Whoever could have thought that an meal of necessity ‘invented’ in 1840 could take the world by storm 160 years (or so) later? 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.
As I’ve been asked for several recommendations lately and it’s apparently ‘National Afternoon Tea Week’ from the 11th-17th August, I figured in the spirit of the ‘national week’ (we never need any excuse really) I would present a short list of my favourite London afternoon teas so far, in no particular order. All of them follow all (or enough) of my Afternoon Tea rules, and are definitely worth booking in for. Gluten Free teas are included, and contain two stars for ease of reference.
Take Saturday for example, a good friend and I arranged to meet up at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell for an Asian flavour twist on the humble art of tea taking. More on this one shortly.
Teanamu Chinese Tea Ceremony: Solemn, fascinating and special. 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 crabapple. And therein lies the genius of the Chinese tea ceremony. It is meant to be taken slowly, with pleasure and understanding.
The Intercontinental, Park Lane**: Flavoursome, bursting with umami and the height of luxury. Tea for me is a luxurious treat, a meal to be savoured with good friends and should be an experience. Their botanicals tea is pitched as a sensory experience, and it really was left us eager to try each new delight.
The Ampersand Hotel**: Playful, seasonal and funky. As it was National Chocolate Week, I couldn’t resist ordering their special Chocolate Week afternoon Tea, (any excuse) while Kelly enjoyed their Gluten Free spread. When it came to choice of beverage I didn’t resist the Afternoon Tea Tea, and Kelly chose the Peppermint. We even found a Kiwi(ish) mention in the tea menu for bonus points. Well played Ampersand team.
The Chesterfield’s limited time ‘Willy Wonka’ Tea**: Plush, delicious and attention to the smallest detail. Proceedings opened beautifully with Charlie & his Grandad’s fizzy lifting drink (you know, the one they use to float in the bubble room?) and we opted for a glass of Champagne, as after all it was a horrible Monday evening (how can you ever say no to Champagne?).
108 Marylebone Lane’s ‘Healthy Tea’**: Quiet, incredibly central and a nice range of teas. My gluten free sandwiches were spot on, the freshest I’ve ever had. Nice, traditional fillings on soft bread that almost rivals normal bread. And if you ask any gluten free(-er?) that’s a mighty tough ask. The Lentil spoon salad was nice, if a touch random but the bite-size ‘super-salad’ was a lovely palate cleanser.
The Reform Social Bar & Grill: Perfect for a Mother/Daughter afternoon treat. Through a series of tough eliminations (read: a quick read through website listings) we decided on the Reform Social Bar & Grill, in Marylebone Village. The “50 Shades of Earl Grey” cocktail we were greeted with consisted of an Earl Grey tea infused bitters and sloe gin topped up with Champagne and elderflower. Oh my. Subtle, sweet and luscious.
Christmas at the Westminster Intercontinental: Full of sugar plum fairies, carols and treats. One last wisp of Christmas cheer. One last twinkle of tinsel. One last morsel of festive indulgence. And one more sip of champagne whilst sugar plum fairies dance overhead.
The best I’ve had this year? It has to be tea at Buckingham Palace…
…followed closely by the perfect delectations of Claridges – but that’s another story to follow. Soon, I promise.
How about you? Hit me with your must-visit tea recommendations!