We love afternoon tea here at SquareMeal and will never miss a chance to get dressed up and oh-so-daintily stuff our faces with sandwiches, scones and pretty patisserie. Sometimes, though, the experience can be a little samey and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a traditional afternoon tea experience, it’s nice to mix it up from time to time.
Enter: themed afternoon teas. While – for most of them, at least – there might still be sandwiches and scones up for grabs, there are also intricately designed cakes and savouries that centre round all sorts of things – from children’s storybooks through to fried chicken (yep, you read that right). The beauty of experiencing one of London’s best themed afternoon teas is the combination of traditional and modern, which we think sums up the city so perfectly. There might be tiered trays of treats, but there will also be unusual, carefully crafted patisserie or deliciously savoury treats that aren’t just your typical cucumber sandwiches (although to shade to cucumber sarnies, we have all the respect in the world for this British classiqué).
Whatever the event a themed afternoon tea will give your gathering a sense of occasion. From celebrating a baby shower or hen do through to simply marking the middle of the week, there’s no excuse too big or small that afternoon tea can’t improve frankly. We love using this moment in the day as an excuse to get dressed up and take a couple of hours away from our screens to help us get back to what we do best… eating.
That’s why we’ve hand-picked the best themed afternoon teas in London for you to check out. None are too out-there – we like a change, but we’re still British – but all bring something a little different to the treat-laden table. Pinkies at the ready!
Peter Pan afternoon tea at The Shard
What: Where better to escape reality than up in the clouds with Peter Pan? This special themed tea celebrates J.M Barrie’s much loved characters with Tinkerbell cookies and Hook cakes, as well as sandwiches from The Lost Boys and all kinds of little surprising extras. Even drinks have been given a fairytale spin, with a magic cocktail for the grown ups and a fun, fruity mocktail for the kids, cleverly called Never Grow Up.
Why: Perfect for special celebrations, this would make a gorgeous birthday treat for kids or a great way to escape reality for grown-ups. The added bonus of incredible views across London's skyline makes this an experience to remember.
When and where: Aqua Shard, Level 31 The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, Southwark, SE1 9RY. Thursday – Sunday from 12.15 - 4.15pm
How much: £52 per person
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-inspired afternoon tea at One Aldwych
What: A tribute to the wonders of Roald Dahl’s magical story, this Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-themed afternoon tea is bursting with pure imagination. Plates piled high with Wonka-worthy cakes, sweets, mousses and scones can be washed down with chocolate or lemon sherbet tea at this alternative afternoon tea experience.
Why: This one’s spot on for special occasions, particularly with children, though there’s no reason you shouldn’t book in for an indulgent afternoon simply for the pleasure of it. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of the tastiest tales ever told, and this afternoon tea is a credit to it.
When and where: One Aldwych, 1 Aldwych, WC2B 4BZ. Monday - Saturday, 12.30pm - 3pm; Sunday, 12.30pm - 5pm.
How much: £71 per person for a two-hour experience with Champagne
Chicken wing afternoon tea at Randy’s Wing Bar, Hackney
What: Think afternoon tea is all pomp and circumstance? Think again, as Randy’s Wing Bar in Hackney Wick has created the ultimate afternoon tea for lovers of all things wings. This three-tiered affair is loaded with burgers and dirty fries, followed by an array of chicken wings and a sweet finish of chocolate brownie bites to round things off.
Why: This is the perfect antidote for any of your friends who think afternoon tea is boring, and it certainly will leave you fuller than dainty finger sandwiches. Why not play a little game of wing roulette with your selection (watch out for any spicy sauces!), or pair your tea with a glass of fizz from Randy’s drinks list, so that you still feel at least a little classy.
When and where: Randy’s Wing Bar, 28 East Bay Lane, E15 2GW. Tuesday-Sunday, 12-5pm.
How much: £45 for two people
Art afternoon tea at Rosewood London, Holborn
What: A visual feast of an afternoon tea inspired by a current London exhibition. Comprised of typically abstract-looking pastries, each taking their inspiration from different works of art, this afternoon tea is anything but conventional but is certainly a lot of fun.
Why: If you're a fan of Japanese art, cubism, or simply the abstract more generally, you won't find many better afternoon teas than this. The launch of this afternoon tea coincides with the opening of exhibition the Tate Modern's Yayoi Kusama's exhibition, Infinity Mirror Rooms. Once you're finished tea you can always go and have a look around there afterwardsd.
When and where: 252 High Holborn WC1V 7EN. Weekdays, 2.30-5.45pm, weekends 12-5.45pm
How much: £65 per person or £75 per person including a glass of bubbles
‘That’s So Fetch’ Mean Girls afternoon tea at Bar Duo, Camden
What: A charming and Instagrammable afternoon tea inspired by perennially popular teen film, Mean Girls. The tea features finger sandwiches followed by sweet treats inspired by the film such as a Burn Book cookie and a So Fetch macaron.
Why: Oodles of fun, this afternoon tea is ideal for all of the Gretchen’s and Regina George’s of London town, while candyfloss cocktails and an actual Burn Book that you can vent your frustrations in are cute touches. There are veggie and vegan alternatives too, which are certainly better for you than a 500 calorie Kalteen Bar.
When and where: 22 Inverness Street, NW1 7HJ. Saturdays, 5.30-7.30pm and Sundays, 4-6pm.
How much: £45 per person
London Landmarks afternoon tea at Town House Kensington
What: A darling miniature London Eye tea stand featuring some of London's most iconic landmarks, including The Gherkin, made from white chocolate and dark chocolate ganache, The Shard, constructed with carrot cake and milk chocolate, and a Big Ben-inspired lemon curd tart.
Why: If there's a more delicious way to see London's sights, we don't know it! This cutesy afternoon tea is perfect for treating visitors to after a day's tour of the capital's real-life landmarks and won't do your Instagram any damage either. The only concern is that it does all just look too good to eat.
When and where: Town House at The Kensington, 109-113 Queen's Gate, London, SW7 5LP. Monday-Sunday, 12pm-4pm.
How much: £42 per person or £54.50 with a glass of Champagne
Science afternoon tea at The Ampersand Hotel
What: Inspired by the hotel's South Kensington neighbour, the Science Museum, this interactive afternoon tea experience is a whole lot of fun. Instead of the usual sandwiches and cakes, you can expect exciting and curious dishes including jelly served in a petri dish, fossils hidden in chocolate 'soil' and toppings such as freeze dried pineapple for your scones.
Why: Who doesn't want afternoon tea that involves dry ice? It might appear to be geared towards children (and there is a children's version available), but grown-ups are sure to find this unique offering fun as well. Plus with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menus available, it's an experience that everyone can take part in.
When and where: The Ampersand Hotel, 10 Harrington Road, London, SW7 3ER. Monday-Saturday, 12.30pm–9pm; Sunday, 12.30pm–7pm.
How much: £39.50 or £49.50 with a glass of Charles Heidsieck Champagne
Staycation afternoon tea at St Pancras by Searcys
What: A staycation afternoon tea menu featuring playful interpretations of delicacies from a handful of UK locations, all served in an adorable mini suitcase. The generous menu includes a selection of savouries, sweets and scones, and there’s the option to add a bit of pizazz with a glass of fizz.
Why: Tempting treats such as passion fruit éclair, a yuzu chocolate tart and a pistachio cherry slice, alongside York ham and wholegrain mustard sarnies will more than get you in the mood for travelling, even if that's travelling across our home nations for now.
When and where: St Pancras Brasserie & Champagne Bar by Searcys, St Pancras International Station, N1C 4QL. Monday - Saturday, 3pm - 5pm.
How much: £39 per person, or £51 with a glass of Champagne
Theatre 'Not Afternoon Tea' at OXO Tower Brasserie
What: Despite its claim to the contrary, the West End theatre-themed ‘Not Afternoon Tea’ is, in fact, a West End theatre-themed afternoon tea. The gorgeous selection of sweet treats pays homage to five top West End shows, including Matilda and The Lion King, and is paired with an ensemble of cocktails to complement each dessert.
Why: Whether you’re headed to a show or not, there’s something so joyful about seeing so many brilliant productions celebrated in cake and biscuit form. Anyone with a sweet tooth and/or Instagram addiction will love it.
When and where: OXO Tower Brasserie, Barge House Street, SE1 9PH. Monday - Friday, 3pm - 5pm; Saturday - Sunday 2pm - 4.30pm.
How much: £38 for adults, £18 for children
Mary Quant-inspired afternoon tea at The Pelham
What: This is a vibrant fashion-inspired afternoon tea inspired by the Mary Quant exhibition at the V&A. Designed in partnership with luxury event planners La Fête, the experience draws on the history of the British icon who dreamt up the miniskirt to present a colourful array of savouries and well-dressed sweet treats.
Why: Each platter is prepared by Michelin-starred chef Alfredo Russo and his team, so you can be sure each item will taste as good as it looks. And what could be more cultured than a day out at the V&A followed by a Mary Quant-themed afternoon tea?
When and where: The Pelham Hotel, 15 Cromwell Place, SW7 2LA. Monday - Sunday, 3pm - 5.30pm.
How much: Afternoon tea is priced at £40
High Chai at The LaLit
What: An Indian-inspired afternoon tea experience that will whisk you from the South Bank to the fragrant streets of India in one sip of masala chai. The menu includes savouries such as kathi roll and Bombay bhel, while sweets include gajar ka halwar, plus there's a variety of teas from Camillia’s Tea House.
Why: Bright, beautiful and with views of the glorious Great Hall, The Gallery at LaLit London is a charming place to enjoy an Indian-themed afternoon tea. And the authentic selection on offer promises to please even the most discerning High Chai enthusiast.
When and where: LaLit London, 181 Tooley Street, SE1 2JR. Monday Sunday, 12.30pm - 4pm.
How much: £47 per person
Mad Hatter’s afternoon tea at Sanderson
What: A tea party beyond your wildest imagination, brimming with tributes to Lewis Carroll’s much-loved children’s story. Discover menus hidden inside vintage books and containing delights such as a Queen of Hearts rose and strawberry Jammy Dodger, and a Mad March Hare vanilla pocket watch macaroon.
Why: Few afternoon tea experiences can be more fun than this one. The attention to detail is outstanding and everything from the Alice-inspired tea infusions to the tiny bottle of ‘Drink Me’ potion are sure to make your experience down the rabbit hole one you'll never forget.
When and where: Sanderson, 50 Berners Street, W1T 3NG. Monday - Saturday, 12.30pm - 4pm; Sunday, 1pm - 5pm.
How much: £48 per adult, £35 per child. To celebrate Afternoon Tea Week (12-18 August 2019) , Sanderson is offering a complimentary cocktail and box of Retail Tea with the Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea (£48) or Champagne Afternoon Tea for £50. Please quote the offer you’d like to book when making a reservation.
Harry Potter-inspired afternoon tea at Cutter & Squidge
What: While this modern bakery in Soho doesn’t actually mention JK Rowling’s wondrous world anywhere, the fact that it takes place in its ‘Potion Room’ and includes faux school badges, beakers of brews, and other-worldly knick-knacks as far as the eye can see, makes us pretty sure we know which book series it’s based on.
Why: Whether you’re a fan of the Potter books or not, this experience is truly magical – and delicious. A far cry from traditional, this afternoon tea includes treats such as Yorkshire puddings, butterscotch biscuits, and rock cakes worthy of a certain gamekeeper. Kids and grown-ups alike will love it, and it has the added bonus of catering to vegetarian, vegan, and wheat-free diets.
When and where: 20 Brewer Street, W1F 0SJ. There are three sittings a day at 12pm, 3pm and 6pm.
How much: The two-hour experience is £49.50 for adults and £39.50 for kids
Japanese afternoon tea at Ginza Onodera
What: A beautifully-presented selection of mainly savoury bites, such as spider rolls, wagyu sliders, and crab croquettes, washed down with premium-grade green tea. Afternoon tea takes place in the modern surrounds of the restaurant, with its sleek marble sushi bar, pale woods and monochrome furnishings.
Why: For those lacking a sweet tooth, afternoon tea is generally a no-go, but this flavourful selection of Far Eastern bites bridges the gap nicely. Excellent presentation and tranquil surroundings make it ideal for parties looking to escape the usual buzz of an afternoon tea sitting.
When and where: Ginza Onodera, 15 Bury Street, SW1Y 6AL. Saturday - Sunday, 2pm - 4pm.
How much: £29 for a choice of one tea, or £37 for Ochakai
Asian Afternoon Tea at OXO Brasserie
What: Try something a little different, with OXO Tower’s pan-Asian inspired afternoon tea, where you can expect to find the likes of home-made gua bao buns stuffed with sweet soy roasted pork or ginger marinated salmon and shiitake steamed buns. To satisfy your sweet tooth, try a Japanese take on scones: tangy mango and passion fruit jam served on milk buns with hearty helpings of clotted cream. The selection of teas is on another level too; we like the sound of the vanilla chai – a warming concoction of ginger, liquorice root, black pepper, and cardamom.
Why: The delicate Asian flavour combinations work so well for an afternoon tea, the sweets and savouries pair nicely with the fragrant teas, and the view from the Southbank isn’t half bad either.
When and where: OXO Tower Brasserie, Barge House Street, SE1 9PH. Monday to Friday from 3-5pm and Saturday to Sunday 2-4.30pm.
How much: £30 per person
Indian-inspired afternoon tea at Cinnamon Bazaar
What: A colourful, Indian-inspired take on the quintessential tradition of afternoon tea. You'll find all sorts on this special menu at Cinnamon Bazaar in Covent Garden, from chaat to sweet treats and wonderfully warming masala chai.
Why: The bespoke menu has been created by legend of the culinary world, Vivek Singh, and Great British Bake Off star Tamal Ray, so you can be sure everything will taste as good as it looks. Inspired by the duo’s shared family roots in Kolkata, this Indian-inspired afternoon tea brings a dose of fire and spice to the traditional tea-time spread.
When and where: Cinnamon Bazaar, 28 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 7JS. Monday to Sunday from 2.30-5pm.
How much: £25 per person
Looking for a more traditional afternoon tea experience? Check out our guide to the best afternoon teas in London