Afternoon tea is an English custom although tea originated in China. Credit: Mr. Fogg’s Gin Parlour

The Five Best Places for Afternoon Tea in London

Don’t miss out on this English custom at these cool spots in the British capital

by The Window Seat

Tea parties have always held a special place in my heart since I was a little girl. From the pastel goodness of Alice and the Mad Hatter to the iconic “Let them eat cake” moment in Sofia Coppola’s 2006 film Marie Antoinette, afternoon tea is something to be savoured. In England, tea is inextricably linked to British culture. 

Two meals a day were the standard during the 19th century. You’d start the morning with an early breakfast, and then you’d have to wait until 8 p.m. for your evening meal. It wasn’t until 1840, when Anna Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, decided a snack was in order to curb her hunger pangs that things changed. She asked her staff to prepare a light repast and serve it in her boudoir. 

She satiated her hunger with tea, bite-sized sandwiches, sweet rolls, and cakes. The idea caught on so well that Englishmen began drinking tea at 4 p.m., a ritual that’s commonplace now. Today, the British consume 165 million cups of the hot beverage, a startling stat when you consider the Chinese invented tea. So, it’s time to spill the tea about the must-visit places to have a cuppa in the
British capital.

Brigit’s Bakery Bus 

Naturally, the distinctive red double-decker bus is one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of London. But did you know that some of these driving landmarks also serve high tea? While you enjoy a feast of freshly prepared finger sandwiches, mini cupcakes, scones, and exquisite pastries such as a lemon tart with meringue, vintage Routemaster buses from Brigit’s Bakery drive around the streets of Central London, taking in some of the city’s best sites. 


Bite into their decadent treats as you admire Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park and Downing Street from the comfort of your spot in the top or lower deck—the buses have been reconfigured with tables and cosy diner-style loveseats. The 90-minute tour is the perfect way to see the city and get your fill of the British tradition. 


Are you looking for a high-end afternoon tea in an Instagram-worthy setting? Head to Sketch, a Michelin-starred restaurant in the upscale Mayfair district. The former Christian Dior workshop-turned restaurant boasts two floors, each with a distinct theme. Unlimited afternoon tea is served in the playful David Shrigley Gallery, with more than 200 of the Turner Prize–winning artist’s whimsical illustrations adorning the walls. The theme is rose quartz velvet—banquettes and curvaceous chairs, designed by India Mahdavi—a wannabe princess’s dream come true.

Savour creative dishes such as caviar and egg mousse on toast. The high tea also features sophisticated sandwiches with corn-fed chicken and smoked salmon and sweet treats such as raspberry cakes and ever-so-flaky apple tart. And then there are the requisite scones with clotted cream. But before you leave, use the bathroom. It’s eggactly as you’d expect!

London Secret Garden

Tucked away in the back streets of Kensington, you’ll find London Secret Garden, a setting so calm, you might forget that you’re in Central London. The oasis operates five private domes, each with heat and AC and comfortable rattan furniture, in a one-acre garden.

Freshly made classic sandwiches, such as free-range egg salad and oak-smoked Scottish salmon with dill cream cheese, are served. End your light repast with traditional Earl Grey tea, along with plain or raisin scones with Cornish clotted cream. Gluten-free and vegan options are available, too.

Mr Fogg’s Gin Parlour

Without a tipsy tea, this list wouldn’t be complete. The eccentric British adventurer Phileas J. Fogg, the protagonist of Jules Verne’s novel “Around the World in 80 Days,” inspired this Covent Garden gin emporium. The Victorian-themed Mr Fogg’s, complete with vintage chaise longues and tufted chairs, boasts a collection of more than 200 gins, ranging from well-known favourites (Hendricks, Bombay) to unique gems (Ki No Bi Kyoto, Sipsmith). 

Choose from five of Mr Fogg’s best teapot cocktails, each created by in-house mixologists and infused with botanicals. Sip on your favourite cocktail made of gin, tequila, rum or bourbon (or opt for the alcohol-free variety) from quaint Victorian teacups while eating a variety of plant-based treats, all served inside a birdcage with lush flora and vegetation. 


Kai Mayfair 

A little birdie once told me that the Chinese Whispers afternoon tea at Kai Mayfair was one of the most delightful afternoon tea menus in London. Cake with coconut and pandan custard, white chocolate bonbons in the shape of Mah-Jong tiles, crispy duck bao, and marble tea eggs—is your stomach already grumbling? The Michelin-starred eatery returns tea to its Asian origins with Chinese takes on sweet and savoury dishes. 

Expect quirky quotes on each menu and the sound of songbirds nearby. Instead of the ubiquitous scones with clotted cream, Kai serves delicate macarons with the creamy condiment. Teas run the gamut from Earl Grey to Jasmine Pearl to Dragon Well, the last being the most famous green tea
in China.