Restaurateurs and hoteliers have in recent years discovered that they can throw together a few sandwich triangles, a couple of reheated scones, and a bit of chopped up cake and charge up to £50 per head for it under the guise of afternoon tea. This may be fine for the tourist who chooses to visit Harrods or The Ritz because they feel they should, but those who want a more local, regular experience of afternoon tea often have to dig a little deeper to find something that is of good value.
Here are three that I’ve found scattered throughout the city:
Tea, Paternoster Square, St Paul’s
Ok, so the setting isn’t very decadent – pine tables and chairs round the back of an office building. BUT there is a very nice view of St Paul’s Cathedral should you choose to sit outside, and a cream tea (finger sandwiches, a scone, and a pot of tea) was a measly £8 the last time I visited. Definitely enough to share between two or three as a snack or to yourself as a meal substitute.
Fifth Floor, Harvey Nichols, Knightsbrige
Forget the bloated nightmare across the way that is Harrods (plush on the outside, John Lewis clearance sale beyond the ground floor) and head to the sleek, stylish settings of Harvey Nichols. The restaurant is a bit high-end, but the cafe – with its garden terrace in the summer – is just as quiet and elegant. An afternoon tea tower (sandwiches, scones, cakes) is just shy of £20, but the staff don’t seem to be fussy about adding extra cups of tea to make one serving feed several mouths.
The Wallace Collection, Marylebone (just behind Selfridges)
You need to walk through The Wallace Collection’s…collection to get to the central atrium for tea. With damask walls, antique paintings, and gold artefacts, that’s the opulent end of the deal sorted. In the restaurant, tea can be served at three levels – cream tea, afternoon tea, and high tea, with prices ranging from £10-20 respectively. If you approach the experience with a leisurely attitude, service is swift, discreet, and efficient, and the ambience is surprisingly calm for somewhere that’s a block away from the hell of Oxford Street.