The easiest way for Londoners to spot a tourist is when we hear the suggestion of going for “high” tea. While the phrase may sound promising to a visitor, high tea actually denotes an early evening meal, at around 5:30 or 6 p.m., to keep you going through the night. It would typically consist of something like cheese on toast and is not all that exciting. What tourists probably mean is that they’d like to go for afternoon tea. Afternoon tea is the not-quite meal to be had sometime between lunch and dinner. It’s not purely the brewed drink, though that is what the meal is based around, but it can also include sweet and savory dishes—anything from a couple of biscuits, to sandwiches, slices of cake, and scones with lemon curd. From fancy hotel lobbies to quaint cake shops, here are our five favorite places for afternoon tea in London.
Fortnum & Mason
Her Majesty, The Queen opened the redecorated Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum & Mason—she gets her loose tea from here—in 2012. Services at the salon include resident “Tearistas” to advise on which tea will suit your palate, gluten-free, dairy-free, diabetic, vegetarian, and vegan food options, and a pianist playing “Tea for Two.”
The Berkeley Hotel
Perfect for a fashionista visiting the capital, Pret-a-Portea features a menu of cakes and pastries shaped into the latest catwalk styles. For the spring/summer, the Pigalle Spike heel is based on Christian Louboutin’s design with the signature red sold, and Mui Mui’s skin tote bag that looks good enough to eat is packed with chocolate pecan moelleux.
A visit up to Hampstead isn’t complete without a cup of tea and one of the exquisite cakes from Louis, one of the most old-fashioned and warmly run patisseries in London. Based on the cafes in Hungary, the shop is fairly small, and customers should expect a wait. But the delay is well worth it. With tea, customers are offered a large tray of cakes that beg to be eaten.
Sanctum Soho Hotel
Afternoon tea may seem more like a female activity than for the guys. But the Sanctum Hotels’ Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea makes it a bit more macho with a menu of seared steak sandwiches, tiny lamb and potato hotpots, and Jack Daniels ice cream. Tea may be optional, but when in Rome…
This café is good for every meal, but there’s something extra special about whiling away a few hours over some of the best sandwiches in London and a pot of The Wolseley’s signature blend. Try to get a seat inside the horseshoe, the best place for people watching. And watch you will, Bono, Madonna, Chris Martin… actually think of a celebrity and they will have eaten here.