Affordable and Popular Afternoon Tea in London: Six Honest Reviews
Afternoon tea in London probably rates quite high on the to-do list of anyone visiting England’s capital. Yet, it can be really pricey, with most teas starting at around 50 quid a head. So, should you opt for affordable afternoon tea in London, or are places like The Ritz and The Savoy worth shelling the pounds out for?
Every time I’m in London, I take it upon myself to sample a popular afternoon tea and compare venue’s various offerings of this delicious treat. You can thank me later.
So here you have it – a review of afternoon tea in three of London’s ritziest (literally) hotels and a playhouse, as experienced by a colonial commoner. And if you’re looking for somewhere to stay whilst gorging yourself silly on tiny desserts and cucumber sandwiches, check out this list of some of the best hostels in London.
“Mad Hatter’s” Afternoon Tea at The Sanderson Hotel
I decided to start my quest with an afternoon tea that was a little less conventional. The Sanderson Hotel have Alice-fied both their kooky cutlery and desserts (such as The White Rabbit’s Pocket Watch Macaroon and Alice’s Drink Me Potion), which are a pleasure to look at and all the more fun to photograph.
The biggest selling point is rightly, the tea. Along with traditional teas, they’ve included five delightful smelling “Alice-inspired” options, such as Strawberries and Cream and Mint Choc-Chip. Unfortunately, we decided to simply dip our toes in the water on our first intake. These delightful teas were whisked away, not to be seen again for the duration of our meal. Speaking of which… the following exchange occurred:
“Can I please have the Jasmine tea?”
“I’m sorry. We’re run out.”
“You’ve run out of tea? During afternoon tea?” The waiter shrugged apologetically. He turned to my boyfriend, who ordered Earl Gray. When the teas came, I was presented with the peppermint I’d not wanted and my boyfriend with the breakfast tea he never ordered. Both teas came in teabags as well, something I find endlessly irritating, no matter where I am drinking tea at the time… but particularly if I’m paying out the nose for it.
Yet, the waiters were somewhat attentive, feeding us a second lot of sandwiches. The desserts mostly looked better than they tasted. I suppose in the end, you pay for the novelty factor above all else.
The Verdict: Keeping in mind that everything in London is over-priced and expensive… for £48 a person (not including service charge) it was one of the the “cheaper” options of all I tried. It was kitschy and cute, but that’s about where the fun ended.
The Ritz Hotel
I was quite excited about having afternoon tea at The Ritz – it is considered world famous, as their website points out. It’s the kind of thing one would probably only ever do once – and judging by their reception once was more than enough.
The tea was loose leafed (with green available – hooray!) and tasty. The sandwiches were… sandwich-y. The service?
In all honesty, it left much to be desired. We arrived at 11:30 (not the most traditional morning tea time, but it was all I could get) and technically, you’d expect to have a table for two hours. In reality, by one o’clock they were rushing everyone out the door.
We were asked if we had finished with our cake stand and we said yes. Rather than bring around the cake trolley (I doubt we could have fit anymore in, but I like getting my money’s worth, damn it) we were instead just handed the check. WITHOUT ASKING FOR IT, which my boyfriend tells me is unforgivably rude.
On the upside, I used the toilet on the way out. It was even more ridiculously fancy than the tea room. People were getting their photos taken in it. I got a good belly laugh in.
The Verdict: You’re paying £55 a head to eat at the hotel and don’t you dare ever forget that.
The Savoy Hotel
After our experience at the Ritz, my expectations for afternoon tea at swanky hotels had fallen pretty low.
Fortunately, The Savoy swooped in to save the day.
It was the little things, really. Having the tea that I had actually asked for in stock. Being overly attentive when it came to our needs (such as having three members of staff each ask if we wanted a refill of sandwiches and scones) and providing a decent amount of clotted cream, to my boyfriend’s utter delight.
Best of all, you had the choice of choosing between an “Afternoon Tea” menu, which was mostly sweet and a “Hight Tea” menu, which was savoury. Neither of us are sweet freaks, so we opted for the later. We were presented with a brioche bun, laden with salmon and a perfectly poached egg – and consequently were able to finish off the meal without a horrible sugar hangover.
I found the room in which they served tea (the Thames Foyer) a whole lot nicer to knock about in. The wait staff were far more courteous too – and most of them were women! The uniforms were designed by Alexander Macqueen too, which was neat. Although we were particularly entertained by the male member of staff who was attending our table – he was clearly overrun and almost had a panic attack when he came back to check on us, thinking we’d taken it upon ourselves to pour our own tea! (Someone else had – but is there really anything wrong with doing that?)
The Verdict: Old meets new – afternoon tea in a contemporary setting – fancy but with none of the stuffiness of the Ritz.
The National Theatre
After visiting two of the more “traditional” and to be honest, stuffier hot spots for afternoon tea in London, I decided to go with something a little less conventional – and easier on the wallet.
Enter The National Theatre… not just a place to catch the new hottest play in town. For £26.5 (plus 12.5% gratuity, because this is London) you can sit down to an afternoon tea with three acts and an “interval” ice cream.
Although the tea was served with teabags (pah! pah!) the food was quite tasty. I particularly enjoyed the ice cream – of the three choices (including strawberry and honeycomb) I selected vanilla (how boring, yes). It came out with crackling candy, which I sucked on with utter delight as it popped in my mouth.
As we were leaving, we made the mistake of popping into the theatre gift shop. So in the end, I walked out having spent as much in the theatre as I would have on afternoon tea at any one of London’s hotel venues.
The Verdict: Tasty and affordable.
Ichi Sushi & Sashimi Bar
Here’s an interesting modern twist on an old British tradition.
Ichi Sushi & Sashimi Bar offer an afternoon tea where the sandwiches are replaced with sushi – a novel idea which I fully support.
Along with a choice of tea, you’re brought out a bento box style arrangement featuring sushi and a range of Japanese desserts… as well as scones!
I went to this afternoon tea with a friend who has a severe nut allergy. After leaving a note in the booking, we were surprised and touched to see that the kitchen staff had prepared a separate plate for her, full of mousses and cream desserts that she could eat. Service was stellar, with the staff being helpful and attentive.
Best of all, as the restaurant is located in a more modern hotel, the price is only £25 – even with a view of Westminster Bridge!
The Verdict: Perfect if you’re wanting to have an afternoon tea that deviates away from the norm, whilst still being affordable.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at One Aldwych
I have been a bit wary of themed afternoon teas since the honestly quite mediocre experience at The Sanderson. Yet, upon seeing that One Aldwych in Covent Garden were offering a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory themed experience – I figured, why not give it a go?
This ladies and possibly any gentlemen reading, is how modern afternoon tea is supposed to be done. Exquisite tasting sandwiches, with the offer of a refill (which obviously, we happily accepted). A range of desserts, from the expected (scones) to the extraordinary (homemade fairy floss of the hotel’s own recipe, where you have to guess the flavour).
Standout service with friendly staff, who actually seem pleased that you’ve chosen to visit their establishment. And the most delicious tea you could ever ask for (try the Lychee Rose – TRUST ME ON THIS), with the promise that you can sample as many as you wish!
This afternoon tea is on the exy side of the spectrum – £42 for just the tea and £52 with bubbles. Yet, it’s worth every penny in my opinion.
The Verdict: Delicious food, attentive staff and bang for your buck. Perfect for those wanting to shell out a bit more for a special treat.
That’s it for now, but this list will be forever expanding. I used to live in London – I don’t anymore, but afternoon tea is high on my list for each subsequent visit.
What’s your favourite place to have afternoon tea in London?
Pin this post for the next time you’re feeling peckish in London.