Mayfair’s landmark hotel is the ultimate bastion of Englishness; a 200-year-old grande dame whose afternoon tea in the magnificent Art Deco foyer still regularly tops global ‘best’ lists. And for good reason: here, you’ll find organic cucumber and French sorrel sandwiches; Instagram-friendly Bernardaud green-and-white-striped porcelain; chestnut and vanilla éclairs; and an unparalleled selection of rare teas (including a White Silver Tip from the mountains of Fujian and the most perfect Earl Grey, grown in a 14th-century walled tea garden in Cornwall). But aside from all that, it’s the soaring level of comfort and gastronomic attention that make Claridge’s a perennial favorite.
Just a stone’s throw away from the glorious Victoria and Albert Museum, The Franklin is Knightsbridge’s best-kept secret. This red-bricked townhouse on Egerton Gardens is a comforting pocket of timeless elegance and unchanging tradition. Expect a more cultured take on the classic afternoon tea at this total gem of a hotel, where the menu is always inspired by the current V&A highlights, whether it’s pink meringues and lobster-filled black buns served in whimsical birdcages in homage to photographer Tim Walker’s Wonderful Things exhibition, or the Mad Hatter’s tea party that will accompany next summer’s Alice in Wonderland showcase.
Marbled parquet flooring, plush velvet scalloped chairs and pink, pink, pink everywhere – welcome to The Gallery, the prettiest room in London. It’s the perfect setting for Sketch’s utterly charming afternoon tea: cucumber finger sandwiches and mini comté cheese paninis; pastel-hued petits gateaux including passionfruit tartlets and rose marshmallows; and the fluffiest warm scones you’ll ever eat, all washed down with a glass of crisp champagne and a seemingly endless loose-leaf tea menu. It’s all devoured from David Shrigley-made chinaware – in the cult artist’s typically idiosyncratic style, plates and bowls are labelled ‘food’; teapots and dainty milk jugs contain ‘ghosts’ and ‘dreams’ – while 91 of his sketches line the walls. Serenaded by a string trio, your sweet tooth will be well and truly satiated.
No matter the season or time of year, there is a crowd colonizing the Palm Court of the Langham, clamoring for high tea. Alongside the usual spread of sandwiches and cakes, the emphasis here is on a seasonally inspired menu. This Christmas, the hotel’s chefs are upping the ante with the Festive Afternoon Tea on a globetrotting theme. Scones are served with fig conserve inspired by the family fig orchard of Portuguese chef Joana Melo and pastries are flavored with the Asian citrus fruit yuzu to reflect Aurélien Maily’s travels in Japan. For the younger tea aficionado, the Langham has launched a children’s afternoon tea with its neighbor Daunt Books, including a special curated mini library and a charming menu that features jigsaw-puzzle sandwiches.
Whether for a power breakfast or pre-theater dinner, walking into The Wolseley – with its distinctive black-and-white marble floor, towering arches and lofty pillars – always feels like a special occasion. The whole place oozes high-octane glamour thanks to London restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, who understand that a good dose of tradition and history mixed with fantasy are vital to hold attention. Tea is a quintessentially English affair here, with the usual finger sandwiches and fruit scones alongside classics including treacle tart and Battenberg. Eclairs come in wonderful flavors, such as tangy lemon meringue and rum punch. For refreshment, try the Wolseley-made Chocolate Tea – an exceptional blend of loose leaf Assam and Yunnan, Peruvian cocoa nibs and Madagascan vanilla.
Since this hotel borders both Hyde Park and one of London’s high-end shopping districts, it’s not surprising that Bulgari’s granite-clad lounge attracts a leisure-minded crowd, longing to put their feet up in front of an open fire as tea time morphs into cocktail hour in one of the city’s buzziest and most glamorous lobbies. Famed for its speciality loose-leaf teas – including the rare Hu Shan Yellow Buds – the Bulgari takes a sophisticated turn on English favorites, such as warm raisin scones with clotted cream and smoked salmon sandwiches with crème fraîche.
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