Expensive vs affordable afternoon tea in London: honest reviews
Affordable afternoon tea in London isn’t too hard to find… yet is it worth shelling out more for the experience of a pricier, popular option? Read on for reviews of some popular afternoon tea options in London, from a range of different places.
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.
As such, I’ve listed reviews of everywhere I’ve visited in the city, from more popular and expensive hotels, to affordable afternoon tea in London.
This should help you with your own planning.
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.
Affordable afternoon tea in London vs traditional options
“Mad Hatter’s” Afternoon Tea at The Sanderson Hotel
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 with more traditional options. 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 friend, who ordered Earl Gray.
When the teas came, I was presented with the peppermint I’d not wanted and my friend 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 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. You can add on a glass of Champagne for just £10 more. 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.
Unfortunately, the experience we had meant once was more than enough.
The tea was loose leafed (with green tea 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 that was available when I booked) 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 very empty cake stand and we said yes.
Rather than bring around the cake trolley (which we’d seen them do for other patrons), we were instead just handed the bill.
On the upside, I used the toilet on the way out and it was even more ridiculously fancy than the tea room. People like to take selfies in it.
The Verdict: At £48 a head to eat at the hotel, it’s definitely a more expensive option for afternoon tea. It really felt that we were paying just for the experience of eating at The Ritz alone, with the establishment riding off its name and reputation.
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. Absolutely excellent service (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 friend’s utter delight.
Best of all, you had the choice of choosing between an “Afternoon Tea” menu, which was filled with mostly sweet things and a “Hight Tea” menu, which was savoury.
I’m not a sweet freak, so I opted for the latter. 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 lot nicer than The Ritz.
The wait staff were far more courteous too – and most of them were women!
The Verdict: Old meets new – afternoon tea in a contemporary setting – fancy but with none of the stuffiness of the Ritz. It’s not a cheap option, priced at £75 a head, so save it for a special occasion.
The National Theatre
After visiting two of the more “traditional” hot spots, I decided to go with a more affordable afternoon tea in London. Something a little less conventional – and easier on the wallet.
Enter The National Theatre.
It’s not just the place to catch the new hottest play in town! 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 at £29.50 pp.
November 2022: Please note, afternoon tea is currently not being served at The National Theatre. I’ll leave this review here, should this change in the near future.
Charlie & 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 then regretted upon finishing, due to lack of stomach space).
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 could be classed as an affordable afternoon tea in London that’s middle-of-the-road – it’s £52 for just the tea and a little extra 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.
Last thoughts on traditional & affordable afternoon tea in London
So, you can find affordable afternoon tea in London, which will still feel a bit fancy.
If you’re wanting to shell out, I recommend The Savoy and One Aldwych over any others, as you do feel like you’re getting a bit more bang for your buck.
Here are some other afternoon tea options to consider on your next trip to London. They’re all on my list, so reviews to follow!
What’s your favourite place to have afternoon tea in London? For more fun and unusual things to do in London, discover what it’s like to stay in the Wizard Chambers Hotel, or taking a mouse taxidermy class.
oh, wow, a tea tour! What a fantastic idea. And the cakes look scrumptious. Also… thank you for the “expose” on the Ritz. I can’t abide poor manners from businesses that market themselves as luxury. I’ll definitely skip it on my trip.
They were shocking! National Theatre gets my vote – they provided good food and good service for half the price.
I have to agree; a tea tour is such an adorable idea! I have actually only ever been to a “high tea” once. It was on Easter in Sydney about 4 years ago and it was so, so lovely. National Theatre will definitely be on our list when we make it to London one day!
When in Britain after all! Maybe if the timing is right you could catch a show after.
Yup, I think the Ritz is for people with more money than sense! The decor is a bit tired when you get up close too. I suppose when you’re that famous, what’s the point of putting in the effort to actually be good?!
They’ll feed off that fame forever more.
Very chic, very British. I’m pining for those sandwiches and the scrumptious desserts right now. Great selection you have here.
What a wonderful experience to compare chic high teas in London! I like the Japanese fusion high tea, what a great idea. Running out of tea for a high tea, that is something new. 🙂
The Japanese one was probably my favourite. I know, I was disappointed that they’d run out! Get it together guys, haha.
The Mad Hatter afternoon tea at Sanderson Hotel looks so fun! It’s always fun when restaurant/tea shops have themes because it makes the experience stand out. I love how they make that effort, especially in the small details. Also, I need to check out Ichi Sushi and Sashimi Bar. Anywhere there is sushi, I’m in!
It was fun, at least it was something different too. Wasn’t the worst place we tea’d at, for sure!
This is a really great guide and indeed is very honest. What a breath of fresh air. We’ll definitely avoid the stuffy, overpriced and rude places. The National Theatre sounds like a winner.
Thanks so much for you honesty but 48 pounds for afternoon high tea seems Alice in Wonderland style is super expensive to me and that’s the cheapest option. I don’t like how they didn’t pay attention to your order. When I first saw the photo I thought the cake looks delicious, but alas, not all things taste as good as they look.
There’s actually a couple of cheaper options down the list at around 25 quid each. I’d go for either of them over the stuffier, famous hotels.
Loved the cake that looks like the clock … I don’t feel like eating something so cute. And the kettle looks like it will start talking!
Lovely spread … but I will have to work out a lot in the gym ?
They were pretty tasty, I’ll give them that much! Yeah, I didn’t gym much in England… paying for it now, haha.
Whoa , look at those edible cups! I would love to try those. The kettle looks interesting. I am not much of a tea person despite a rich tea heritage of my country India. This blog however makes to want to sip a nice cuppa.
Nothing beats a good cup of char, I reckon!
I’m British and I am ashamed to say I have only had afternoon tea once. I love the look of the themed places and the cute edible cup you got. I think I need to have more afternoon tea outings with my friends.
Haha, don’t worry – there’s plenty of Australian traditions that I don’t get involved with either.
That might be a good project of sorts to go every afternoon and try tea at all these places. What you experienced in the first 2 luxury hotels is quite common. They charge for the brand and most of us fall for it. But i am glad you had some good experiences to make up for it.
Yes and at the cheaper places, funnily enough!
Despite being a Brit I’ve never actually gone out for afternoon tea, and the prices here explain why! I’m pretty jealous that you ate at The Mad Hatter’s Tearoom though. I’ve passed it so many times and would love to try it out one day.
The cakes were cute, but I didn’t think it was worth the price. Although I kinda want the teapot…
I really enjoyed reading your honest review of afternoon tea in London! I was surprised to hear that about The Ritz, which you would always imagine would be the pinnacle of afternoon tea experiences. The Savoy sounded much better. Talking of traditional, I recently had afternoon tea at The Dorchester. It was really lovely and the staff were so attentive. I’m now glad I chose to go there rather than The Ritz!
Thanks for commenting, Sara! Yeah, I think The Ritz knows it can get by on its name alone and to be fair – those visiting would mostly be tourists, who probably wouldn’t ever plan to go there again. Ah I’ll have to try The Dorchester out later this year. There’s a couple of others on my list that I’m yet to go to. It was a fun little project!
One Aldwych’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory afternoon tea is ab fab! Best enjoyed with bubbles!!
For a while we’d said we must give the B Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour a go but never got around to it. So, when we won Afternoon Tea for two at a social media meetup in January we were absolutely delighted! Getting to ride London’s iconic vintage Routemaster is a treat, to do it whilst eating tasty cake… awesome!! ? ? ?
I agree! And will admit I went with the bubbles option and wasn’t disappointed.
I have heard good things about the bus tour bakery… will have to get on it next time I’m in town.