I am a big fan of the English afternoon tea, invented by Anna Maria, 7th Duchess of Bedford, in 1865. The whole concept of the mid-afternoon pick-me-up while socialising is very appealing to me indeed. I was delighted when I was recently asked by Rhiannon Batten of The Independent for my Top 10 UK Tea Rooms for a special feature in the paper.
I have visited many a tea room and many have charmed me with their scrumptious little sandwiches, petits fours and the obligatory WARM scones – yes, it HAS TO BE WARM and, yes, it is not too difficult to do that bit for your customers! – with the clotted cream and strawberry jam combination.
However, I regret to say that I have yet to visit even one where much care and attention gets paid to the actual tea! A lot of these places offer an assortment of teas that in my humble opinion are entirely unfitted for complementing the strong flavours in the sandwiches, cakes and petits fours.
The tea is typically brewed in a big pot for each person. This makes the first cup taste completely different to the last cup. If you’re a slow eater like me, the tea is undrinkable after thirty minutes or so of ‘stewing’.
Below, I have provided my personal favourites which, despite the teas, still gave me the highly pleasurable experience of a good English afternoon tea.
Tea for two
Langham’s Wonderland Afternoon Tea – patisserie that forces one to make the painful decision of eating or admiring.
The Langham Hotel
While the Palm Court is an elegant setting for an afternoon tea, I recommend asking to take tea in the even more fancy Artesian Bar. The Jasmine Silver Needle with Rosebuds is very fragrant and the house blend “The Langham” is reviving if it is given the chance to brew for a bit. The little chocolate mousses and amuse-bouches of lemon posset are exquisite. The skinless tomato and cream cheese sandwiches are to die for.
° address: 1c Portland Place, London W1B 1JA
° web: london.langhamhotels.co.uk/en/restaurants/palm_court.htm
° telephone: 020 7965 0195
° hours: 15.00 – 17.00
- The Berkeley
Treat your eyes to the Prêt-à-Portea; a designer, fashionista afternoon tea. A decent tea selection with scrumptious little pâtisserie made to look like dresses and accessories straight from the latest catwalk. The Christian Louboutin Coconut Cream Sponge cake is the must-have for this season!
° address: Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7RL
° web: the-berkeley.co.uk/fashionista_tea.aspx
° telephone: 020 7201 1619
° hours: 13.00 – 17.00
Old school charm
- A good strong Burundi Black tea – the house blend of The Crooked House.
The Crooked House
Experience the feeling of being in a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale in this charming tea room just next to the castle. Try the excellent Burundi tea which is strong enough to take with the Crooked House’s good, traditional cream teas.
° address: 51 High Street, Windsor SL4 1LR
° web: crooked-house.com
° telephone: 01753 857534
° hours: 10.30 – 18.00
- Old Tea House
A welcoming, friendly tea shop inside an ancient abbot house, with home made scones, cream teas, tea cakes, Earl Grey and Darjeeling. Try and secure the front bay window seats where Thomas Hardy used to meet his chums Robert Louis Stevenson and George Bernard Shaw, so you can enjoy your afternoon tea while imagining the passionate literary debates that took place right here.
° address: 44 High West Street, Dorchester DT1 1UT
° telephone: 01305 263719
° hours: 14.30 – 17.30
A modern bright and cheery tea room in a lively riverside location. All around are renovated warehouses, some of which used to hold exquisite teas and spices from the Orient. Serves bagels and cream teas at reasonable prices and quite a good everyday oolong which comes in a cute little modern Japanese-style teapot. Brew your tea with the help of a digital timer screen on the wall.
° address: 31 Shad Thames, London SE1 2YR
° web: teapod.org
° telephone: 020 7407 0000
° hours: 14.00 – 18.00
- Bettys Harrogate Café Tea Room
Bettys combines Yorkshire hospitality with an elegant setting. Try their exclusive Ceylon Blue Sapphire black tea decorated with beautiful cornflower together with the Montagne de Chocolat Sacher sponge. Service can be slow when they are busy but this is afternoon tea so take your time to enjoy it.
° address: 1 Parliament Street, Harrogate, HG1 2QU
° web: bettys.co.uk
° telephone: 01423 814070
° hours: 09.00 – 21.00
- Orange Pekoe
A bright, cosy, cottagey tea shop in a genteel riverside suburb, with 70 tea varieties arrayed in large caddies, such as Silver Peony White Tea and a very sweet and fragrant single estate Darjeeling Barnesbeg. Nice, hot scones with generous clotted cream, and the staff are friendly and knowledgeable.
° address: 3 White Hart Lane, Barnes, London SW13 0PX
° web: orangepekoeteas.com
° telephone: 0871 962 4972 / 020 8876 6070
° hours: 14.00 – 17.00
- The Rose
A sanctuary in the heart of Oxford where you can get to unwind with warm crumbly scones and lashings of clotted cream, complemented by a good Keemun Black that has a light longan fruit perfume.
° address: 51 High Street, Oxford OX1 4AS
° web: the-rose.biz
° telephone: 01865 244429
° hours: 10.00 – 17.30
Pearl Liang’s Monks Vegetables Dumplings.
Excellent dim sum: lovely Pan-Fried Turnip Cake, very tasty Lotus Leaf Parcel of Sticky Rice with Mixed Meat, excellent Monks Vegetable Dumplings. Nice tea selection including Iron Goddess of Mercy and Pu Er; ask the somewhat goth waitresses to allow the teas to brew a bit longer before pouring.
° address: 8 Sheldon Square, Paddington, London W2 6EZ
° web: pearlliang.co.uk
° telephone: 020 7289 7000
° hours: 12.00 – 23.00
- New World Chinese Restaurant
Transport yourself to a traditional Hong Kong tea house with freshest dim sum carried around on trolleys by rather curt waitresses. Do not expect a menu as each trolley specialises in particular types of dim sum. Best seats are near the kitchen. Be early at the weekend or expect a long wait but the yam and minced pork croquettes are worth it.
° address: 1 Gerrard Place, London, W1D 5PA
° telephone: 020 7734 0396
° hours: 11.00 – 18.00