Along with fish and chips and a full English breakfast, afternoon tea forms part of a holy trinity of the United Kingdom’s gifts to the culinary world. Even when British food was the laughing stock of the planet, no one could deny the appeal of the classic afternoon tea.
Wafer-thin slices of white bread cut into crustless finger sandwiches filled with savoury morsels; warm scones slathered with clotted cream and strawberry jam; delicate pastries and cakes, sticky with icing: who can resist such a sybaritic way to fill the dead hours of the afternoon?
And while the ceremonial aspect of afternoon tea might not be quite as formal as a Japanese tea ceremony, there’s still a delightful ritual to the presentation of cake stands, fine china crockery and tea being poured into porcelain cups from an ornate pot – to say nothing of whether you first spread your scone with jam (as they do in Cornwall) or cream (the Devon way).
Legend has it that afternoon tea began in the 1840s when Anna Maria, Duchess of Bedford, visited Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire and asked for something to tide her over from luncheon to dinner. A pot of Darjeeling tea with some bread and butter hit the spot and had such a marvellously reviving effect on the Duchess that soon her friends were joining her in what has turned into one of the most civilised of social occasions.
With so many visitors keen to try this archetypically English ritual, it’s hardly surprising that the streets around Covent Garden are full of restaurants, cafes and hotels serving afternoon tea.
But afternoon tea isn’t just for tourists. Recent years have seen afternoon tea grow hugely in popularity for business meetings. It’s also a convenient way to eat if you’ve just left a matinée at the theatre, or you’re feeling hungry before an evening performance but still want dinner later on. Feeling peckish? Read on to find our list of the best afternoon teas in Covent Garden.
The Strand Palace
What: Just a short walk from Covent Garden, The Strand Palace is home to a decadent afternoon tea experience. Organised into Act 1, Act 2 and the intermission, this afternoon tea is inspired by the theatre. Enjoy classics such as sausage rolls or scones, but also zesty chimichurri prawn flatbreads or tutu tartlets. There is an extensive vegan menu, offering alternatives to the classics, as well as rainbow slaw, spiced jackfruit and mango mayo rolls or banana drama cake.
How much: £49 per person for adults and £25 per person for children on weekdays, £55 per person for adults and £30 per person for children on weekends
Where: 372 Strand, WC2R 0JJ
Book now: The Strand Palace
Sycamore Vino Cucina at Middle Eight
What: Middle Eight's afternoon tea offers a selection of sandwiches including coronation chicken and smoked salmon, sausage rolls and musically inspired sweet treats. Whether you fancy a Blood Orange Opera, a chocolatey Hazelnut Harmony or a pistachio-filled Treble Clef Treat, you will not be disappointed. There is also a huge selection of black teas, white teas, green teas and herbal teas to choose from, or you could go for a glass of Prosecco instead.
How much: £45 per person, £55 per person with a glass of Prosecco
Where: 66 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5BX
Book now: Sycamore Vino Cucina at Middle Eight
Homage at The Waldorf Hilton
What: Afternoon tea at The Waldorf Hilton is nothing short of indulgent. To begin, you can enjoy Waldorf salad and pickled grapes on Nordic bread or truffle egg mayonnaise brioche rolls, followed by soup and a cranberry and brie tart. No afternoon tea is complete without scones and there's a delicious selection of pastries to choose from, be it a blueberry snowflake layered tort or a rose and raspberry macaron.
How much: £59 per person for adults, £35 per person for children
Where: 22 Aldwych, WC2B 4DD
Book now: Homage at The Waldorf Hilton
Brasserie Max at The Covent Garden Hotel
What: At Brasserie Max guests can opt for a traditional affair enjoying cucumber sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and a variety of intriguing sweets from cherry mousse to a cranberry and ginger choux bun. There is also an array of tea and infusions to choose from whether that’s a breakfast tea or a unique blend of rooibos, orange and cactus fig. You can also opt for a glass of English sparkling wine or Champagne.
How much: £45 per person, £57 per person with a glass of Rathfinny Classic Cuvee or £65 per person with a glass of Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve
Where: 10 Monmouth Street, WC2H 9HB
Book now: Brasserie Max
What: Part of Vivek Singh’s Cinnamon Collection, this Covent Garden site boasts a colourful interior and laid-back atmosphere. Cinnamon Bazaar’s daily afternoon tea swaps out cucumber sandwiches for authentic Indian alternatives. Alongside a range of teas, including an Indian masala chai, a selection of snacks is on offer, from samosa chaat (crisp wheat puffs with tamarind chutney) to masala fish finger sandwiches and saffron and pistachio macarons.
How much: £27.50 per person
Where: 28 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7JS
Book now: Cinnamon Bazaar
Corinthia Hotel London
What: On the fringes of Covent Garden near Embankment tube, afternoon tea at the Corinthia Hotel is a charming prelude to an evening in the theatre (the walk over Hungerford Bridge to the National has one of the best views in London). The traditional afternoon tea includes some old-fashioned finger sandwiches – egg and cress; Wiltshire ham and mustard mayonnaise; smoked salmon and cream cheese – alongside scones with jam and clotted cream and seasonal pastries such as a caramelised apple tart. If you find yourself inspired by the sparkle of the 1,001 Baccarat crystals in the chandeliers, upgrade to a glass of brut Champagne.
Where: Whitehall Place, SW1A 2BD
How much: £75 per person, £90 per person with a glass of Champagne
Book now: Corinthia Hotel
What: This classically British, oak-panelled snug within St Martin’s Lane Hotel is an ideal meeting place, with its comfortable leather sofas and warm lighting. Majoring in afternoon tea, the selection includes savoury bites such as crab and creme fraiche strudel, croque monsieur with goat cheese and smoked salmon and cheese on malt bread. Sweets-wise, nibble on plain and fruit scones, kahlua mousse with candy floss or a lavender and blackberry choux flamed meringue. In summer, The Den’s terrace is the place to try out the excellent G&T selection.
How much: £55 per person, £65 per person with a glass of Cremant, £70 per person with a glass of Champagne
Where: St Martins Lane Hotel, 45 St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4HX
Book now: The Den
The Mirror Room at Rosewood London
What: For a twist on the traditional, try out The Mirror Room’s Art Afternoon Tea. The tea includes a selection of finger sandwiches, scones and pastries. There are a number of classic finger sandwiches to enjoy including cucumber, smoked salmon and creme fraiche, and beef sirloin and mustard. There are also a number of art-inspired pastries to choose from, whether that's an almond blossom cake inspired by Van Gogh or an Andy Warhol-inspired flourless chocolate sponge filled with cherry jelly, chocolate mousse and vanilla cremeux. Served alongside loose-leaf teas, the mirrored-ceilings and walls here make for a glam setting that’s sure to perk up your afternoon.
How much: £68 per person
Where: 252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN
Book now: The Mirror Room
What: The Charlie and The Chocolate Factory tea at One Aldwych is certainly no ordinary affair. For a start, the tea selection swaps out your standard English Breakfast for more exotic blends, such as ‘Chocolate Noir’. Even more impressive though, is the bubbling, smoking cocktail 'The Chocolatier': a sharp-but-sweet blend of whisky, cherry liqueur, chocolate bitters, grapefruit juice and Champagne. Unsurprisingly, the sweet offering shines too, featuring scones with 'snozzberry' jam, lemonade possets and candy floss.
How much: £70 per person, £85 per person with a cocktail or a glass of Champagne
Where: 1 Aldwych, WC2B 4BZ
Book now: One Aldwych
The Thames Foyer at The Savoy
What: Afternoon tea at world-famous The Savoy is an enduring custom, and is about as traditional as it gets (yet that’s no bad thing). A selection of finger sandwiches encompasses herb-roasted sirloin and mustard, coronation chicken, and egg salad varieties, while the selection of pastries is just as enticing. Choose from a lemon and sudachi cream choux bun, a pistachio and red plum cake, or a lavender chocolate cube. Of course, you could also go ahead and try all three options…we certainly won’t judge.
How much: £80 per person for traditional afternoon tea, £95 per person for high tea
Where: The Savoy, Strand, WC2R 0EU
Book now: The Thames Foyer at The Savoy
Lily Vanilli's Afternoon Tea at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane
What: Afternoon tea at The Theatre Royal Drury Lane is inspired by both the theatre and the Regency era. In terms of savoury food, you can choose from a coronation chicken pie with caramelised onion chutney or smoked salmon and Earl Grey infused cream cheese on a crumpet, for example. Then, you can enjoy Lily Vanilli's renowned scones, miniature sticky toffee puddings or a mint choc chip ice cream sandwich, washing it all down with a variety of teas and coffee.
How much: £59 per person for adults, £35 per person for children
Where: Theatre Royal Drury Lane, WC2B 5JF
Book now: Lily Vanilli's Afternoon Tea
If you love finger sandwiches wherever you are in the capital, scoff away at our pick of the best afternoon teas in London.