Last Updated on December 12, 2022
Savoring a proper afternoon tea in London is about much, much more than just tea…
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
By Donna Manz
I’ve always wanted to set aside a couple of hours for afternoon “tea” in London. On my most recent visit to London, I finally decided to do it but with a twist: I did not one, but two teas — which turned out to be the most delightful travel research.
Let me describe a typical London afternoon tea … of course, there is a diverse selection of teas, from the “aromatics” to the traditional, although usually the teas are black teas with an herbal offered. Each setting comes with its own individual tea-leaf holder. The tea service is silver, the plates and cups fine china.
The Pièce de Résistance at Afternoon Tea
The true pièce de résistance, however, is the finger-food selection. Earl Grey is Earl Grey but it is the interpretation of pastries and savory bites that define the gustatory experience. And yes, while you can have afternoon tea without champagne, why would you want to? Most tea salons offer champagne as an add-on and it certainly gives “sparkle” to the formal event.
The food is presented on a tiered server with, typically, pastries on the upper while the savories are on the lower larger base. Scones with clotted cream are standard fare, as are cream puffs and mini-cupcakes. Savories usually include cucumber, smoked salmon and either chicken salad or egg salad from cage-free hens. The diversity on the afternoon tea menu stand offers a bit of something, or a lot of something, for every taste although vegans might have a problem.
Some tea salons have “seatings” while others are open throughout the day. In either case, though, it’s advisable to make reservations. You’ll find that servers at the more esteemed “teas” are well informed and well trained, yet friendly, and everything about their etiquette exudes an air of ease.
We enjoyed two hours of afternoon tea at both The Milestone and the Montague on the Gardens hotels, making our reservations the day we arrived in London. Regrettably, we weren’t able to have “tea” at the top-ranked tea salon in London, at the Goring Hotel at Grosvenor Gardens, which the British Tea Guild awarded an almost perfect score. When word of an award like this gets out in London, reservations become very hard to come by. Next time though….
We shared our debut tea service with a Londoner who counts The Milestone, on Kensington Road, as one of her favorite London tea spots. We had selected The Milestone because it is a former town home, converted into hotel and restaurant.
Being a lover of British mysteries, I have my own idea of the surroundings in which London “tea” should be served (in a small-ish room accented with lots of dark wood, a parlor, perhaps, in a manor house) and the parlor of The Milestone was what I imagined, with the bonus of sunlight streaming in through the Kensington Gardens-facing windows. I actually felt as if I were a guest in a manor home.
We each ordered the tea service that included a flute of champagne. The champagne “tea” was about £45, approximately $63, each. We gobbled up the mini-sandwiches, but, there were so many sweets, we could not get through them all. The food, especially the scones, was rich and flavorful. Our guest brought home a little box of “left-overs.”
One particular scene caught my attention, bringing a bittersweet grandma smile to my face. A little girl, Izzy, there to help her parents celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary, sat on a sofa with her mom. Just 4-1/2 years old, she was the same age and had the same impish face as my granddaughter and I just could not resist chatting with her. Izzy and her mom went into the kitchen where Izzy was given a toque blanche to wear as she decorated her own cupcakes.
Traditional Afternoon Tea
Traditional Afternoon Tea at The Milestone is £36.50, and Champagne Afternoon Tea is £45. For the Little Prince and Princess in your life, The Milestone serves a Little Prince and Little Princess Tea (children under 12) for £12.50. The Milestone Hotel has sittings at 1, 3 and 5p.m. daily.
After the British Tea Guild awards its Top London Afternoon Tea Award, it also recognizes additional tea salons for excellence. Montague on the Gardens, adjacent to the British Museum, is one of them.
The Montague was our second “tea” party and we made friends with two Australian women celebrating the last day of their London vacation, all of us chatting away in a relaxed setting. We sat in the sunlit conservatory with the gardens behind us, and my friend and I ordered “tea” with a glass of champagne. Once again, we had bountiful leftovers and brought them back to our room to nibble on throughout the evening.
The Montague’s “tea” service is £25.00 per person with champagne costing an additional £11.00 to £12.50 for 125 ml.
As does The Milestone, Montague on the Gardens also offers a Little Prince and Princess Tea, for children under 12, although the execution differs. At the Montague, little prince and princesses are served jam and peanut butter sandwiches, cupcakes and ice cream, and a choice of tea or hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and marshmallows. The Montague’s Little Prince and Princess Tea is priced at £11.50 per child.
Afternoon Tea is offered from noon to 6p.m. daily.
If you go:
You can learn more about the “tea” at The Montague on the Gardens at on the hotel’s website. Since the Pompeii/Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum runs through September, you can book both “tea” and tickets to the exhibition through the concierge desk at the hotel.