Enjoy Afternoon Tea With A Twist In London

We Brits love a good cup of tea. From tea at the top of The Shard to on a red bus, we round up afternoon teas with a twist

Afternoon tea is an English institution, evoking memories of delicate cucumber sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream and flaky pastries. The thought is enough to get anyone’s stomach rumbling. The origin of this wonderful custom stretches back to the 1840s when the Duchess of Bedford, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria, complained of ‘having that sinking feeling’ in the afternoon and took to taking a light meal in her room. Before long, the Duchess was inviting friends to join her and thus the tradition was born.

Classic afternoon tea can be found throughout the capital with notable five-star hotels such as The Ritz and Claridge’s, forever linked with this most comforting meal. But today it’s not just traditional teas that are attracting the crowds. Now there are all sorts of fun modern twists, which play with the traditional tea format. Look around the capital and you’ll find a whole spectrum of fun alternatives from tea in the sky to tea on the move and from glam rock to high fashion.

For fashionistas...

Those with a passion for fashion will love the Prêt-à-Portea tea at the Berkeley hotel. Classic cakes and pastries are transformed into catwalk highlights; the menu changes with the fashion seasons, and include McQueen’s ’armadillo’ shoes transformed into a heeled chocolate biscuit. Feel like you’re in your own stylish Federico Fellini film at Four Seasons La Dolce Vita Afternoon Tea, with Italian delights. Shoppers will enjoy tea at the Cuisson Pop-Up at Burlington Arcade (to 26 Jun), which is designed by Hideko Kawa (from The Fat Duck), with cakes presented in jewellery boxes.


AFternoon tea at View from the Shard, London, UK
Fortnum & Mason goodies meet views over London at View From The Shard (courtesy View From The Shard)

For sightseers...

For the ultimate high tea, visit The View from The Shard’s Sky-High Tea as it opens up its sky deck on Level 72 (from 23 June), combining a Fortnum & Mason ‘Hamperling’ with an amazing view of the city. At St. Paul’s Cathedral, designed by Christopher Wren, top off your trip with afternoon tea at St. Paul’s, which includes meringue tarts, opera cake and Victoria sponge. For an altogether different party, find out about political point scoring and Machiavellian plots while touring the Houses of Parliament and then combine it with Afternoon Tea in the Terrace Pavilion, which overlooks the River Thames.

Mad Hatter's Tea Party, London, UK
Tick tock, tick tock... honour Lewis Carroll at a Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea (courtesy Sanderson Hotel)

For literature lovers...

Imagine being able to enjoy tea at Willie Wonka's chocolate factory. You can get close at One Aldwych, which is serving up a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea with elaborate golden eggs, flavoured candy floss and, in homage to Violet Beauregarde, a special blueberry brioche. It’s the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, inspiring two afternoon teas. The Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea at Sanderson Hotel includes themed crockery, a 'Tick Tock' Victoria sponge cake, a 'Jelly Wonderland', consisting of delicious fruit jellies, and little signs saying 'eat me' and 'drink me'. Meanwhile, the Athenaeum Hotel & Apartments Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is served in the suitably floral Garden Room with mushroom meringue and chocolate clock cakes – top hats are also available for guests who want to immerse themselves in the Wonderland theme. 

Glad rock afternoon tea, London, UK
Get glammed up at this glam rock afternoon tea at K West Spa (courtesy K West Spa)

For music fans...

From T-Rex to tea for two, the Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Spa pays tribute to the music of the 70s with an electric blue and pink tea set, and cakes served on vintage record covers. Enjoy the 'rolling scones' with clotted cream and strawberry compote. For something more refined, the Royal Albert Hall’s afternoon tea hits all the right notes: pastries are shaped like guitars and pianos, with cucumber, cream cheese and mint-smoked salmon sandwiches. Audrey Hepburn fans can combine the tea with Breakfast at Tiffany’s Live (12-13 June) – here the film is shown and accompanied by an on-stage orchestra and choir.

David Shrigley's drawings in Sketch, London, UK
Shrigley's whimsical drawings adorn the walls at Sketch (courtesy Sketch restaurant)

For art afficionados...

Turner Prize-nominated artist David Shrigley is the creative force behind the latest interior at Sketch, where art-loving diners can admire his works of art that line the walls. The tea is a sophisticated treat that includes pretty macaroons, and caviar and quail egg sandwiches, all of which are like little works of art in their own right. The National Portrait Gallery's Portrait Restaurant goes one step further, as it creates afternoon tea experiences inspired by its current exhibitions. Ask for a table by the floor-to-ceiling windows for great views across Trafalgar Square. As for Tate Britain’s Rex Whistler restaurant, the immense mural, entitled The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats, by Whistler himself, is the elaborate backdrop for a top tea.

Men's Afternoon Tea, London, UK
Get all blokey with a men's afternoon tea with sausage rolls and a cigar (courtesy Sanctum Soho Hotel)

For masculine types...

If you thought afternoon tea was primarily for women, think again. You don’t need to have delicate tastebuds at The Men’s Afternoon Tea (8-21 June), aiming to make the experience a little more macho. The tea – perfect for a Father’s Day celebration – comes with a pint of Guinness, grilled rib-eye steak sandwich and rhubarb and custard doughnuts. For those in need of something a little stronger, the Gents' Afternoon Tea includes a large measure of Jack Daniel's, roast beef and horseradish-stuffed Yorkshire pudding and, if you’re in the mood, a Villiger Export cigar on the Roof Terrace.

Tea to Take Home

If you want to continue the traditional tea experience back home, then pop along to Twinings, the creme de la creme of tea suppliers in London for more than 300 years. Ever since Thomas Twining went against the tide to provide the great British public with the little-known beverage (before that, most people prefered gin and ale), this emporium to the Great British Cuppa now sells dozens of varieties. Choose from Earl Grey, green tea and premium loose teas and infusions, buy gift sets and hampers, and learn about the history of the brew in its museum.