If you’re planning to visit London you’ll want to enjoy that great British institution Afternoon Tea. While it’s no longer true that everything stops for tea in the capital, it’s still a very civilized way to pass a couple of hours, especially when accompanied by another British tradition – grey skies and rain.
As a Brit based in San Francisco, I often make return trips to the UK – here’s a list of my favorite tea spots which are pretty free of the usual tourist crowds. This special insiders’ guide is just between us, so please don’t share!
1. The Wolseley on Piccadilly, just next to the Ritz. Dine in splendor, this grand, atmospheric interior with its towering pillars, arches and stairways was commissioned in 1921, by Wolseley Motors Limited. The cars were displayed on the marble floor and cost between £225 - £1,300. Unfortunately, the cars did not sell well enough and by 1926 the Company was bankrupt. Luckily the building remains intact for us to enjoy today over a cup of Earl Grey and a buttered crumpet. Booking is essential. http://www.thewolseley.com/
2. Browns Hotel. The English Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel serves one of the most famous afternoon teas in London and was voted The Tea Guild’s ‘Top London Afternoon Tea’. The sophisticated and stylish interior is a clever mix of both tradition - thanks to the original wood paneling, fire places and Jacobean detailed plaster ceiling and contemporary style, with Paul Smith lighting, fashionable fabrics and original artworks. http://www.brownshotel.com/dining/the-english-tea-room
3. Yauatcha is a contemporary dim sum teahouse that opened in London in 2004. Not one for the traditionalists, an astonishing range of Chinese and Indian teas are served along with jewel-like cakes, handmade macaroons, and chocolates. Yauatcha is a modern reinterpretation of the old Chinese teahouse. The restaurant’s open-plan layout and visible kitchen energizes the entire space, engaging both the outside street scene and Yauatcha’s customers. The teahouse received a Michelin star within a year of its opening. http://www.yauatcha.com/soho/
4. Bond and Brook, the elegant light-filled cafe upstairs at Fenwicks Department store, New Bond Street, serves proper loose tea in proper pots. No teabag nonsense here! Just the place here for a thoroughly fashionable afternoon tea with dainty finger sandwiches and home-made scones.
5. For an over-the-top Mad Hatter’s Tea Party try Sketch on Conduit Street http://www.sketch.uk.com/afternoon_tea.php .Sit in a woodland glade and savor an Afternoon Tea to catch your eye…. The Sketch sandwich menu includes caviar and quail egg, and other sandwiches you’ll want to bite, pastries too, macaroons, and an assortment of specially-baked cakes. Booking is essential at this über-fashionista’s spot and there is a dress code.
6. For more traditional fare, soak up the half-timbered history that is Liberty of London, on Gt. Marlborough Street. Browse the famous Liberty prints or head straight to the store’s tea room for its sumptuous afternoon tea. http://www.liberty.co.uk/BarsAndRestaurants/article/fcp-content
7. If you find yourself in the Spitalfields area of London, make tracks for Tea Smith on Lamb Street. Explore delicate Whites, energizing Greens, aromatic and complex Oolongs, and mysterious aged Puers, all in an accessible, luxurious environment. Sit at the unique Tea Bar and select your tea based on how you feel, chat about infusing the best brew, or just relax and enjoy your flight. To accompany your tea try some sensational patisserie or contemporary award-winning chocolates.
8. Maison Bertaux is a tea time institution in Soho, self-styled as London’s oldest (and best) patisserie. Just make sure you don’t sit in the new extension and be warned that the staff can be a little surly – but hey, this is London and the cakes are worth it! http://www.maisonbertaux.com/maisonbertaux.com/Maison_Bertaux.html
9. If you’re hankering for the Ritz on a Holiday Inn budget, try the Belle Epoque Patisserie on Stoke Newington Green in North London. This little-known gem, well off the tourist trail, does indeed make cakes for the Ritz! Enjoy your cuppa in the secluded private garden.
10. Yum Chaa, another Soho favorite on Berwick Street does a good cup of tea, but just that. It specializes in a fantastic range of leaf teas. This is one for aficionados, you’ll need to get your gateau fix elsewhere! http://www.yumchaa.com/
And one last word from one of my informants on the ground… “Do avoid the Ritz now… it has become rather vulgar and touristy!” and they do still require the gentlemen to wear ties when taking tea.
The views of the authors of these articles do not necessarily represent the views of First Republic Bank.