10 August 2015

My 10 favourite afternoon teas (2015)

Someone, somewhere in the universe has designated this week as it's national afternoon tea week (though I mean honestly, who needs more excuse to book and reminisce about afternoons of luxury?) It has almost become a blogger cliche, inviting the girls to a few hours of decorous luxury, but one that I rather adore. As I'm getting on in years (feel free to feel sorry for me...) I've swiftly come to the conclusion that I'd rather don a pretty dress to spend a little more on sandwiches and scones, than prop up a pub bar and feel very sorry for myself the next day.

Running this list last year in honour of National Afternoon Tea Week, and as I'm - surprisingly - often asked for recommendations (thank goodness my reputation is for afternoon tea and nothing more scurrilous) or for my favourite, it seemed that another top list was in order. I find the hardest aspect of recommending a tea is that everyone wants something different; some people want opulent luxury, some prefer quirky surrounds, some fancy value for money. #bloggerproblems

National Afternoon Tea Week London Top 10 list

Personally, I love flavours that surprise and combinations that tickle the palate - at least a tier or two that showcases the personality of the chef and hotel, good but not oppressively attentive waiter service and fairly generous servings - Emma doesn't share. In fact I got so cross last year, it seemed a great idea to draft a post outlining my 'golden rules of afternoon tea'. After all we could simply pop along to the supermarket for a £1 ham sandwich and a plastic encased cheesecake slice if that's all we were after, but choose instead to open our wallets for something that we hope epitomises the finer side of London life.

This top 10 is a combination of gluten-free and gluten-laden options for those lucky people who aren't intolerant (some days I despait with my tummy is so much I just think 'oh well, I'll treat myself to the full gamut and live through the consequences), and features a combination of teas I've tried this year plus a few that made the grade from 2014.

National Afternoon Tea Week London Top 10 list

Having visited a few over the years, it does hone ones expectations of pinky-raising, and with the London market awash in silver tea trays and teapots it means there is an afternoon tea for literally everyone - from dainty on-the-hoof treats to quintessential extravanganzas you need to book 3 months in advance. (Nb: All prices are sans Champagne & service, all links are to my own reviews, and funnily enough none of these were comped but paid with my own hard earned moolah)

The less than £25 afternoon tea bracket

The Modern Pantry (gf)
Presented with a misleadingly dainty tea tier we marvelled at the selection offered to tempt our tastebuds. No limp cucumber or plain egg sandwiches dare show their faces in this temple to modern flavour. Each mouthful was a moment of pure travel. Exotic delections such as a Lotus root crisp with piled with Persian spiced sweet potato & hijiku, and a quail egg, miso and wasabi cream cheese macadamia dukka open sandwich teased our studied sensibilities...

National Afternoon Tea Week London Top 10 list

The Criterion (not yet blogged)
I surprised my Downton Abbey adoring friend with a rather civilised afternoon hiding from the rain. They looked after us with aplomb, allowed us to marvel at the incredible ceiling at our leisure and  even remembered her birthday with a sweet treat...

National Afternoon Tea Week London Top 10 list

The £25-£40 afternoon tea bracket

Mad Hatters Tea (gf)
The experience felt a little down the rabbit hole compared to many we've been to before, but in such a good way. Right from the word go we were presented with a tray of perfumed vials instead of a tradition tea list and encouraged to smell our way to a selection...

Best Afternoon Teas in London

Kensington Palace Orangery
Sometimes it's just lovely to spend an afternoon in the sunshine nattering with good friends over the gentle clink of tea cups and saucers, sometimes the argument over sconning with cream or jam first is cast aside in favour of a diplomatically applied knife (and occasionally nouns are invented), and sometimes a deliciously delicate and perfectly classic slice of Victoria sponge cake just seems about right - especially just up the garden path from Queen Victoria's childhood home, Kensington Palace...

A pinkie-raising Kensington Orangery Afternoon Tea

The opulently £40+ afternoon tea bracket

The Grandame of London afternoon tea, Claridges (gf)
Setting the bar very, very high for every single tea, Claridge's is simply the epitome of London luxury Afternoon Tea. Every aspect is presented with a grace and style that many hotels attempt to emulate but don't quite achieve - the mark of 150 years of practice...

 Claridges Gluten Free Afternoon Tea

Brown's (gf, we were offered a slight discount for this tea, but I will happily pay full price)
Brown's Hotel is simply beautiful. A cozy array of nooks, mahogany wall panelling, drawing rooms, library rooms and suites of occasion rooms. Their gluten free menu is delicious - soft sandwiches with traditional fillings (including my favourite from Buckingham Palace - Cucumber and fresh mint *swoon*), perfectly biteable scones and a bevvy of delicious looking desserts...

Afternoon Tea at Brown's Hotel (and a hashtag of bloggers)

The best of the quirky afternoon teas

The Teanamu Chinese Tea Ceremony
A feast for the soul meant to be taken slowly, with pleasure and understanding. Once we placed our tea orders, such an array of pots, containers and teeny tasting cups came out like I've never seen. Each of us had a unique brewing pot suited to the flavour of tea that we had ordered. One was only as big as an apple...

Best Afternoon Teas in London

What are the best Afternoon Teas in London

Sketch (Not yet blogged)
Ahhh, the infamously insane design doyenne of London afternoon teas, with possibly the most famous bathroom in all of tea history. I was thoroughly skeptical of visiting due to many mixed reviews, but with our late afternoon slot we were treated wonderfully...

Sketch - What are the best Afternoon Teas in London

Sketch - What are the best Afternoon Teas in London

Flavour special mentions:

Modern Pantry (again)

Intercontinental Park Lane (The 2014 botanical tea which I'm not sure they still serve)
The sandwiches caused some rather heated tea-side debate in our mission to decide were the best. We loved the more interesting flavours - there was no fawning cucumber and cream cheese, or egg and cress to be seen here. Our overall favorite? The flaked smoked eel - smoky, beautifully textured, and perfectly matched with it's accompanying horseradish, cucumber and apple relish. Mmmmm...

Park Lane - What are the best luxury Afternoon Teas in London

Willy Wonka at the Mayfair Chesterfield 
The pastries all ran imaginatively with the theme and a single favourite was hard to call; the Violet Beauregard Violet Macaron was delicious, the popcorn Macaron Lollipop really interesting, a lurid Oompa Loompa cupcake made you want to break out in song and the utterly indulgent Golden Egg, not to mention our very own Wonka Bar...

What is the best Afternoon Tea in London

But the absolute best ever and unable to be listed? It has to be tea at the Buckingham Palace garden party hosted in person by the Queen herself, but it's strictly invitation only (why they let the occasional Kiwi in I'll never know!) It's a memory I will never, ever forget.

What is the best Afternoon Tea in London 

Whoever could have thought that an meal of necessity 'invented' in 1840 could take the world by storm 160 years (or so) later? In case you weren't aware, the story goes that Anne, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, started requesting tea, bread and cake at 4pm to stave off hunger until dinner, and soon after afternoon tea became a much-loved, quintessentially British tradition.

One of the best British traditions ever...

Speaking of which, I need to get a few new ones booked in for next year's review run down... where is your favourite afternoon tea?

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