The best afternoon teas in London

Suggestions for everyone's favourite afternoon indulgence.

While enjoying a stroll through the streets of London, one's thoughts inevitably turn to a quintessentially English tradition dating back to the 1600s, namely afternoon tea. 

Of course, the beverage itself is not sufficient. For a real afternoon tea, cake is a must. The pastries that have traditionally accompanied a cup of tea have a remarkable heritage in themselves. The specialities available to choose from include fruit tarts, biscuits, meringues, scones, cupcakes and more.

Today, London's top tea rooms provide a fine variety of venues at which to sample this small pleasure in luxury living.

The fashionable afternoon tea

A daintily sartorial affair for which the fashion conoscenti will book months in advance, this is where Mad Hatters’ fruit cake, designer cupcakes and Queen of Hearts lemon tarts are consumed. Pastries and a delectable range of infusions are served on butterfly-emblazoned Royal Doulton china designed by high priestess of fashion Zandra Rhodes (her eponymous pink meringues are the talk of the tea) that Alice herself would have loved.

Three-tiered stands hold cakes in pairs as the bold floral walls of the deVille restaurant positively chatter. For those seeking something less “Through The Looking Glass”, the whiskey and steak-centric Men’s Afternoon Tea is a more masculine-edged affair.

The Mandeville Hotel: Mandeville Place, W1U 2BE, Tel. +44 (0)20 7935 5599, www.mandeville.co.uk

The bijoux afternon tea

Set within the sparkling environs of the Palm Court, The Bijoux Tea is a gem of a way to spend an afternoon over cakes and catching up with recipes inspired by the collections of top jewellery houses. Nibble on “Cartier Love Collection” cookies, “Baccarat“ cake drops and “Asprey” Black & White Battenberg as the Tea Sommelier advises on the world’s finest bouquet of teas, including those offered by England’s only native producer, the famous Tregothnan – owned by a Viscount descended from the Earl Grey.

Famed as the place where afternoon tea was born in the mid-nineteenth century, the Palm Court is an Art Deco-edged, ginger flower-scented picture of glamour in the heart of Mayfair.

The Palm Court, The Langham: 1C Portland Place, Regent Street, London W1B 1JA, Tel. +44 (0)20 7636 1000, www.london.langhamhotels.co.uk

The cupcake afternoon tea

From the Dior-clad ladies lining the counters of Harrods to the butler discreetly collecting the bright pink box emerging from the cake van, to power brokers meeting furtively in the Hummingbird Bakery (we don’t feel it necessary to point out here that children go wild for the stuff), a highly addictive secret is sweeping London: the cupcake.

From chocolate sponges filled with oozing morello cherry and brandy preserve at Fortnum’s, to the dozen or so Willy Wonka style bakeries who deliver to department stores, society salons and, natch, to your door and the dedicated tearooms specialising in these highly addictive delicacies, the popularity is as much about social change as cake innovation – they are instant pick-me-ups in a bite and the most moreish food fad to emerge this millennium. Overleaf, we give you the ingredients to delight your friends, and then on the following pages we showcase two teas dedicated to sartorial style.

Hummingbird Bakery: 47 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3JP, Tel: +44 (0)20 7584 0055, www.hummingbirdbakery.com