When it comes to British traditions, afternoon tea is one of the best. What’s not to love about sandwiches with the crusts cut off, endless cups of tea, and tiny, cream-filled pastries?
Since 1840 and the first afternoon tea – credited to the Duchess of Bedford, who reportedly suffered from hunger spells – afternoon tea has become as ubiquitous in London as double-decker buses.[related_articles]58403,58077[/related_articles]
Today, the best of the bunch are boozy affairs, pairing finger sandwiches and cakes with decadent cocktails. Give the champers a miss and indulge in these top-notch teas.
#1 Wyld Afternoon Tea
Inside the funky Dandelyon cocktail bar at Mondrian London is a 1970s-inspired afternoon tea as cool as the shipping container hotel it’s held in.
The cake stand is scattered with botanical touches and cucumber sandwiches come with a flourish of elderflower. There’s a range of cocktails boasting floral or citrus flavours. Even the Battenberg (the type of sponge cake that looks like a chess board when cut) has a twist of lemon verbena.
The retro vibes carry through to the cakes, with a mini baked Alaska, a rose blancmange and an Earl Grey chocolate mousse. By the time the final cocktail arrives, you’ll be swaying and singing along to the cool ’70s soundtrack.
Bookings cost $99 (£55) per person.
When: 12pm to 5pm, Thursday to Sunday
Where: Mondrian at Sea Containers, 20 Upper Ground, London SE1 9PD
#2 OXO ‘Not Afternoon Tea’
The rooftop OXO Tower Brasserie is making a splash for all the right reasons, and its cocktail-and-cake “not afternoon tea” is a kind of foodie homage to the London.
There are four desserts, including a punk-inspired Union Jack ice-cream and a cardamom and lime mousse that’s as spicy as the best curries from Brick Lane. Line up the St Paul’s Dome, a chocolate-covered cupola gooey with marshmallow and jam with the original. Or head down memory lane with the London Markets, a chocolate lover’s dessert plate paired with a Ziggy Stardust cocktail.
There is a parting gift, too – a small box of chocolates inspired by cockney rhymes like “rosy lea” (tea) and “dog and bone” (phone).
Bookings cost $65 (£36)
When: 3pm to 5pm, Monday to Friday; 2pm to 4.30pm on Saturday and Sunday
Where: 8th floor, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London SE1 9PH
#3 Scandal Water Tea
Author Henry Fielding once wrote that “love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea”, and afternoon tea packs a punch at the London Edition Hotel.
The Scandal Water Tea is inspired by 19th century tea parties that were a hotbed of gossip. The afternoon tea experience in the wood-panelled Punch Room features a menu of five teas and light bites paired with five lip-loosening tea-based punches.
Order small pots of Japanese sencha, peppermint or the special Scandal brew and pair it with morsels of Cornish mackerel tartare, a smoked ham hock wafer or pineapple tatin. Cocktails are a heady, boozy mix – check out the sinful Punch a la Diable, a devilishly peppery brew, or the citrusy Edition punch made with gin and jasmine tea.
Bookings cost $63 (£35) per person, with a choice of three pairings.
When: 3pm to 4pm, Friday to Sunday
Where: 10 Berners Street, London W1T 3NP
#4 Tipsy Tea
Gin-soaked afternoons are best spent at the wildly fantastical Mr Foggs in Mayfair. Inside this Jules Verne-inspired speakeasy, which strewn with curios, Union Jacks and penny farthings, is an afternoon tea fuelled by gin-filled teapots and champagne cocktails.
Trays arrive laden with cucumber sandwiches, chicken tikka, naan and smoked salmon brioches. Shoring up the sweets are mini mille-feuilles, truffles, plump raisin scones, and slabs of vibrant lemon-drizzle cakes.
Recline in a velvet wingback chair while the pianist plays and sip “teas” that include the vanilla-infused Ladies That Lapsang and summery Tropical Tincture. Or go for broke with the bottomless champagne teapot.
Bookings start from $72 (from £40) per person.
When: See website for sittings
Where: 15 Bruton Lane, Mayfair, London, W1J 6JD[qantas_widget code=LHR]Check out Qantas flights to London.[/qantas_widget]
(Lead image: Mr Fogg’s Residence / Facebook)
Belinda Luksic is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer and photographer. Her work appears in Jetstar, MiNDFOOD, Holidays for Couples, AWOL, CruiseCritic, Wego, Get Up & Go, TravelTalk, Arabian Travel News and others.