Afternoon tea, which is a common tradition today, owes its origins to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford. In the 1800s, at a time when it was normal to eat only early morning breakfast and late evening dinner daily, Anna, irritated by the hunger each day as a result of no lunch, decided to take time out to take tea and snack each afternoon.
Her daily practice was first done alone but over time, friends, relatives, associates and acquaintances followed suit, and the practice has become a tradition among the middle class today.
Afternoon tea is a charming, relaxing, tradition but in reality most Londoners do not have the time for this. However, almost everywhere you look in central London will offer this traditional delight. The practice is so famous in London that a “Tea Guild” exists that gives awards to hotels and tea rooms that offer the best tea services in the capital.
Where to go
According to the 2013 Tea Guild Awards, the best London Afternoon Tea spot is the prestigious Goring Hotel in Victoria (Beeston Place, London, SW1W 0JW, 0207 396 9000, www.thegoring.com). Afternoon tea is served between 15:00 and 16:00 on weekdays, and 13:00 to 16:00 on Saturdays. Prices range from £42.50 to £62.50, depending on the package requested. Reservations are mandatory, and should be booked well in advance (usually up to 4 months) – even in low season you will find certain dates are fully booked.
Other notable and awarding-winning spots are:
- Claridge’s (Brook Street, London, W1K 4HR; 0207 629 8860; www.claridges.co.uk) in Mayfair is one of the most famous locations for afternoon tea in London, with many arguing it is the best. Afternoon tea starts at £58 per person.
- The Ritz (150 Piccadilly, London, E1J 9BR; 0207 493 8181; www.theritzlondon.com) may well be known as the best location in London for afternoon tea, and was where The Queen Mother would come for hers. The quality, service and interiors of the building are simply stunning. Afternoon tea here begins at £52 per person.
- Landmark Hotel in Marylebone (222 Marylebone Road, London, NW1 6JQ; 0207 631 8000; www.landmarklondon.co.uk), where the price for Afternoon tea starts at £45.
- Bingham Hotel in Richmond Upon Thames (61-63 Petersham Road, Richmond, TW10 6UT; 020 8940 0902; www.thebingham.co.uk), is a boutique hotel outside of central London with views over the river. Afternoon here is just £25.
- Browns Hotel in Mayfair (33 Albemarle Street, Mayfair, Greater London, W1S 4BP; 0207 493 6020; www.roccofortehotels.com) serves afternoon tea with prices starting at £47.50. A Gluten Free Afternoon Tea is available here.
- Four Seasons Hotel just off Park Lane (Hamilton Place, London W1J 7D; 0207 499 0888; www.fourseasons.com) offers its afternoon tea from £39.
- Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge (22-24 Basil Street, Knightsbridge, London, SW3 1AT; 0207 589 5171; www.capitalhotel.co.uk), serves traditional afternoon tea for £29.50, with a glass of champagne available for an extra £10.
- Corinthia Hotel by the Embankment and the river Thames (Whitehall Place, London SW1A 2BD; 0207 930 8181; www.corinthia.com) serves afternoon tea, starting at £50 per person.
The Savoy, The Montague on the Gardens, The Langham, The Anthenaeum, The Lanesborough, and The Connaught are other notable locations that offer wonderful afternoon tea experiences.
For all the above locations, reservations are either mandatory or highly recommended. A smart casual dress code applies to all locations. That means no shorts, sportswear, or cut off tank top-style vests; for most places a jacket and tie are optional for men. Jeans are also controversial. Tea times vary between locations, but you can generally find afternoon tea served between 14:00 and 17:00 daily.