“Where can I experience the best afternoon tea in London?” is a question I am asked again and again as my friends and readers prepare for their first trip to England.
 
I’ve been writing about the tea scene in London for over 20 years and have had ample opportunities to sit at countless tea tables – both posh and peasant – where I’ve consumed gallons of Earl Grey and way too much clotted cream hidden discreetly underneath dollops of Little Scarlet preserves.
 
I can narrow your tea tour down to five locations that are memorable. After all, you want to share your tea experiences with friends once you return home. And you want your listeners to drool over the delicious tales you spin.
 
The bad news is that afternoon tea can be expensive – my tab for three guests recently was $300, without champagne. The good news is that the British pound is down 20% which makes that same bill only $240 – a bargain!
 
Don’t delay. Book your trip now and include reservations for the following teatime treats –
 
My teatime with fellow author Jane Pettigrew at Claridge’s
 
For fans of Art Deco, a visit to Claridge’s is a must. The entrance is magnificent and both the Foyer and the Reading Room, where tea is served, are decorated in 1930s style. Fireplaces, leather columns, richly cushioned chairs, and banquettes—all of it takes you back to the days of chic geometric designs.  Even the loos pay homage to the skills of tile craftsmen a century ago.
 
In 1996, Claridge’s embarked on a major restoration and the public spaces were completely made over in a modern Art Deco style, and a stunning Dale Chihuly chandelier was hung as the centerpiece of the foyer.
 
At teatime, everything on the table matches that artistic theme, with Limoges ‘Galerie Royale’ porcelain specially created for Claridge’s, complemented by Deco style creamers, sugar basins, cake stands, and cutlery. During our summertime visit, musicians serenaded us with nostalgic teatime music, adding to the period feel of the room.
 
The courses for afternoon tea at the Hotel Athenaeum seem to be never-ending.


London’s 5-star Hotel Athenaeum, located in fashionable Mayfair on Piccadilly offers an afternoon tea in the sunny Garden Room, enclosed on one side by the hotel’s unique ‘Living Wall’ – home to 260 types of plant. It’s as if you were having tea beside a botanical garden.
 
The stylish room is divided into comfortable seating areas that lend a sense of intimacy where you can sip tea and gossip without fear of being overheard. I think it is one of the most unique and beautiful settings for tea in all of London – tasteful and intimate without being pompous.
 
The creative teatime menu features unusual regional savories and sweets. The whisky sommelier will even pair a Scotch with your tea – a delicious alternative to the usual French champagnes offered at most hotel teas.
 
 
Afternoon Tea at the Ritz on Piccadilly. No jeans allowed and gentlemen need a tie.
 
 
There is no name more synonymous with London teatime than The Ritz. Throughout the day, this gilded temple is filled with tea guests – many with American passports in their pockets – who book months in advance. 
 
When the press department first invited me to afternoon tea, they apologized because they could not seat me in this busy room until six o’clock – and the first seating took place at 11 in the morning!
 
I have to say that every detail is looked after and the food is never-ending. If there is a special occasion you want to commemorate, this is the altar for that celebration. Just remember to dress appropriately because The Ritz continues to value the traditions of proper etiquette and attire.
 
And by the way, keep those pinkies down and please don’t call it high tea. You don’t want to appear to be an unenlightened American!
 
 
 
Teatime at The Woseley on Piccadilly

THE WOSELEY

What if you don’t have three hours and an unlimited expense account, or you didn’t pack a tie in your suitcase? You can still enjoy tea like a Londoner on one of the most stylish streets in town when you pop into the Woseley – just down the street from the Ritz.

This stunning building with its ornate interior was commissioned by the Wolseley car company in 1921 as its London showroom. Now the handsome location serves as a splendid restaurant with a clever menu that satisfies customers throughout the day and evening.


You’ll find all the traditional teas, crustless sandwiches, sweets and proper scones arranged on your three-tiered silver servers. The service is genuine and very attentive.


Best of all, this classic tea setting puts you in the showroom window where passers-by envy you and your good culinary good taste rather than the touring cars that once filled your space.


BROWNS


The first impression upon stepping through the doors of Browns, just a block off bustling Piccadilly Street, is of a country house in the midst of London. Everywhere you look there are fine English antiques – from rosewood dressing tables and beautiful Victorian and Edwardian stained glass to the handsome inlaid desk on which Rudyard Kipling wrote during his many visits. The author found the hotel conducive to writing and completed The Jungle Book here. 
 
Entering one of the low-lit drawing rooms, you almost expect to see the smoke from Winston Churchill’s cigar trailing up from an overstuffed armchair beside the fireplace.
 
If a cozy traditional teatime is what you crave, this is your tea heaven. This is the type of setting where you could easily spend the entire afternoon catching up on light gossip with a friend or sharing the tales of your morning’s adventures rambling through the side streets and shops along Piccadilly. You might pause to plan your theatre selection for the evening. All the while, the next Agatha Christie might be writing a murder-mystery in the window seat behind you.

Browns Hotel is the perfect setting for a cozy teatime on a rainy afternoon in London.

 

Looking for a less expensive teatime experience?  Check out The Maids of Honour outside Kew Gardens – featured on the front cover of Great Tea Rooms of Britain – or The Orangery at Kensington Palace.

Read more about tea rooms in London and all across England, Scotland and Wales in The Great Tea Rooms of Britain by Bruce Richardson.

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