London’s curious afternoon teas


By British Airways High Life magazine

Photography courtesy of The Shangri-La Hotel, The Shard

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March 2016

Modern British afternoon tea is much more than just Earl Grey and finger sandwiches. The High Life team has scoured the capital to uncover its most unusual and inventive mid-afternoon (and in one case, midnight) treats.

The London Royal Tea at Hotel Café Royal

The lowdown: In a lesser establishment you’d have found a toy Routemaster bus plonked next to your scones, but this is a London-themed tea that really means business — including a brief history lesson on the peculiarities of the capital’s scone-guzzling past. That includes the ‘muffin men’ of the 1800s, for example, who were eventually banned from ringing bells on London’s streets to signal that more freshly baked muffins were ready (why? Sounds like it was a great idea). Of course we’re really here — in the suitably decadent surrounds of the Oscar Wilde Bar — for the food. There are golden raisin and plain scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, naturally; an imaginative array of finger sandwiches including prawn and London honey; and the ‘Underground macaroon’, inspired by the TfL roundel — which may mark the first time the Tube has ever whet your appetite. Among several items newly created just for this tea is the Raspberry Regent, a dessert that echoes the shape of the hotel’s Dome Penthouse. Hibiscus ice tea is on hand to cleanse your palate between sweet and savouries. Other than that, you’ll be drinking custom-blended teas including the Wilde-tribute Oscar, a Lapsang Souchong black tea. But if you really want to do Oscar proud, plump for the Veuve Clicquot or cocktails.

£££: £42 per person; £55 per person with Champagne.

When and where? Daily, 12-4pm (last order); 68 Regent Street, W1B 4DY (+44 (0) 20 7406 3333; hotelcaferoyal.com)

BB Afternoon Tea Bus Tour

The lowdown: The renowned BB Bakery in Covent Garden has taken a classic red Routemaster London bus, so that you can still be a tourist taking in London’s historic sites while enjoying afternoon tea – sounds awfully British. Your tea of choice is served in one of BB Bakery’s illustrated ceramic beakers and you’ll enjoy scones, mini lemon meringue pies and sandwiches along with miniature cakes and orange juice for kids. Plush leather red seats and blue carpet are a far cry from anything you’ll find on a Tfl Routemaster and they don’t skimp on the sights – you’ll get to see everything from Notting Hill to Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. You'll pray for a red traffic light — this is the only opportunity you'll have to gulp your Earl Grey safely. Refined it is not. Hen parties, tourists and families will love it and it’s guaranteed to be the most bonkers afternoon tea you will ever have.

£££: £49 per person.

When and where? Pickup at the London Eye, 12:30-3pm on weekdays; 3-5:30pm on weekends. (+44 (0) 20 7237 3392, bbbakery.co.uk)

Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at K West Hotel and Spa


The lowdown: If David Bowie and Bob Marley did high tea, this would definitely be their stomping ground — not least because the hotel was once home to a recording studio that both used during their illustrious careers. Served in the mezzanine restaurant, which displays funky prints of the London skyline as sound waves by artist Rob Wass, the tea — I’ve purposely omitted the ‘afternoon’ here because, in true rock’n’roll style, you can have it from 10pm-1am — makes the most of this musical heritage. Dished out on electric blue and pink pearlescent china placed on real retro vinyl covers (complete with the record inside — we checked), it takes the format of a traditional afternoon tea, but with an edge: dainty cucumber finger sandwiches are replaced by mini cheeseburger sliders and Reuben toasties, followed by ‘rolling’ scones (see what they did there?) and dangerously sweet treats including mini chocolate brownies, chocolate ganache lollipops and Nutella ‘burgers’. When it comes to the tea, the usual suspects are all there — Earl Grey, peppermint and fruity infusions — but go for the hotel’s bespoke Tea Rex blend, which has a curiously smoky flavour. It’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted before.


£££: £22.50 per person; £29.50 with a glass of prosecco; and £34.50 with a vodka-laced cocktail (highly recommended).

When are where? Daily, 2-6pm or 10pm-12am; Richmond Way, W14 0AX (+44 (0) 20 8008 6600; k-west.co.uk)

  • Tea to go © BB Afternoon Tea Bus Tour
  • Asian Afternoon Tea at © Shangri-La Hotel, The Shard

    Tea with a view…

    Choose from over 30 teas to complement your 360-degree panoramic experience, gazing down as London bustles 128 meters below you.

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  • Glam Rock Afternoon Tea at the K West Hotel © Georgie Lord

    ‘Rolling Scones’

    To experience the true flavours of Glam Rock, go for the unique Rock ‘n’ Cocktails Tea featuring a fruity range of vodka-laced tipples. Only available Sunday to Friday from 10pm until 12am.

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Asian Afternoon Tea at Shangri-La Hotel, The Shard 

The lowdown: It comes as no surprise that one of the best afternoon teas in the capital is served on the 35th floor of the tallest building in the European Union. Here you can enjoy a slice of Asian style at the Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard, which serves a chilled-out afternoon tea laced with dainty dim sum and Eastern spices in its tranquil lounge, Ting (meaning 'living room'). It’s all about pared-back luxury with plush cream carpets and sink-in velvet armchairs which means you can spend all day gazing out at the spellbinding view over London. A traditional Chinese musician playing a pipa soundtracks your feast of steamed dumplings, open sandwiches and chamomile scones with mango jam. Cakes feature exotic ingredients from matcha to coconut and coriander. Opt for the dark Pu'erh tea from Yunnan in China or maybe the more familiar Oolong tea to continue the theme.

£££: £54 per person (£62 with a glass of Champagne).

When and where? 2-5:30pm on weekdays; 11:30am-6:30pm on weekends. Level 35, Shangri-La Hotel At The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, London, SE1 9QU (+44 (0)20 7234 8108; ting-shangri-la.com)

  • Enjoy afternoon tea without an excess of calories at Brown’s Hotel © Rocco Forte Hotels

Tea-tox at Brown's Hotel

The lowdown: Anna Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, is said to have taken a pot of tea and a light snack in her boudoir in response to ‘having that sinking feeling’ in the late afternoon. It’s little surprise if you have similar feelings of inertia when indulging in today’s version of afternoon tea. With a seemingly endless supply of sandwiches and sugar-loaded treats — which can clock up to 1,000 calories — it’s little wonder. So Brown’s Hotel has done a very clever thing in creating a healthier version (low-carb, low-fat, low-sugar) that they’re calling ‘tea-tox’. We sat at a fireside table admiring the grand surroundings — the hotel is where Rudyard Kipling completed the Jungle Book, and Alexander Graham Bell made his first phone call — and made our way through a feast that included smoked chicken with tangy guacamole on spelt, and poached salmon on rye bread. It was hard to believe the bite-size cakes could be waist-friendly, but with assurances that they were, the blueberry-filled chocolate cups were polished off in no time. You couldn’t get a more sophisticated stopping-off point for a (guilt-free) decadent treat.

£££: £47.50 per person; £55 with Champagne.

When and where? Daily, 12-6pm; Albemarle Street, W1S 4BP (+44 (0)20 7493 6020; roccofortehotels.com/browns-hotel)