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Afternoon Tea in LONDON

We will be in London 27 28 29 November, coming in early the 27 and leaving mid-day the 29. I'd like to experience Afternoon Tea, but don't need anything premium. Do I need to prebook, or will it be obvious to me when I get there where I can go? I see that hotels offer tea, but what other places offer it? All restaurants? What is a reasonable cost--we aren't trying to be too lavish but don't want to skimp and miss the experience.

We are staying near Paddington, but plan to be out and about in the afternoons....at some of the major sites like the Tower Bridge or Covent Gardens or the British Museum. Hoping to seee Westminster/Buckingham before Afternoon Tea time. Possibly checking out Soho at some point in there?
No hard and fast itinerary but don't want to miss an Afternoon Tea!

Posted by
1639 posts

hey hey isabel
check out afternoonteaonline.co.uk
b-bakery.com they have a bus tour around the town to see sights in london
register with wowcher.co.uk it's like a groupon deal 2 for 1 for teas. register and see what available. that is compliments of our poster emma from london.
we got lucky seeing changing of the guard at buckingham palace along with the horses clomping down the road. it was so crowded, people squeezing to get to fence to see, climbing on fencea and statues, the security guards scattering people away. even if you get there early, people will still try to push you around. be diligent, get there early and stand your ground. wear comfy shoes, you will will wait long and they go by fast, a sight to see and remember. walk by where the the horses and guards are.
have fun and enjoy. bring you small coins to watch the "free" entertainment at covent gardens, a place to watch and have fun. tripsavvy.com/ best street markets in london. alondon inlondon.com is a blogger of lots of things to do in london. jasons.co.uk a boat ride up the canal.
aloha

Posted by
4974 posts

Maybe you’re looking for an Event, with a kind of big production, indicated by capitalizing Afternoon Tea. I’m sure those are available, as we did at the Pump Room in Bath, England, some time ago. That included fine china, a variety of teas in fancy teapots, and a wide assortment of cakes and other pastries. It had a set price, not exceedingly expensive, but certainly more than picking up a packaged sweet roll at the grocery store, and getting a take-out tea in a paper cup.

On our 2-day stopover in London a couple of years ago, making our way home from a trip farther north in the UK, we visited the Courtauld Gallery one afternoon. After seeing some truly wonderful paintings, it seemed like a good time for a break, and we stopped into their little cafe room. They had a handful of tables on the adjacent terrace outside, overlooking the courtyard between the Courtauld and Somerset House. We ordered teas (several varieties available) and chose a couple of sweet treats to go with it. So we had an afternoon tea (lower-case), in a delightful setting. Not exactly fancy, no white-gloved staff waiting on us, but it served its purpose perfectly, and was unquestionably English. Maybe this was like having breakfast, or lunch, or dinner - afternoon tea - instead of Breakfast, etc. but you can make your own without it being a big deal. Or splurge and go to a fancy one, but you might have some options! The outside in late November might not be one of those options, though. Enjoy!

Posted by
4368 posts

What are you expecting Afternoon Tea to be like? I don't ask that question in a derogotary manner but rather an inquisitive one because it may be that you're thiking it's a bigger deal than it actually is.

Afternoon Tea comes in a variety of formats. It's not something that the British do on a daily basis (I've never had Afternoon Tea, I've had a mug of tea in the afternoon, occasionally accompanied with a biscuit). It's something reserved for a special occasion, usually groups of female friends getting together for an occasion or catch up. Generally men prefer to go to a pub.

In essence it's an occasion where you're served a variety of small sandwiches, cakes, scones, pastries etc and pots of tea of varying sorts according to your preference. Some may even serve champagne. They come in at all price points and at all sorts of quality. Some are lavish, others a more gentle affair. Restaurants don't tend to offer afternoon tea, mainly it's hotels, museums etc.

It's certainly something that excites many Americans if the comments on this forum are anything to go by. Personally I don't see the attraction, it's just a sugar and carb overload in my opinion and ruins the appetite for a much better dinner later on.

Posted by
18892 posts

Afternoon tea can be crazy expensive for what is basically snack food (though high-class), so if you don't want to spend 50-70 pounds per person, you need to pay particular attention to costs. There have been earlier threads on this topic, which you might be able to find by using the Search function here. Otherwise, use the much better Google search function for ricksteves.com forum London afternoon tea.

Here's one example: March 2019 thread

And this from 2018: May 2018 thread

And from December 2017: December 2017 thread

Of course, the prices mentioned in the 2017 and 2018 threads in particular have probably increased.

Posted by
2788 posts

I also loved Fortnum and Mason. I had the Savory Tea so it was my dinner that night. They had a pianist and the ambiance is elegant but business casual dress is fine. It was expensive, though. I have also been to tea at Harrod's and Wolseley. Wolseley staff are very nice and accommodating, but I preferred the pricier F and M. Others will disagree, but we find tea to be a nice relaxing thing to do the day we get off the plane.

Posted by
2023 posts

Fortnum and Mason would be a good choice. It seems to be a favorite with the royals and the Queen is fond of their "hampers"--must be a picnic basket. The tea at Harrods was not anything special and was expensive for what was served.

Posted by
3213 posts

I indulge my wife on our trips to London for her birthday with an afternoon tea, but for me, a cup of tea and a pastry at the local shop would be just fine. When it’s open, she prefers the Orangery (it’s undergoing renovations right now). Last year was Betty’s in York, and this year it’s the Pump Room in Bath. Believe Liberty London (by Carnaby St) does an afternoon tea as does Tea and Tattle (41 Great Russel St)

Posted by
2023 posts

Am not aware of Christmas Hampers in the U.S. F&M is a fabulous store and the hampers were on display. We had lunch there once and it was excellent. We took our tweens to the Orangery before it closed for renovations and it was very nice and quite reasonable. We also enjoyed Betty's in York.

Posted by
5975 posts

Well, we do have sort of a low-end version of Christmas hampers - Hickory Farms, anyone? But after looking at them at F&M online, it looks like a good idea for some entrepreneur here to start importing.

Posted by
519 posts

I’ve had afternoon tea twice at Harrods and loved both experiences. So elegant!!

Posted by
4890 posts

Now that I'm older, I agree more with the earlier post that suggests that formal tea is a product for consumption by romantic Americans. We certainly did our share of $50 p.p. and over hotel teas. I wonder if people now go to hotel lobbies in ripped tee shirts and cargo pants for formal tea??

But, really, the key issue should be what foodies look for: The quality of the dining product. A fresh, hot, griddled scone is a dish you can't often find in the United States. Getting them, with real clotted cream and fresh, maybe even un-canned jam is a real treat. Vestiges of colonial Imperialism in a (now, Emirate-owned ... ) hotel lobby are beside the point.

On our last trip to London, as we have in the last twenty years, we made a point of inviting a local friend who had never been there, to join us at the Maids Of Honour tea shop across the street from the back gate of Kew Gardens. It's the special pastries we came for, on a formica table with no tablecloth. We also picked up a box of Maids of Honour pastries for friends in Downtown London.

Posted by
4528 posts

If the location / view is as important as anything else, try afternoon tea on the top floor at the National Portrait Gallery. Views of Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben as you eat your sandwiches and cake and sip your tea and wine. Don't confuse with The National Gallery next door which has a good tea but not the views.

Posted by
2466 posts

I’ll just weigh in again with this: based on your original post you want the Afternoon Tea experience. You say you don’t need anything “premium” but IMHO, it only comes in one “size”-fancy and expensive. Yes, you can have a cup of tea and a decent scone in a bakery somewhere but that is not the same. We still talk about our afternoon at F&M eating those little sandwiches, the heavenly scones, appreciating different teas with milk and sugar, our great server. Whenever I’m planning a splurge like this I justify it with my deathbed self talk: if I don’t do this when I am on my deathbed will I look into the eyes of my sweet wife and say “I’m sure glad we didn’t spend that $150 on the afternoon tea when we were in London”. Don’t think so!

Posted by
4974 posts

Around these parts, a hamper is common, but for storing dirty clothes, before they get sorted and washed. Maybe where soiled napkins would go, too, after someone’s elegantly used one at a tea, and gotten a bit of marmalade on it.

And The Nutcracker ballet is always staged around here at Christmas - does that count?

Posted by
651 posts

Whats a griddled scone? All scones i have ever eaten are baked in an oven.

Posted by
571 posts

Americans eat marmalade for tea? In Britain, it's a breakfast spread usually.

Posted by
4974 posts

OK, then, substitute jam for marmalade. Hopefully, don’t dirty a napkin with either.

And have marmalade with cold toast and baked beans on the side - LOL

Posted by
4890 posts

I have seen scones being baked on a griddle. As my mother taught me in the 1950's, the direction for American pancakes is to "bake" them on a sufficiently heated griddle. You can't fry or sautée them and get the proper result. I'm sure scones can also be baked in the oven.

Posted by
5632 posts

Hoping you’ll share where you went and what it cost.
Enjoy your travel. Bon Voyage.

Posted by
5975 posts

We did afternoon tea three times in three different places. I can't help but wonder if the attraction to us Americans is an TV-driven expectation of some ceremony or extra special service, perhaps involving liveried servers and curtsies. My travel companions certainly expected more to it than the unceremonious arrival of racks of small bites while around us people were having regular lunches, served in the same manner. Heck, most Americans don't even like hot tea, preferring coffee.

Posted by
4974 posts

Stan, I’m not certain that Brits absolutely loved tea when it was first introduced, hence all the milk and sugar. But a warm drink‘s nice on a cold, rainy day, and drinking tea beats plain hot water. One lump, or two?

Posted by
1063 posts

”I can't help but wonder if the attraction to us Americans is an TV-driven expectation of some ceremony or extra special service, perhaps involving liveried servers and curtsies"

Stan, I think you've hit the nail on the head there, in discussions that I've had with Americans when I lived there it seems they believe everything they see in 1930's films.

Posted by
36 posts

When we moved to the US when I was a child we had breakfast, lunch and dinner on Monday-Saturday, but on Sunday we had breakfast, dinner in the middle of the day and tea in the evening. Sunday was always a roast with all of accompaniments, but my mother referred to the roast as a "joint". Imagine my boyfriend (now husband's) reaction when my mother invited him to our house for a Sunday joint! Forty years later we still laugh and my adult children delight in retelling the story. Strayed away from tea here, but I never knew that what we called our meal reflected class or origins. Some of my favorite memories as a child were visiting my Nan who would always great us with a hug and then "I'll just put the kettle on".

Posted by
5975 posts

emma, once the ladies discovered Pimms, they skipped the actual tea drinking.

Posted by
2023 posts

We had cream tea once at Harrods (I think this was called cream tea) and the dessert that was served was fabulous. A pot of tea for two was served. Harrods serves excellent desserts.

Posted by
26 posts

I have been thoroughly entertained (and educated) by all of the responses to my questions! I've learned SOOO much about tea in England just by reading the banter. Thank you ALL for your contributions, and keep them coming. If we decide to splurge on an official 'tea' experience next week, I will report back! Again, thanks!

Posted by
2788 posts

In Southern US, we have always called dinner "supper"

Posted by
3318 posts

My favorite place for tea in London is The Wolseley. It's just next door to the Ritz and Green Park tube station. Absolutely beautiful room and creme tea is only 12.75 GBP and afternoon tea just a bit more. A bargain compared to what you'd pay next door at the Ritz and much nicer IMHO.

Posted by
18 posts

I had afternoon tea at the Savoy last year, and loved it. The tea and all the food was amazing, service impeccable, live music, gorgeous room. It was completely worth the money, and I was able to go late enough that it was my dinner for that day. Fortnum and Mason’s more casual restaurant the Parlour has wonderful scones, so I went to their Diamond Jubilee tea salon later that trip and found it disappointing- I like their tea itself, but the scones were not served warm like at the Parlour, and the food and service were not even comparable to the Savoy. The Parlour’s afternoon tea might be worth looking at if you’re not looking to splurge, or you might consider afternoon tea at one of the major museums (I know National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery both have reasonably priced afternoon teas that are frequently recommended, for example). Generally you’re going to want to reserve a table in advance, but I was able to do so online a day or two beforehand.

Posted by
3318 posts

Ooooo Emma...I didn't know that about the Wolseley...will need to keep my eyes open next time I'm there. I've had good luck seeing celebs here in Los Angeles over the last couple of months without even trying!

Posted by
38 posts

Emma is correct!

Sir Patrick Stewart held the door for me, with a smile and "Allow me, madam."

I was quite dizzy for a good 15 minutes :-)

Posted by
511 posts

In my family the place to splurge for Afternoon Tea is at Brown's Hotel. This is because in 1984 when I went to London with my mother (we were then ages 30 and 57) she was a librarian with a folder of travel clippings and one of them suggested Brown's and mentioned it was where Agatha Christie set "At Bertram's Hotel." My mother embarrassed me to death by asking the server what kind of tea it was (Earl Grey). That was her only visit across the Pond, and of course Alan's deathbed scenario applies.

Posted by
4368 posts

A friend of mine had Meryl Streep on the next table. She passed the sugar!:-)

I've had a door answered by Curly Watts in just his pants and a Playstation controller in his hand! Nothing to do with afternoon tea of course, just one of my more surreal 'celebrity' encounters.

Posted by
3318 posts

If Patrick Stewart held the door for me, my life would be complete.