The Duchess of Bedford was the inventor of afternoon tea in 1840, and since then, it has been the pastime of elegant society – used to fill the space left between lunch and dinner. This ritual of the upper crust took centre stage in London, where its roots are still strong today in some of the poshest hotels.
A visit to London today is not complete without booking a decadent afternoon tea. For those with a small entourage in tow, it’s good to know that there are some fine family-friendly options out there. Some of the city’s most famous afternoon teas are now child-proof. Indeed, many actively seek to tempt the tiniest guests with their evocative offerings; from Peter Pan-themed afternoon teas to sci-fi creations or theatrical or ballet-inspired teas – there is plenty on offer for families visiting the capital to indulge in one of England’s finest traditions.
Peter Pan afternoon tea at The Shard
Sail away to Neverland at Aqua Shard with The Shangri La London which has created the Peter Pan afternoon tea inspired by JM Barrie’s much-loved novel. The meal is served on Captain Hook’s Jolly Roger, a ship shaped tea stand that has plates attached to the mast. Tuck into all manner of delights such as chicken sandwiches topped with crispy bacon wrapped in paper to denote four Lost Boy Rules and Codfish Captain Hook cod brandade croquettes.
There are scones to be found within a special treasure chest, accompanied by sweet apricot marmalade with coconut clotted cream along with Tinkerbell cookies sprinkled with gold fairy dust. The piece de resistance is a chocolate cake in the shape of a tree trunk in tribute to the ‘home under the ground’ where the Lost Boys live. There is also the Tick-Tock the Crocodile sweet dessert of raspberry and rooibos jelly with a crocodile gummy and a large rich loaf of a jolly thickness with green sugar in it known as Hooks Perish Cake. The ‘Never Grow Up’ Peter Pan’s children afternoon tea allows children and adults alike to be whisked away to an exciting world of make-believe.
The Aqua Shard bar team has created a special Fairy Dust cocktail for adults with its main ingredients being absinthe and gold dust. The Never Grow Up punch is a non-alcoholic combination. Meanwhile, the Darling tea is infused with rose petals and vanilla while the adventure tea is inspired by the colourful and exciting adventures of Peter Pan, served against the panoramic backdrop of London’s skyline.
Served Thursday to Sunday from 12.15 – 4.15pm, the afternoon tea is priced at £52 per person or £68 with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Champagne or £75 with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Rose. The Shard 32 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9SG; the-shard.com.
2. Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park
The impressive Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge by Hyde Park offers a superb traditional afternoon or high tea accompanied by champagne within its sophisticated surroundings. The Rosebery tearoom rests underneath the roof of this magnificent hotel and obliges with elegant sandwiches accompanied by truffles and foie gras on delicate china for adults. Yet despite its refined air, it also caters wonderfully for children with its kid-friendly options, so much so, that it has been rated as one of the best hotels for a family-friendly afternoon tea.
As well as the wonderful food, each child gets a Harrod’s bear to take home – sourced from the world’s grandest department store across the road. An extensive selection of the finest teas is served from Oriental Afternoon Blend, Orange Pekoe from Sri Lanka and the Golden Monkey leaf from China. The dedicated tea master has created an enticing menu of bespoke blends reflective of the hotel’s rich heritage and with a commitment to quality with perfectly matched delicacies by the best pastry chefs. Marvel at the high-ceilings in this superb hall, used as a tearoom since the 1920s, it is evocative of its Art Deco origins. Stay on for an evening meal at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal next door.
Afternoon tea starts at £56 per person with wine, beer and sake pairings starting at £14. 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA; mandarinoriental.com.
Science afternoon tea at The Ampersand Hotel, South Kensington
Embark on a journey of discovery, where physics, chemistry and gastronomy meet in a curious alchemy to create an out-of-this-world dining experience. From prehistoric dinosaur biscuits to futuristic rocket cheese, The Ampersand Hotel’s science-themed afternoon tea pushes the boundaries of culinary creativity.
Inspired by the neighbouring Natural History and Science Museums, the hotel’s sci-fi afternoon tea is served on bright-red rocket stands with dry ice shooting out the bottom, experimental jellies in Petri dishes and chocolate and cranberry scones with lemon curd served in test tubes – not to mention mini dinosaur biscuit ‘fossils’ hidden beneath chocolate soil. This is mixed in with mini hot dogs, rocket cheese straws and brioche and jam sandwiches. All this is washed down with ‘spaceman’ hot chocolate with marshmallows and sprinkles for an out-of-this-world experience.
Staying overnight in this Small Luxury Hotel is a wonderful treat for families. It is renowned for its family-friendly services and rooms contain child-sized bathrobes and slippers, kids’ toiletries, and welcome activity packs.
Available Monday to Saturday from 12.30-9pm and Sunday 12.30-7pm, priced £31.50 per child. 10 Harrington Road, Kensington SW7 3ER; ampersandhotel.com.
Swan Lake afternoon tea at Royal Opera House
The iconic Royal Opera House introduces the Swan Lake afternoon tea; trust us, you don’t want to miss it. The stage is set at Paul Hamlyn Hall for a magical combination selection of savoury and sweet treats inspired by Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet.
Ahead of the main performance guests can enjoy sandwiches that pirouette out on a decadent tea stand. There are glazed gammon, grain mustard butter and pickled gherkin and Severn and Wye smoked salmon pinwheels on pumpernickel bread to enjoy. A sophisticated pause allows for an interlude before the next act which brings scones with jam and clotted cream, white swan macarons with chocolate wings and black swan currants as well as cassis cheesecake and lemon and toasted marshmallow choux puffs for children.
All afternoon tea sittings are accompanied by a live pianist to make it a memorable occasion for the whole family.
Served Thursdays to Saturdays from 12 March-18 April priced £45 for adults and £27 for kids. Bow Street, Covent Garden WC2E 9DD; roh.org.uk.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at One Aldwych
Before visiting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the West End’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane, try a pre-theatre afternoon tea in Covent Garden and enter a world of pure imagination.
Visitors hold a golden ticket, allowing them to indulge in delightful combinations, such as salmon and beetroot macarons with juicy roast beef and leek and Stilton tart washed down by fizzy drinks. For those with a sweet tooth, there’s snozzberry jam, chocolate swudge milkshakes, homemade cotton candy floss, raspberry trifle and lemon-drizzle cake. Then there are traditional scones served warm with homemade jams and clotted cream. Make sure you leave room for a gleaming golden egg filled with vanilla cheesecake and mango purée. There’s champagne for the adults and a mocktail for children. Furthermore, this quintessentially English hotel is conveniently located close to theatreland.
Afternoon tea is served Wednesday to Friday 12pm – 4pm and Saturday and Sunday 12pm – 5pm – £52 per person, and with a glass of Lallier Grande Réserve Champagne or a cocktail – £63 per person. Children under the age of 12 – £42 per person. 1 Aldwych, London WC2B 4BZ; onealdwych.com.
Afternoon tea is one of the great traditions. Everyone should experience it at some point and there is no greater place than London to taste this quintessentially English experience. Why not try it as a family and enjoy a wonderful day out?