Afternoon Tea Ceremony – Xu
Best for… a taste of Taiwan
What? The second venture from the team behind London’s steamed bun sensation Bao, Xu (pronounced “shu”) is an elegant Taiwanese teahouse and restaurant located on the edge of London’s Chinatown. Styled as a 1930s Taipei dining room, with dark wooden booths furnished in mint-green leather, the ground floor features a tea kiosk where some of Taiwan’s finest grade tea leaves are dispensed ready for the time-honoured ritual of the tea ceremony.
Menu Here, afternoon tea takes on an altogether more exotic air: think aged oolong steeped in a black clay tea tray, and delicate char siu pastry puffs. With a choice of 13 rare loose-leaf varieties, from robust yeh fang baozhong (offering a floral green-tea flavour) to delicate night-scented jasmine, the tea certainly takes centre stage at Xu, complete with warming rituals and strict steeping time limits. But the food is just as special, with savoury morsels including sweet potato taro dumplings and chive-oil-steamed egg with roasted turnip. A selection of Taiwanese pastries follows, including a moreish fried peanut mochi and hawthorn berry jelly.
Price £32 per person, available 12-5pm Monday to Sunday
30 Rupert Street, W1D 6DL; +44 20 3319 8147
Palm Court Afternoon Tea – The Principal
Best for… a classic with a twist
What? Perched on the edge of Russell Square in a Renaissance building that has been painstakingly restores and oozes glamour. Palm Court is their airy new-to-open terrace drenched with natural light, serving afternoon tea, lunches and drinks. It is every bit opulent as the rest of the building: there are wicker peacock chairs, full-sized olive trees and summer and winter terraces.
Menu Leave room. There are four courses of tea featuring classic items with a modern twist. You’ll start with truffled potato and quail’s egg, and move onto four sandwiches – each inspired by four corners of the world – the smoked trout and fennel on apple and beetroot bread is a surprising highlight, and the tandoori chicken comes on raita and caraway bread. Scones in flavours like camomile and lemon and chocolate chip follow with jam, cream and lemon curd, before you’re presented with a spectrum of dainty cakes created by ex-Dominique Ansel Ryan Thompson – go for the stacked macarons.
Price £38 per person; champagne afternoon tea £46; available 12-4.40pm Monday to Sunday
1-8 Russell Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 5BE
French Afternoon Tea – Sketch
Best for… photogenic food (and décor)
What? This converted 18th-century mansion in Mayfair once housed the Royal Institute of British Architects and Christian Dior’s workshop. Today, it’s a renowned destination for food, art and music. Sketch is home to five restaurants and bars, each with a distinctive design and identity. The highly imaginative Gallery room is famous for its pink décor by French architect India Mahdavi, and walls adorned with 91 colourful illustrations from British artist David Shrigley – the latter even customised the ceramic tableware. It’s the perfect setting for an artsy afternoon treat with a touch of whimsy.
Menu French master chef Pierre Gagnaire has put a new spin on the classic tea tradition. The set menu comprises quintessential finger sandwiches, scones, petits gateaux and Victoria sponge cake, but with a twist – think foie gras tartlet and berriolette marshmallow, for instance. To complement the dining experience, a “Tea Master” will guide you through some of the world’s finest aromatic leaves, all against the backdrop of violin covers of Barry White tunes. It’s a sensory overload!
Price £59 per person, champagne afternoon tea from £73, available 11.30am-4pm Monday to Sunday
9 Conduit Street, W1S 2XG; +44 (0) 20 7659 4500
Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea at Aqua Shard
Best for… tea in the sky
What? Go fly a kite on the 31st floor of Europe’s tallest building, with this new themed afternoon tea amid 360-degree views of London at modern British restaurant Aqua. And it doesn’t get more British than PL Travers’ classic novel, which has seen several on-screen adaptations and is due another in December, when Mary Poppins Returns hits cinemas. Aqua’s three-storey windows look out onto the Thames, directly opposite Poppins-esque locations including Bank and St Paul’s.
Menu Kids will love scones magically appearing out of a carpet bag, mini crumpets with smoked salmon and cream cheese, and brioche rolls stuffed with Devon crab. But it’s all about the desserts – leave room for the doorstopper-sized cakes served on an umbrella stand, including golden-syrup sponge in a vintage tin and fluffy “strike me pink” jam sponge heaped with red berries. Go for the smoky chimney-sweep-inspired tea, with lapsang, Ceylon and vanilla. Upgrade to champagne and you’ll get a spoonful of “medicine” – actually syrupy fruit liqueur with edible glitter – to add to your glass. Plus you can swirl your own candy floss and everyone leaves with a copy of the novel.
Price £49 per person, champagne afternoon tea from £66, available 1-5pm Monday to Sunday
31 St Thomas Street, SE1 9RY; +44 (0) 20 3011 1256
Tipsy Tea – Mr. Fogg’s Residence
Best for… grown-up tea
What? You’d be forgiven for walking straight past this speakeasy-style bar, hidden as it is behind a big green door. Through the threshold is a large room that looks like an old gentleman’s club that’s been taken over by a serial hoarder. Bird cages and unicycles hang from the ceiling; a pianist plonks out classic jazz tunes; the walls are lined with an eclectic mixture of books, globes, mounted animal heads and treasures from far-flung places. This is, after all, supposed to be the home of Mr Phileas Fogg, the fictional protagonist and explorer from the novel Around the World in 80 Days.
Menu If your favourite thing about afternoon tea is the tea, then this might not be your ideal choice. Big china teapots are actually filled with ice-cold cocktails called champagne tea or spirited tea. The “To Pour Around Four” champagne tea – a sweet mix of gin, rose liqueur, jasmine syrup, pomegranate and lemon juices and raspberry purée topped with champers – is a winner. The food portion eschews dainty patisserie in favour of thickly cut sandwiches filled with classic combinations such as salmon and cream cheese, and ham and piccalilli, and slabs of gooey brownies and red velvet slices.
Price From £40 per person, available Saturday 1.30pm, 2pm, 4pm and 4.30pm, and Sunday 3pm and 3.30pm
5 Bruton Lane, London, W1J 6JD; +44 20 7036 0608
Art Afternoon Tea – Rosewood hotel
Best for… art aficionados
What? It may be cocooned inside an Edwardian Belle Époque Grade II listed building in central London, but the Rosewood offers a thoroughly modern afternoon tea experience, voted 2018’s Best Contemporary Afternoon Tea in the UK. Inspired by cubism and pop-art icons such as Picasso and Andy Warhol, the meal is served in the hotel’s jewel-box Mirror Room on the ground floor next to the elegant-kitsch lobby. There are ornate bird cages, stuffed bulldog models and high-gloss monochrome stripes underfoot. Wander past the rose-gold cabinets before settling into a squishy couch.
Menu The three-course afternoon tea starts with a nod to tradition: cucumber finger sandwiches and warm-from-the-oven scones served with Cornish clotted cream and homemade strawberry and elderflower jams. These are followed by executive pastry chef Mark Perkins’ brighter bursts of confection such as mango and lime macarons topped with tiny replicas of Picasso’s The Weeping Woman. Each course is paired with cold brew teas such as “Rio Summer” with energetic notes of green mate, malty açaí berries and cool mint, and the refreshing “Summer Yuzu” – a zesty citrus blend of lemon, clementine and orange blossom. There are also four pages of hot tea varieties to choose from. A trio of showstoppers are saved until last, each individually inspired by artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Yayoi Kusama. Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans has been recreated using cherry jelly, white chocolate mousse and cherry ganache, while the Yayoi Kusama piece is a high-shine white yuzu mousse masterpiece, topped with strawberry and yuzu jelly dots and filled with strawberry yuzu and green-tea sponge cake.
Price From £58 per person, available Monday to Friday, 2-6pm, Saturday 12-7pm, Sunday, 12-6pm
252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN; +44 20 7781 8888
French Afternoon Tea – Club Gascon
Best for… pushing the boat out
You can almost smell the fresh lick of paint from its facelift and turning 20 this year, this world-class French restaurant next to Smithfield market is as fresh as ever. And residing in the former Lyons teahouse, it’s got afternoon tea engrained in its history. A melange of the two cultures, Club Gascon’s chic afternoon tea showcases the best of modern French cuisine in an intimate dining room: think marble fixtures and thick grey carpets. And at just £45 per person – incredible value for a Michelin-starred meal.
Menu You won’t find your usual egg and cress on this menu: there are show-stopping 15 dainty delicacies to try, with all the pomp and ceremony you might expect. Think wafer-thin pastrami beef flowered sandwiches, truffled slow-cooked egg in a wispy pastry nest and perfectly balanced lemon and yuzu tart. Plus Marmite Royale sandwiches, because we’re still in London after all.
Price £45 per person. £55 for Champagne afternoon tea.
57 West Smithfield, London EC1A 9DS
Frida Kahlo Afternoon Tea – The Franklin
Best for… a Mexican twist
What? Inspired by the V&A’s Frida Kahlo exhibition, Making Her Self Up, this is a creative and imaginative play on the classic afternoon tea at discreet The Franklin hotel, just around the corner from the exhibition, making it the perfect end to a wander around the collection of the artist’s personal belongings and clothing (you’ll be too full to do it the other way round). The menu is filled with impressive artistic flourishes and Kahlo-esque details, from the fusion menu to the colourful presentation – there’s even a portrait of the artist herself made of chilli praline and served on its own easel.
Menu Expect a vibrant fusion of Mexican delicacies and traditional tea dishes. Everything arrives on colour-popping orange and blue Mexican tiles and woven coasters. Highlights include octopus sandwiches, lime-flavoured scones with clotted cream, puffy churros with thick, flower-topped hot chocolate and flan de cajeta oozing with dulce de leche. Order the “El Diablo’ tequila cocktail, with lime, crème de cassis and ginger beer, designed especially for the tea by the hotel’s multi-award-winning mixologist Salvatore Maggio.
Price £50 per person, including a ticket to the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the V&A, available 2.30-5.30pm Monday to Sunday
24 Egerton Gardens, SW3 2DB; +44 20 7584 5533