Jolly old England is even more lighthearted these days, thanks to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who have made Britain a fun and fashionable place to be — even if you’re not on the guest list for the upcoming nuptials.
London-bound travelers can stage their own mini celebrations at an afternoon tea. Toast the happy couple and eat your fill of scones, finger sandwiches, clotted cream and cakes at prices from $43 to $94 per person.
If tea isn’t your beverage of choice, skip it and head straight for the Taittinger — high-end afternoon teas always offer Champagne, coffees and other beverages besides tea.
Get your fascinator ready and join us for a cuppa at one of London’s finest afternoon tea parties. We checked out several highly rated London teas and came up with six winners, including classic favorites and teas with a twist. You’ll need to make a reservation at most of these.
This is the real deal: Claridge’s hotel has the inside track on how to do it right, with a 150-year history of serving afternoon tea. This plush five-star hotel shimmers with retro glamour, servers are knowledgeable, sandwiches and desserts are eye-popping. A low-key music combo plays all afternoon amid an air of general refinement. There’s a dress code — no flip-flops, sportswear or baseball caps — and you’ll see multi-generational families at tables surrounding you. The menu is classic with smoked salmon finger sandwiches, scones, a variety of frilly pastries — and 28 different teas. One downside: Claridge’s popularity comes with a price tag of $72 per person.
Info: Claridge’s, Brook St., Mayfair, London; 011-44-20-7629-8860. Afternoon tea from $72 per person.
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The Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel sets the bar high: It’s luxurious, the staff is gracious and the main restaurant, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, is Michelin-starred. The grand landmark building that houses it has just undergone a long renovation and is truly beautiful. Pop in to take a look, then have tea in the contemporary Rosebery Lounge. You’ll learn how to choose teas and Champagnes from a tea master, who will tell you about aromatics, how to pair teas with food and give you a tutorial on the sakes that go well with tea, scones, sandwiches and cakes. The fare includes more than 40 teas, sandwiches such as slow-braised beef short rib, scones and pastries such as chocolate and mandarin eclairs.
Info: Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London; 011-44-20-7235 2000. Afternoon tea from $70 per person.
You won’t find crystal chandeliers here; this is a contemporary hotel with a chic look. And you won’t find traditional tea and scones, either. But if you’re traveling with fashionistas or children, the Berkeley’s Prêt-à-Portea tea is an ideal choice. For the last decade or so, the Berkeley’s tea has had a charming twist: Cakes, cookies and sandwiches are colorful creations that reflect the season’s runway looks. They may be shaped like an Alexander McQueen shoe or a Jean Paul Gaultier gown. The effect is whimsical and anything but stuffy. If tea isn’t your beverage of choice, you can pair your pastries with a fruit infusion.
Info: The Berkeley, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London; 011-44-20-7235-6000. Afternoon tea from $62 per person.
Info: The Dorchester, 53 Park Lane, Mayfair, London; 011-44-20-629-8888. Afternoon tea from $72.
If shopping is on your itinerary, combine it with a stop at the Marylebone, a sleek, contemporary hotel in the Village of Marylebone that’s close to Oxford Street and other high-end shopping areas. The delightful cakes, tarts and Champagnes appear in early afternoon at the hotel’s 108 Pantry, a plush cafe with a low-key vibe, lovely pastries and a price tag of $43.50 per person — half that of some other tea services. The theme here is English country garden, with sandwiches, scones and pastries that vary with the seasons. Chef Russell Ford pairs the best available British produce with specially selected English sparkling wines for an afternoon tea that’s charming and well-priced.
Info: Marylebone, 47 Welbeck St., London; 011-44-20-7486-6600. Tea from $40 per person.
Info: The Lanesborough, Hyde Park Corner, London; 011-44-20-7259-5599. Tea from $47 per person.
Afternoon tea or high tea?
Is it called afternoon tea or high tea? When in Britain, do as the Brits do. Call it afternoon tea.
Although drinking tea traces back to China in 2737 BC, afternoon tea is considered a British invention.
In 1840, Anna, Duchess of Bedford, decided to ward off the “sinking feeling” she got every afternoon by drinking tea accompanied by a snack. The habit became popular with her friends and spread to the nation.
High tea is a working-class invention, served every day around 6 p.m. when workers sat down to dinners of fish, meat, cheese and other hearty fare.