There is perhaps no more British occasion than afternoon tea, with its tiered trays of finger sandwiches, delicate pastries and perfectly brewed loose leaf teas served in fine china. But the ritual has grown beyond the doily-clad finery of old. From fashion-forward biscuits to whisky brews to menus crafted just for gentlemen, today’s afternoon teas cater to a new crowd.
Here are our picks for the top themed teas in London:
Gentlemen’s Afternoon Tea
TWIST: Billed as “the ultimate indulgence,” this is less a tea and more a small midafternoon meal served in three courses, alongside a bottomless selection of Jack Daniel’s.
BIGGEST PLUS: A tray is presented to the table with 700-millilitre bottles of three expressions of Jack Daniel’s – the regular whisky, the smooth Gentleman Jack and the pricey Single Barrel Whiskey – and a silver bucket of ice. Help yourself!
ADDED BONUS: Service ends with an offer of tea, coffee, more whisky and a small cigar which may be smoked on the rooftop terrace.
REASON TO RETURN: Did we mention the bottomless whisky?
NOT SO GREAT: While one waitress did try desperately to make up for the shortcomings of the others, service was haughty and dreadfully inattentive.
DETAILS: 3 to 5 p.m. at Sanctum Soho Hotel, 20 Warwick Street, Soho; sanctumsoho.com; $79 (£50).
TWIST: The pastry portion of the tea is themed around the fashion collections of British designers (the menu changes every six months), with each sugary nibble executed in the colours of the season’s best looks.
BIGGEST PLUS: The sweets are as delicious as they are whimsical, from the Chloé praline “clutch” to the Miu Miu vanilla bikini biscuit.
ADDED BONUS: The impressive selection of teas includes such exotic blends as African Amber and Chocolate Mint Truffle.
REASON TO RETURN: Service begins early, so tea can be taken as a lunch substitute rather than in its traditional midafternoon role.
NOT SO GREAT: Male visitors might find themselves the only possessor of a Y chromosome in the room.
DETAILS: 1 to 6 p.m. at The Berkeley, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge; the-berkeley.co.uk. From $58 (£36.50, £46.50 to £53 with champagne).
G & Tea Tiffin
TWIST: Served with a signature Beefeater 24 Premium Gin cocktail, it also features a tea fashioned from many of the botanicals used in the creation of the gin.
BIGGEST PLUS: The highly aromatic cocktail is not only very tasty, it is also a perfect aperitif.
ADDED BONUS: For the dessert-phobic, this is a tea based much more on the savoury than the sweet, including such delights as gin-cured Scottish salmon and truffled cream cheese gougère.
REASON TO RETURN: Mrs. Kirkham’s Lancashire cheese scones are, on their own, worth the price of admission.
NOT SO GREAT: In the early going, at least, service was rather spotty and erratic, especially considering the distinguished pedigree of the hotel – where the afternoon tea has been served since 1865.
DETAILS: 2 to 7 p.m. at The Langham, 1c Portland Place, Regent Street, West End; london.langhamhotels.co.uk. From $63 (£40 without the cocktail, £52 with it).
Men’s Afternoon Tea
TWIST: Men are invited to a tea of their own, complete with more “manly” fare – mini-cheeseburgers and steak sandwiches instead of egg mayonnaise with watercress – and an optional glass of single-malt whisky. Diversions such as backgammon are also offered.
BIGGEST PLUS: Steak and whisky – what’s not to like?
ADDED BONUS: One table may order from multiple tea menus, choosing from the Men’s Tea, the Fashion Ladies Tea or the Gluten-Free Tea.
REASON TO RETURN: At $9.50 (£6) a dram, the selection of whiskies offered is not only broad, but also economically priced.
NOT SO GREAT: Finding the hotel on foot based on the woefully inadequate map available at the website is a frustrating task.
DETAILS: 1 to 5:30 p.m. at The Mandeville Hotel, 8-14 Mandeville Place; West End; mandeville.co.uk. From $42 (£26.50, £32.50 with a glass of whisky or champagne).
“Poetea” Afternoon Tea
TWIST: On the first Thursday of every month, Britain’s “Tea Poet,” Elizabeth Darcy Jones, brings her unique collection of verse to the tea, chatting individually with patrons and reciting for them selections from her collection of tea-inspired poetry.
BIGGEST PLUS: This is the kind of classic, traditional afternoon tea your auntie would like, but with an entertaining and unusual poetic addition.
ADDED BONUS: Families wishing to take tea together can get the Little Prince and Princess Afternoon Tea for the kids rather than shelling out for the adult version.
REASON TO RETURN: The service, surroundings and scones are all exemplary.
NOT SO GREAT: With all due respect to Ms. Darcy Jones, her unabashed enthusiasm for poetry and tea can cause her to overstay her welcome just a touch, and perhaps share a little more personal history than is absolutely necessary.
DETAILS: 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. at The Chesterfield Mayfair, 35 Charles St., Mayfair; chesterfieldmayfair.com. From $40 (£25.50, £33.50 to £36.50 with champagne, £27.50 for the Chocolate Lover’s Tea, £11.50 for the Little Prince and Princess Tea).
Special to The Globe and Mail