, coconut éclair’s and a citrus cheesecake rivalling in elegance even the gold leaf details and intricate ceilings of the surrounding room.

Traditional Afternoon Tea at Hotel Café Royal costs £75pp.

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The Drawing Room at Brown’s Hotel

Neighbourhood: Mayfair

Brown’s has been excelling at afternoon tea since 1837
Brown’s has been excelling at afternoon tea since 1837 (Brown’s Hotel)

Best for: Plant-based

It may be London’s oldest hotel, but if you’re looking for vegan treats at tea time then Brown’s has caught up with the times. Aside from traditional flavours such as smoked salmon and horseradish on a malted loaf, and cucumber and goat cheese on white bread, Queen Victoria’s favourite haunt also offers a plant-based menu with coronation vegetables, pumpkin seed pesto, and chocolate and clementine cake stacked onto the tiers. This is the quintessential English experience with original wood panelling, Jacobean ceilings and roaring fires warming the cockles as you sip your brew.

Plant-based Afternoon Tea at Brown’s Hotel costs £75pp.

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Science Afternoon Tea at The Ampersand

Neighbourhood: South Kensington

Ever taken your toppings in a testube?
Ever taken your toppings in a testube? (The Ampersand)

Best for: Families

The Ampersand has shaken things up with a children's science afternoon tea that blasts off on a red rocket stand – mini hot dogs, dinosaur jam sandwiches, blackcurrant planets and chocolate lollipops in tow. You can forget boring cups of tea, it’s ‘spaceman’ hot chocolate with all the trimmings on this quirky outing. Inspired by the nearby Science Museum, the tea comes complete with test tube toppings and a milk chocolate fossil hidden within chocolate “soil” in an impressive cloud of dry ice. Don’t worry, the adults aren’t excluded from this imaginative affair, with classic smoked salmon blinis, tempting white chocolate cranberry scones and fruity macarons to satisfy the whole family.

The Kids’ Sci-Fi Afternoon Tea at The Ampersand costs £35 per child; adults’ menu £49.50pp.

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Afternoon Tea at Rosewood London

Neighbourhood: High Holborn

The Rosewood’s intricate desserts take inspiration from international artists
The Rosewood’s intricate desserts take inspiration from international artists (Patricia Niven)

Best for: Art enthusiasts

If you like to take your afternoon tea with a side of art, pastry chef Mark Perkins has recreated the work of internationally renowned artists and their London exhibitions on the Rosewood’s plates. Carefully curated pastries – mini replicas of artworks from Yayoi Kusama, Vincent van Gogh, Andy Warhol and David Hockney – stun in design, colour and taste as part of the Mirror Room’s ‘Art Afternoon Tea’ series. This Chelsea Flower Show the art-inspired pastries complement a lineup of beef sirloin sandwiches and raisin scones with optional tea pairings for each course.

Masterful Art Afternoon Tea at Rosewood from £68pp.

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Afternoon Tea at The Ritz

Neighbourhood: St. James’s

The Ritz, arguably London’s best known afternoon tea destination
The Ritz, arguably London’s best known afternoon tea destination (The Ritz )

Best for: Tradition

The crème de la crème of London’s cream teas, The Ritz really know how to put on a showstopping serving of sandwiches. It’s fancy, it’s formal, it’s fresh and there are plenty of traditional treats to go around during the five daily 90-minute sittings. Scottish smoked salmon balances with lemon butter on sourdough bread, while brioche rolls of egg mayonnaise and watercress wet the palette before the main event – tiers of warm raisin and plain scones ready for spreading with Cornish clotted cream and strawberry preserve. With 20 different types of loose-leaf tea to choose from, an afternoon spent in this old world opulence is a dream for special occasions.

Prices for Afternoon Tea at The Ritz start from £75pp.

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Oblix East at The Shard

Neighbourhood: London Bridge

Enjoy panoramic views of London from The Shard’s Oblix East
Enjoy panoramic views of London from The Shard’s Oblix East (Oblix/Justin De Souza)

Best for: Views of London

Located on the 32nd of The Shard, Oblix East offers panoramic views of London’s spectacular skyline, and roomy armchairs to take it all in. The new menu is reasonably priced compared to some of the city’s hotel heavyweights, with a modern twist bringing new flavours to timeless classics. Sandwiches include smoked salmon and seaweed with cucumber, coronation chicken, mango chutney and coriander, and a prawn and lobster roll, while cranberry scones come with lashings of fresh honeycomb, whipped clotted cream and raspberry preserve. For those more boozily inclined, for an additional £36 per person, a bottomless selection of cocktails will accompany your pastry platter.

Oblix at The Shard classic Afternoon Tea from £61pp.

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Afternoon Tea at The Prince Akatoki

Neighbourhood: Marble Arch

Japanese-inspired bites bless The Prince Akatoki’s menu
Japanese-inspired bites bless The Prince Akatoki’s menu (The Prince Akatoki )

Best for: Asian-fusion

Steering clear of tradition, afternoon tea meets sumptuous sushi platters in a Japanese-inspired offering at the Prince Akatoki. Sips of sparkling sake can kickstart the flavourful experience followed by the hotel’s standard afternoon tea stack. Brioche buns burst with seared tuna and avocado, a quail’s Scotch egg is topped with Japanese mustard mayo, and there’s a chicken katsu sando on the savoury scene. On the sweet side, tantalising tastes of Japanese matcha, miso and yuzu punctuate Swiss rolls, scones and a butterscotch tart.

Afternoon Tea with sake at The Price Akatoki costs £70pp.

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Afternoon Tea at Dean Street Townhouse

Neighbourhood: Soho

Dean Street Townhouse is great for the stomach and the wallet
Dean Street Townhouse is great for the stomach and the wallet (Dean St Townhouse)

Best for: Value

Dean Street Townhouse ticks all the boxes for a traditional English afternoon tea experience without the steep price tag. This affordable afternoon tea features generous servings of egg mayo, smoked salmon and gin-and-tonic cucumber sandwiches, warm scones with homemade jams, and several blends of loose-leaf tea in blue and white china teapots. Better still, it’ll set you back less than £30, making this cosy setting of velvet chairs and mahogany panelling ideal for an affordable Mother’s Day treat. If you feel like splashing a bit more cash the afternoon tea with a flute of Thienot champagne will set you back £40.

Afternoon tea at Dean Street Townhouse costs £28pp, or £40pp with a glass of Thienot Champagne.

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‘Elizabethan Royal Tea’ at InterContinental Park Lane

Neighbourhood: Knightsbridge

It’s a regal affair at InterContinental Park Lane
It’s a regal affair at InterContinental Park Lane (InterContinental Park Lane)

Best for: Royal echoes

In the Wellington Lounge at the InterContinental Park Lane, the site of Queen Elizabeth II’s former childhood home, you’ll find stacks of crockery accented with gold promising a culinary journey of royal standards. The ‘Elizabethan Royal Tea’ – in collaboration with tea master, Lalith Lenadora – is an ode to the legacies of Queen Elizabeth I and II and uses rhubarb and champagne syllabubs and coronation chicken sandwiches in a nod to the late queen’s affinity for the tradition. There’s even a black truffle egg-mayo and ‘imperial’ lemon drizzle cake to savour as you debate the correct order of cream and jam.

Elizabethan Royal Tea at InterContinental Park Lane costs £74pp.

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Afternoon Tea at the Stafford

Neighbourhood: St James’s

It’s treats galore at The Stafford
It’s treats galore at The Stafford (The Stafford London)

Best for: Decadent desserts

The Stafford’s afternoon tea offers five-star service as it serves up irresistible sweets from a table-side trolley service, plus raisin and cheddar scones, and classic sandwich combinations from cheese and onion to ham and mustard. The vanilla and raspberry white mouse, and pistachio, dark chocolate and passion fruit tart look almost too good to eat. This Easter, there’s even a seasonal hot cross bun twist to go with the selection of artisan teas by Camellia’s Tea House – there are four bespoke signature blends including a smokey black and citrus tea.

Afternoon Tea at the Stafford costs £70pp.

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Fancing hunkering down post finger sandwich? Read more on the best boutique hotels in London

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