It's Afternoon Tea Week; what better excuse to indulge in delicate finger sandwiches, scones and dainty cakes?
The tradition, conceived to bridge the gap between lunch and supper, was introduced by Queen Victoria's lifelong friend, Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford. She popularised the micro-meal among her high-society cohorts – Victoria included – and the rest was cream-covered history.
While we're no longer gathering in each other's drawing rooms to sip on Darjeeling and nibble sponge cakes, afternoon tea has found new life in the nation's best restaurants and tea rooms.
1. The Ritz, London W1
Served with precision in the hotel’s original ballroom, the tea includes the requisite finger sandwiches, alongside fresh raisin and apple scones and cakes on a tiered cake stand (from £67). Service is assured and seamless. The company, meanwhile, is polite: (gentle)men are expected to wear jacket and tie; jeans, sportswear and trainers are forbidden. That sense of formality seems an especially strong lure for foreigners eager to experience a sense of British pomp and ceremony, so book well in advance if you want to secure a spot.
The Ritz, 150 Piccadilly, W1J 9BR
020 7493 8181, theritzlondon.com
2. Fortnum & Mason, London W1
Fortnum’s has sold tea since 1707. Today, guests can toast their heritage during afternoon tea (from £70) in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon – a sophisticated, feminine setting washed in pale mints, with a pianist regularly in situ. Knowledgeable staff guide visitors through the 82 teas on the menu and the sandwiches and scones are all happily replenished and served with F&M conserves alongside a pretty selection of patisseries and cake.
181 Piccadilly, W1A 1ER
020 7734 8040, fortnumandmason.com
3. Claridge's, London W1
Afternoon tea (from £75) at Claridge’s is all about good taste: from the elegant yet informal setting to the delicacies upon which you feast: cucumber and organic chicken sandwiches, scones to sigh for and perfectly formed pastries. There’s a reason why Claridge’s has succeeded in serving afternoon teas for 150 years. Book well ahead – particularly for seasonal afternoon delights like the Chelsea Flower Show or Wimbledon Tea.
Claridge’s, Brook St, Mayfair, W1K 4HR
020 7629 8860, claridges.co.uk
4. The Landmark London, NW1
Indulge in an enchanting experience of high tea (from £59) under the high palms of The Landmark's stunning Victorian Winter Garden atrium. Tuck into sweet and savoury fancies such as a variety of finger sandwiches (from Coronation chicken to classic cucumber), as well as freshly-baked scones with Cornish clotted cream and jams. Those with a sweet tooth can enjoy more signature pastries and decadent desserts, while accompanied by a live pianist.
The Landmark London, 222 Marylebone Rd, London NW1 6JQ
020 7631 8000, landmarklondon.co.uk
5. Hotel Cafe Royal, London W1
Tea is served in the ornate grade-II listed, gold-lined Oscar Wilde Lounge (the very same room Mick Jagger, the Beatles and Elizabeth Taylor used to party in). The current offering is the Queen's Platinum Jubilee Tea (from £70), starting with sandwiches, scones and savouries but the main draw is the exquisite cakes and pastries which follow. Flavours typically change seasonally, but the pink peppercorn-ed cucumber sandwich can't be missed.
68 Regent St, Soho, W1B 4DY
020 7406 3333, hotelcaferoyal.com
6. Dean Street Townhouse, London W1
Shopping on Oxford Street? This buzzy, elegant Soho spot (just off the main drag) offers a traditional spread; smoked salmon, Burford Brown egg and mayo finger sandwiches, scones and fancy cakes. For the very reasonably price of £25.
69 - 71 Dean St, Soho, W1D 3SE
020 7434 1775, deanstreettownhouse.com
7. The Sanderson, London W1
The Mad Hatter’s tea served here – on china decorated with Alice in Wonderland images - is beautifully styled down to the Drink Me-labelled 'potions'. Coffee macarons are fashioned into the White Rabbit’s watch, red velvet cake comes in the form of ladybirds, and orange caterpillars are made from meringue and jelly. The savouries are good, too, but it’s definitely for the sweet-toothed.
50 Berners St, Fitzrovia, W1T 3NG
020 7300 5588, morganshotelgroup.com
8. The Wolseley, London W1
This is, for my money, the best value afternoon tea in London, at £29.75. It’s not served in the hushed tones of a hotel drawing room but the rather glitzier surroundings of a high ceilinged brasserie. The whole place screams luxury, the service makes you feel like a princess and the food is generous and delicious.
160 Piccadilly, St. James’s, W1J 9EB
020 7499 6996, thewolseley.com
9. 100 Queen's Gate, SW7
100 Queen's Gate has launched a brand new space exploration-themed afternoon tea that's perfect for families. Allow the kids to be taken on an adventure through space, with its Little Explorers Afternoon Tea featuring a range of innovative sweet and savoury treats. Families who book for Afternoon Tea Week (the last day being August 14) can enjoy the added treat of being hosted by magician and children's entertainer Tony Middleton, who will perform exciting magic tricks at the table. Guests can enjoy meteor popcorn, comet macarons and 'out of this world' finger sandwiches - with prices starting from £46.
100 Queen’s Gate, W/A Kensington Restaurant & Bar, South Kensington, London, SW7 5AG
020 7373 7878, 100queensgate.com
10. Orange Pekoe, London SW13
Small – you need to book – and French in feel (distressed shabby chic furniture and mismatched napkins) it’s worth making the trek to Barnes for this place. There’s a tea sommelier so your brew is as important as the cake (which you choose fresh from the counter) and sandwiches.
3 White Hart Ln, Barnes, SW13 0PX
020 8876 6070, orangepekoeteas.com
11. Lyaness (formerly Dandelyan), London SE1
Premium booze meets botany in the cocktails created by Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan. He and his London bars have won countless awards and, at Lyaness, it's easy to see why. In a transformed Sea Containers building overlooking the Thames, the restaurant's 'Spirited Tea' (from £35) is a playful take on the high-end 80s dinner party; think devilled eggs, sausage rolls and fruit trifles with panache. The cocktail pairings (i.e. a 'Glasshouse Spritz' of Ultra Raspberry, cherry tomato, and bubbles) are a must.
Sea Containers London, 20 Upper Ground, SE1 9PD
020 3747 1063, lyaness.com
12. Little Nan's, London SE8
Hidden under one of Deptford’s railway arches, Little Nan’s is an Eastenders-inspired haunt, complete with leopard-print furnishings, Charles and Diana memorabilia and a Pat Butcher-themed loo. Sit back in the retro living room and enjoy a kitsch afternoon tea on mismatched, vintage crockery. The menu features all the classics (look out for the 88 year-old-recipe jam to go with the scones) and eschews tea for inventive cocktails in teapots.
Arch 14 4 Market Yard, Deptford, SE8 4BX
13. The Royal Hotel, Isle of Wight
Queen Victoria must have been rather partial to a spread of sandwiches and scones because, as well as at Brown’s in London, she regularly took tea at this clifftop hotel. It’s been known as The Royal ever since and now boosts its traditional tiers with freshly-baked macarons, mini tiramisu and bite-sized choux buns (tea from £27). On warm days the Geranium Terrace is the best spot for tucking in, granting you exposure to the restorative sea airs Queen Vic once enjoyed.
Belgrave Road, Ventnor, Isle of Wight PO38 1JJ
01983 852186, royalhoteliow.co.uk
14. Rosemergy Farmhouse, Cornwall
Jane Holmes serves up fresh scones, still warm from the Aga, together with clotted cream and strawberry jam in her 300-year-old farmhouse perched on the Cornish coastline between St Ives and St Just. There are cakes on offer beyond the cream tea, plus tea, coffee or juice. It is an especially lovely pit stop for walkers, hikers and cyclists.
Rosemergy Farmhouse, Morvah, Pendeen, Penzance, Cornwall TR20 8YX
01736 796557; rosemergy.com
15. Polly Tea Rooms, Wiltshire
An institution, serving up traditional cream teas and jolly cakes from a loaded table since 1912. Both poet John Betjeman and the Duchess of Cambridge have sat at its linen-covered tables, while school children at nearby Marlborough College congregate here. Their Luxury High Tea is also available gluten-free.
26-27 High Street. Marlborough. Wiltshire, SN8 1LW
01672 512146, pollytearooms.co.uk
16. Tea on the Green, Devon
This tiny tea room is one part retro American diner and one part Devonshire café. Somehow, it works. Choose between The Hepburn, The Grant and The Taylor WHAT'S IN EACH? . If you enjoy scones the size of your head, you'll fit right in.
Golf Links Rd, Westward Ho!, Bideford EX39 1LH
01237 429406, teaonthegreen.net
17. Worth Matravers Tea and Supper Room, Dorset
This quirky, award-winning tearoom is set in glorious countryside. Mismatched crockery and other vintage bits and bobs create a traditionally cosy tearoom atmosphere inside, or you can enjoy your feast in the dreamy secluded garden. The Glorious Afternoon Tea stands out: muffins with smoked salmon and vodka cream, a homemade scone with local jam and clotted cream, homemade petit fours, biscotti and brownie to finish. Teas are all loose-leaf from a local fine tea purveyor, The Guilded Teapot.
Weston Rd, Swanage, BH19 3LQ
01929 439368, worthmatraverstearoom.co.uk
18. Heartfelt Vintage, Bristol
Heartfelt Vintage make everything in-house; breads, scones, cakes and even the clotted cream. The afternoon tea menus are seasonal and vegetarian, as standard, but vegan options are also available. Book 24 hours in advance to avoid missing out.
32 Alma Vale Road, Bristol, BS8 2HY
0117 904 2898, heartfeltvintage.co.uk
19. Comins Tea House, Somerset
Forget floral and flouncy, this modern, minimalist tea house takes inspiration from Japan. It's a calming spot to munch on tartines topped with cheese and chutneys and hummus tabbouleh before caramel shortbreads and white-chocolate matcha cookies – all for a reasonable £12. A pot of mellow sencha tea to wash it down seems fitting. Just be sure to book a day in advance if you want the full experience.
34 Monmouth St, Bath BA12AN
01258 475389, cominstea.com
20. The Angel Hotel, Abergavenny
As one of only nine non-London members of the prestigious UK Tea Guild, the hotel’s tea ‘library’ is packed with unusual leaves. No slouches on the food front either, each morning sandwiches, savouries, cakes and scones are prepared for the High Tea (£31) which is inspired by baker Sally Lane. The rooms are rather lovely too, should your food coma demand one.
5 Cross St, Abergavenny NP7 5EN
01873 857121 angelabergavenny.com
21. Peacocks Tea Room, Cambridgeshire
This little gem is unashamedly old-fashioned – mismatched crockery and dressers fill a set of rambling rooms in a wisteria-covered cottage – and family-owned and run. Luscious cakes (the lemon and lavender is spot on), home-made jams, crumpets, scones and toast are all on offer. There's even a 'Pink Perfection' tea for those who enjoy their salmon as much as their sparkling rosé.
65 Waterside, Ely CB7 4AU
01353 661100, peacockstearoom.co.uk
22. Menagerie, Manchester
Menagerie's afternoon tea is served on a ferris wheel, making it an eminently Instagrammable afternoon activity. At £23, the Traditional Afternoon Tea offers guests a selection of finger sandwiches (save the cold smoked salmon and lemon butter for last), 'strawberries and cream' scones, and a selection of cakes. Its Menagerie tea, at the same price, swaps traditional bits out for applewood smoked chicken, mac 'n' cheese, and sliders.
Ground Floor, One New Bailey, Salford, Manchester, M3 5JL
0161 832 3818, menagerierestaurant.co.uk
23. Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms, Yorkshire
When Frederick Belmont, a Swiss baker who came to England to ply his trade, opened these tea rooms in 1919, he can’t have imagined they would be serving cakes and chocolates almost 100 years later (nor that the origin of the name Bettys still remains a mystery). Try a Pink Champagne Afternoon Tea (£27.95) with Coronation Yorkshire chicken, thick sandwiched slices of smoked Scottish salmon, and a seemingly infinite run of mini cakes, unhurried, with a glass of Moutard Rosé Prestige.
1 Parliament Street, Harrogate HG1 2QU
01423 814070, bettys.co.uk
24. Biddy's, Norfolk
This independent Norwich-based tea house specialises in traditional and high teas, while the in-house bakery and studio also doubles as an occasion cake company and workshop site. Of course, it is most famous for its build-your-own afternoon teas; three tiers consisting of made-to-order sandwiches, fresh scones (with clotted cream and jam) and a large portion of homemade cake.
15 Lower Goat Ln, Norwich, NR2 1EL
01603 568019, biddystearoom.com
25. Malmaison, Newcastle
Boutique hotel Malmaison offers a savoury and a sweet option: the former (a Mal slider, Coronation chicken & turmeric wrap, oak smoked salmon, and cucumber & cream cheese on dark rye) is as good as the latter (dark chocolate mousse, strawberry shake, Battenberg slice, salted caramel banoffee tart, and lemon meringue cupcake. Add a cocktail pairing (like the Tea in the Rose Garden – Hendrick’s gin, rose liqueur, blackberry & elderflower tea, syrup, lemon juice, tonic) for the full experience.
104 Quayside, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 3DX
26. Holbeck Ghyll, Lake District
One of the many advantages of afternoon tea (£27.50) at Holbeck Ghyll is the stunning views of Windermere and the Lake District Fells. In chilly weather, the Arts and Crafts lounges by the inglenook fire are particularly popular, so book in advance.
Lake District National Park, Holbeck Ln, Windermere LA23 1LU
015394 32375, holbeckghyll.com
27. Coombe Abbey Hotel, Warwickshire
A traditional ‘Abbots Tea’ (£26.95) is served in the airy conservatory, set in the Abbey grounds. If you fancy something meatier, try the Knight’s Afternoon Tea (£29.95): which includes savoury delights such as mini fish & chips, a merguez sausage roll, curry-flavoured scones (with coriander butter), plus an unbelievably crowd-pleasing Nutella-filled madeleine.
Brinklow Rd, Coventry, CV3 2AB
024 76 450 450, coombeabbey.com
28. Carriage's, Cambridge
Travel back to the golden age of luxury rail for an unusual afternoon tea. Visitors can indulge in high teas packed with fresh and locally-grown ingredients (many in the site's own Victorian garden, including beef reared in nearby Rosegate Farm, all of which is served in a Pullman-style train carriage.
Capability Barns, Huntingdon Road, Fen Drayton, Cambridgeshire, CB24 4SD
01954 233 279, carriagesofcambridge.co.uk
This article is kept updated with the latest information.