I recently wrote a post titled A Short Introduction to Afternoon Tea in London for Serious Eats. We don’t have too many afternoon tea options in NYC, but in London the number of options are endless…and somewhat overwhelming.
It gets a little easier when you break afternoon tea down into three groups.
- Traditional: the classic, old-fashioned, full-service, white glove teas
- Modern: the full tea (savory, sweets, and scones), but in a less formal setting where the food is often more contemporary.
- Basic: very causal teas where you can opt for just pastries and tea
One of my favorites for Traditional Afternoon Tea is at Brown’s Hotel
in the Mayfair. Tea is £39.50 a person. Elegant and beautifully presented, this is a classic with no surprise and all the fuss (which is a good thing!) and formalities.
A practice which most traditional London afternoon teas offer is unlimited refills (or as my waiter said, continuously replenished)…on everything. Sandwiches, scones, sweets. Amazing right? It’s a nice perk though the amount of food given for round one is more than enough to fill you up. I’ve yet to take advantage of the offer. But it’s something to keep in mind.
Sandwiches! Why does it seem so easy for London tea spots to get this right, but nearly impossible for most NYC tea spots to make a really good, classic tea sandwich? This drives me crazy. Not asking for anything fancy, just a fresh (no pre-assembled, stale, crust-on bread) and simple tea sandwich.
From left to right: chicken salad, egg salad, ham and mustard, smoked salmon-cream cheese, and butter-cucumber.
Warm scones (yes, I did eat all five ;)…a mix of plain, currant, and cranberry.
With clotted cream and strawberry preserves.
How precious are these sweets? Lemon cream macaron, chocolate ganache cake, financier with raspberries, and a glossy caramel tart. In the back, elderflower gelée.
After you finish with the three tiers, the waiter rolls out a cake trolley to the table. Two whole cakes (flavors change daily) on the trolley, pick any one. Or…pick both ^_^ The one on the bottom was like a tarte tropézienne made with pound cake instead of brioche. And on top, an excellent slice of fruit cake.
Next time I’m back in London, I’ll check out Brown’s Tea Tox which is a lighter version of the classic afternoon tea. Here’s a look at the menu. Sounds intriguing.
I mentioned a few other places in that Serious Eats post…
Quince Salon at The May Fair is an example of a Modern Afternoon Tea.
With these types of teas, you still get three tiers, but in a more casual setting with a modern twist. Scones and sandwiches are classic (English cheddar and pickles, and cucumber with dill cream cheese), but desserts includes non-traditional sweets like black sesame macarons and caramelized banana mousse. Quince serves a selection of six tea from Rare Tea Co.
Then on another level is the Basic Afternoon Tea, places where you can drop in without a reservation for tea/sweets/savories. These places have a la carte menu so you can pick and choose, no need to commit to all three tiers.
I like Sotheby’s Cafe (remember the ?) on New Bond Street. They offer a Small Tea for only £8.25. It comes with tea, scones with clotted cream and jam, and a pair of tea cakes. The tea cakes are the highlight – like a cross between English muffins and cake, slathered in cinnamon-orange butter. Bonus: you get to watch the live auctions on the big screen while having tea.
Brown’s Hotel | 33 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4BP, UK | +44 20 7493 6020
The May Fair | Stratton Street, London W1J 8LT, UK | +44 20 7629 777
Sotheby’s Cafe | 34-35 New Bond Street, London W1A 2AA, UK | +44 20 7293 5077