In our fast-paced culture, where food is largely eaten on the go, and our caffeine fixes provided by bland high street chains, there’s something particularly luxurious and lovely about the formal conventions of afternoon tea.
From fine china to freshly-baked scones, the straining of tea leaves and tinkling of tea pots, afternoon tea is all about full indulgence of all the senses – no half measures or calorie counting allowed!
What’s more, afternoon tea is fashionable. Hotels in London have seen a 20% rise in bookings recently, with some providing up to half a dozen sittings a day to cope with demand.
But given its lavish nature – and often pricey bill – choosing where to go for your smoked salmon sandwiches and Victoria sponge can be daunting.
So to ease those teatime jitters, here’s a selection of the best afternoon teas that’ll leave you wanting more – and possibly skipping dinner.
The most northerly branch of the Yorkshire tea room chain has been awarded the Tea Guild’s Top Tea Place for 2012. Judging by the comments we regularly receive on tea articles, this will delight many of you. This branch is housed in a gorgeous Grade II-listed building complete with courtyard for al fresco afternoons. Menu-wise, it’s a very traditional affair, with classic British finger sandwiches, sultana scones and miniature cakes.
Winner of the Tea Guild’s Top Tea Place London for 2012, the Athenaeum was praised for its “elegant surroundings” and “delicious food and teas faultlessly presented”. The menu, served in the hotel’s Garden Room, aptly enough has a nature theme, including orange blossom scones, bird cookies and fairy cakes with sugar flowers.
Cost: £28.50/£35 including a glass of champagne/£39 for a Regents Park Honey Tea with a glass of Honey Fizz
For an opulent treat in the countryside, try Pennyhill Park, winner of the Tea Guild’s Top City and Country Hotel Tea Award. There, you’ll find “really scrumptious food” and an “extensive knowledge of teas”. There are a lot of fruity treats on the menu, including lemon tart, blackcurrant and apple cake, pear and almond tart, and chocolate and blackberry shortbread.
Cost: £28 (£14 for Mini Me Afternoon Tea for under-12s)/£40 for Royal Ascot Afternoon Tea including glass of champagne or champagne cocktail/£45 for Celebration Afternoon including glass of champagne and individual birthday cake
This former Georgian coaching inn, based in Abergavenny, was awarded The Tea Guild’s Top City and County Hotel Tea Award last year. The elegant surroundings, efficient service and delicious range of sandwiches and cakes make it a must-visit. With a single sitting (3pm to 5.30pm weekdays/weekends from 3.30pm) replete with bone china and silver cake stands, there’s more than a touch of sophistication. So if you find yourself in the Valleys, you know where to go!
Cost: £16.80/£19.80 for Angel Tea, which includes savoury items
Afternoon tea at The Ritz has to be tried at least once. The opulence of the Louis VXI-style Palm Court is a feast for the eyes, while the 17 different types of tea and menu including baked apple and raisin scones (with the obligatory lashings of strawberry preserve and clotted Devon cream) and cucumber sandwiches is a definite excuse to eat yourself silly.
With five daily sittings, and with a formal dress code strictly observed (dinner jackets; no jeans/sports shoes), The Ritz is extravagant in every sense. Just a short walk from Piccadilly Circus (though, given the calorific content, you may want to jog), it’s best to book your table early: they advise that reservations can be required 12 weeks in advance!
Cost: £42/£54 for Champagne Afternoon Tea/£53 for Celebration Afternoon Tea (includes birthday cake)
This is a classic lovefood article that has been updated