The best family-friendly afternoon tea in London, from the Langham to Aqua at the Shard
No vegetables, a lot of cake, and pots of cream and jam to serve yourself: for children, no meal out will beat afternoon tea.
This may be true for most adults too — but to enjoy it as a family, it’s a must to ensure the hosting hotel or restaurant loves a jam-and-scone-covered child as much as you (pretend to) do.
Bonus points if they also serve up Peppa Pig-shaped biscuits, wizard-style potion-making teas and come with colouring books and chocolate dinosaur eggs emerging from clouds of dry ice.
Here, in our most delicious investigative reporting yet, we test out London’s best family afternoon teas, taking in luxury teas, an Asian offering, dinosaurs, one of the capital’s best views, and a double decker bus trip. It’s been quite the quest.
Pictured at the top of this page, are children really welcome at this five-star, luxury afternoon tea (which claims to be the first grand hotel in London to serve it, over 150 years ago) — and where there’s a backdrop of a live pianist, a scone course so intricate that it alone requires a tiered cake stand and a tea menu so serious it spans six pages?
Yes, yes they are. The pianist will happily trill into a few nursery rhymes when he spots tots dancing, and the children’s tea includes beautiful jigsaw-cut sandwiches, the most delicious crunchy rice and popping candy bar, sponge cakes, an array of biscuits, and drink options to make them feel grown up: apple hibiscus tea, Valrhona hot chocolate or freshly-squeezed juices.
For the adults, shockingly the sandwiches were so great as to actually be a highlight — who knew red cabbage and cheddar would be such a combo? — whilst the scones’ pineapple jam option was delicious (don’t worry; there’s strawberry for traditionalists too) and the pastries were intricate and delicious but somehow lighter than elsewhere. All platters were generously replenished all the time. The normal cost is a clear downside, but book via Red Letter Days and you can secure a tea for two adults and two children for £220. For a very special occasion, you won’t regret it.
£220 for a family (two adults and two children), 1C Portland Place, W1B 1JA, price via Red Letter Days, redletterdays.co.uk
Kids and Insta-posers alike will love this dino-themed tea where cakes appear to emerge from a volcanic eruption via dry ice, and paintbrushes are provided to dig through biscuit crumbs to find chocolate fossils. The savoury course includes smoked salmon blinis and roast beef on brioche (adults) and T-rex cheese straws with hot dogs (kids), with the children’s tea served on a dinosaur-shaped tiered platter.
There are white chocolate and cranberry scones as well as traditional ones, with test tubes full of caramel balls, dried raspberry, and passion fruit curd. The pastry course really stands out: there’s a creamy raspberry and lemon pyramid posing as a volcanic eruption, a therapod-footprinted macaron and, our favourite, a dark chocolate and caramel dinosaur egg nest. It’s imaginative, fun and tasty — and they were only too happy to furnish us with a doggy bag (or should that be dino bag?) to take home what we failed to finish. Note the hotel also offers a science-themed afternoon tea, which is on the ground floor in slightly grander lounge-style surroundings; the Jurassic setting is downstairs in a Parisian cafe-style space, where some parents might feel more relaxed with kids.
£49.50 for adults, £35 for children, 10 Harrington Rd, SW7 3ER, ampersandhotel.com
The Afternoon Tea Bus
If you want to impress a toddler, this is the tea to book. Yes, the song “fruit and vegetables keep us alive/always remember to eat your five” will be your earworm for the next decade, and yes you will be sipping your tea from a bright pink Peppa Pig beaker rather than some of the more sophisticated hotel options, but this really is a lovely experience for fans of the porcine family.
You’ll have a table on a double-decker bus, each with a tablet showing scenes of Peppa episodes — meeting the Queen as you drive past Buckingham Palace and so on. The tablets weren’t working on our journey, but the audio with chirpy Peppa songs worked, and the kids didn’t seem to notice.
The 90-minute route leaves from Somerset House and includes the Globe, Tower of London and London Eye. The food, catered by Brigit’s Bakery, is well beyond what you might expect from a TV-branded tea; it starts with sandwiches and mini pizzas, then there are strawberry tarts, mini carrot cakes, macarons as well as Peppa biscuits, and a scone course later during the journey. Chirpy, Disney-style staff keep everything running smoothly, and the Peppa Pig activity book and reusable cups to take away make a lovely going-home gift. Try to book an upstairs table for the best views.
£48 for adults, £38 for children, available Thursdays to Sundays only, departing from Somerset House, Strand, WC2R 1LA, b-bakery.com
This is the most interactive tea we found in London — from the moment you enter the wizard exploratorium on Soho’s Greek Street and find a unicorn’s head mounted on the wall, bubbling out pop, to clambering up the rainbow-ceilinged narrow stairs to be handed a wizard’s robe when you sit at your table. Of which, the teas are all hosted upstairs, in small spaces that were not accessible to wheelchairs or buggies.
It’s not officially Harry Potter-themed, but fans of the wizard will really enjoy it here: on each table you’ll find a magic wand, and magical treasure chests. You have to solve riddles and use your wand — powered by an excellent combo of science and magical belief — to access all treats, and brew up your own teas; there are tiny glass jars of everything from breakfast tea to dried apple and rosebuds, vials of butterscotch and honey, and fill-your-own tea bags plus huge sand timers. There are veggie, vegan and gluten-free menus available. Each food course is accompanied by some wizardry, be it light-up platters, or changing-colour teas, and they include really excellent macarons, small jellies, and chocolate cupcakes. It’s more about the experience than the food — the savoury sandwich serving wasn’t overly generous — but you’ll come out full of cake and full of wizarding confidence.
£42 for adults, £32 for children, 26 Greek St, London W1D 5DE, wizardexploratorium.io
This is one for sophisticated children: it’s held in the beautiful Mirror Room, seated on plush sofas, and the food looks like actual art, which is fitting as the tea’s changing theme is inspired by different artists. You might feel awkward with loud, young tots, but older ones will love it. David Hockney is the current focus; the kids’ tea is served on a palette with squeezy paint tubes (filled with jam and lemon curd) for plate-painting or scone-filling.
We went when Dali was the theme, but expect the quality to be the same. The savoury options were particularly good (sandwich combos include egg and truffle, mini camembert pies with confit onion, crayfish and caviar choux) but the pastries are the big appeal. Kids and grown-ups alike get wow-cakes including “lobster telephone” (Valrhona chocolate sponge, passion fruit jelly, perky chocolate lobster on top), and “butterfly windmill”, an olive oil cake with citrus cream, yuzu chocolate mousse, complete with white chocolate butterflies hanging out on top.
You won’t be able to finish everything, but a takeaway box is happily offered. This is a considerable splurge, but feels like a really wow experience; there’s even a gimmicky NFTea at the end — scan the room via QR code, find mystery butterflies fluttering around and win a prize.
£75 for adults, £40 for children, 252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN, rosewoodhotels.com
This is one for kids who want to have a taste of being a prince or princess for the day. From the welcome as you arrive, where children are greeted as royalty, to their being offered their own child-sized cake stand filled with delicious cakes.
There are milkshakes or hot chocolates to start, then bite-sized sandwiches; the peanut butter and jam, and circular chicken mayo ones were most popular. Fussiness isn’t a problem here — waiters even asked what kind of bread our tot-tester would like. Kids’ cakes were different to the grown up ones, which wasn’t the case elsewhere, and ours wolfed down their mini cupcake and white chocolate raspberry blondie, plus scones. We grown-ups loved sitting on a relaxed sofa-table next to a roaring fire, gobbling more-interesting-than-usual sandwiches (goat’s curd and black olive tapenade, smoked salmon and capers). You can pick out different teas for each different course, which included the usually yummy scones and a plate of posh pastries — think pear and speculoos choux, clementine and cardamon syrup cake and cranberry macaroons. Plus points for the going-home bag: we couldn’t finish our teas at any of the hotels but the Milestone’s was the most thoughtfully prepared to take away, with sandwiches individually wrapped up and cakes carefully layered. This afternoon tea, opposite Kensington Gardens and its Palaces, might be the closest most of us get to a royal experience.
£75 for adults, £33 for children, 1-3 Kensington Court, W8 5PG, milestonehotel.com
Aqua at the Shard
You’re 31 floors up in the Shard, gazing down at the winding Thames, and surrounded by big ship platters in this Peter Pan-themed afternoon tea in London’s highest towerblock. This is definitely a good one to take sulky teens or fidgety toddlers to, as you’ll have no awkward silences as there’s plenty to see as you wait for your food to arrive: the drama of London plays out in miniature below you.
The atmosphere is buzzy (there’s a central circular bar) but kid-friendly too, and our child testers absolutely loved the pirate-style map menu, the Tinkerbell-shaped biscuits, and the presentation — dry ice poured into the ship at the start sees billowing smoke whoosh out as the waiter asked, “do you believe in fairies?” to our agog kids.
The super-light golden raisin scones really stood-out — as did mushroom-shaped brioche, dark chocolate roulade, and the raspberry and rooibos jelly (with a tick tock crocodile poking out). Be sure to ask for a window-side table when booking, and order the Never Grow Up punch for the kids: you’ll want to slurp it too.
£61 for adults, no discount for children, 31 St Thomas St, SE1 9RY, aquashard.co.uk
Pan Pacific London
This stylish tea gives your children a taste of Asia. Held in the calm Orchid lounge of this imposing Liverpool Street hotel, you can choose a traditional sandwich-starting afternoon tea, but we opted for more exotic Singaporean-inspired Kopi Tiam, which translates as “coffee shop”, and included a lovely touch of a picture book all about history of the custom for our kids to take home.
On the menu we tried — note that they do change — we started with dim sum, with crispy pastry cups of stir-fried vegetables, then moved on to lobster bao, and inhaled Singaporean Kaya toast. It felt like we’d left London, especially with amuse bouche courses of “prosperity box” sweets, nuts and biscuits before traditional scones and very delicate pastries, including a mandarin mouse, lychee and red date sponge. The kids loved this course too, especially the picture characters printed onto white chocolate decorations, although the children’s tea’s sandwich course was less exciting: three small sandwiches of jam, ham and cheese. This is a long tea thanks to its intra-course surprises, probably best enjoyed by older children who’ll enjoy the Asian influences and beautiful tea ceremonies.
£78 for adults, £35 for children, 80 Houndsditch, EC3A 7AB, panpacific.com