There is nothing more quintessentially British than afternoon-tea, other than rain-soaked summers and people apologizing to you after you've trodden on their toes, of course! It seems quite a few people would agree - our capital is literally bursting with avenues and there has been a surge of interest in this age-old institution in recent years. The upcoming Jubilee has only strengthened our interest in taking Afternoon-tea as a pastime, although few of us would consider it anything other than an occasional treat.
Amazing to think then, that in the 19th century, afternoon-tea was an essential, weekly occurrence for some Britons, to fill the gap between breakfast and dinner. The lovely lady we should credit with starting our interest in tea and pastries was Anna Maria Russel, Duchess of Bedford. When she visited the 5th Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Caste (as you do) in the 1840s, the Duchess complained to her host that the gap between breakfast and dinner was too great, even with a light luncheon around 1. So, she started requesting tea and a selection of sandwiches and cakes mid-afternoon, her friends arrived and voila - the middle and upper-classes saw afternoon-tea as a vital pit-stop.
Today, thousands upon thousands of residents and tourists enjoy afternoon-tea in the capital each year, with more venues opening up monthly. As we might expect, some places are better than others and overpriced, tourist traps abound, so I have done the hard work for you and separated the wheat from the chaff. The following are some of my favourite places to enjoy afternoon-tea in London.
All of the below offer Champagne refills, too!
Best for opulence: Claridge's
Brook Street, Mayfair, London W1K 4HR
0207 107 8872
Guide price: £38 (£49 with champagne)
Yes, it is expensive and you have to book weeks in advance for a weekend slot, but afternoon-tea at Claridge's is an unmissable experience for the weekend visitor to London. Winner of the coveted Tea Guild's Top London Afternoon tea award, Claridge's elegant foyer is the perfect setting for a special occasion - the staff were noticeably attentive during my visit and clearly made the wedding anniversary couple sat next to me feel very special. Everything about the afternoon-tea here is top-notch, from the grandiose setting to the delicious food and pampering, but not overbearing service.
Best for intimacy: The Capital Hotel
22-24 Basil Street, Knightsbridge, London
0207 589 5171
Guide price: £25 (£37.50 with champagne)
I love this hotel, and I'm sure you will too. For the Capital is an only too rare breed of hotel in London - small, family owned and effortlessly welcoming. Its staff were extremely friendly, professional and accommodating during our afternoon-tea visit, buzzing around the room looking after the various guests and canoodling couples. Tea is served in a bright, air, cosy dining room where nothing is too much trouble; don't feel guilty for asking for seconds, as we certainly didn't.
A real gem of a place, the Capital offers a good value, delicious and memorable afternoon-tea in the heart of touristy London!
Best for a modern twist: Intercontinental London Park Lane
One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London W1J 7QY
0207 4093 131
Guide price: £25 (£35 with champagne)
Don't expect anything remotely chintzy when ordering Afternoon-tea at the Intercontinental, for as I found out in March, their seasonally inspired, changing menu updates the time-honoured institution in style. The large, bright, minimal (but not clinical) dining area creates a serene, if not classical ambience where guests can enjoy such delicacys as west coast Scottish lobster sandwiches, perhaps followed by vanilla and white chocolate cream profiteroles. The choice of teas is nothing short of astounding, everything from Darjeeling to Wellington Blend tea. The service is flawless too!
Best for quirky and value: The Modern Pantry
47-48 St John's Square, Clerkenwell, London EC1V 4JJ
0207 553 9210
Guide price: £15
A North-London institution, The Modern Pantry serves a great, decidedly untraditional afternoon-tea in addition to breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. It was hard to decide what I loved more, the pear, lemon and polenta cake or the chocolate, sour cherry brownie - highly addictive. It's not smart, or chic, but it is fun, the food is sublime and the staff friendly and welcoming. What more could you want?
Best for a classical experience: The Royal Horseguards Hotel
2 Whitehall Court, London SW1A 2EJ
0207 451 9333
Guide price: £28 (£35 with Champagne)
A purist's delight, the Royal Horseguards serves all the expected classics, cucumber sandwiches, check, freshly baked fruit and cinnamon scones, check, homemade fruit preserves and Cornish clotted cream, double check. Not only was the food absolutely delicious and very moreish from start to finish, but the restaurant manager, Marta, was a delight - all smiles and welcomes and she couldn't do enough for us and the other guests. Apart from the impeccably traditional afternoon-tea, the hotel also thoughtfully serves a lighter version for the waist obsessed and special celebration teas complete with personal message cakes.