Even if you gave a corgi a bowler hat and taught it to howl GodSaveTheQueen, you couldn’t get more British than afternoon tea. This does not refer merely to the drinking of tea from china cups, possibly with your little finger pointed skywards, but to an extra light meal artfully sandwiched between lunch and dinner. The concept was popularised by the Duchess Of Bedford in the first half of the 19th century, admittedly when lunch itself was uncommon.
The ultimate tea, of course, is at The Ritz (above). It is served in the Palm Court, with its ornate gold ceiling and the sound of a piano tinkling in the background. It has all the key ingredients: finger sandwiches, tea cakes, pastries and, of course, scones with jam and clotted cream. There is a selection of 16 teas (Champagne may be substituted for tea, if you are so inclined). Ties are required for men, and booking is essential.
Other venues for traditional teas include The Goring hotel, last year’s winner of the Tea Guild’s award, where you can relax on leather banquettes and enjoy a roaring fire; Claridge’s, which serenades guests with a pianist and cellist; The Dorchester, where you can sit on the balcony overlooking the hotel’s lobby; the Lancaster, with views of Hyde Park; or the Bulgari, which serves pastries created by Alexandre Talpaert.
London being London, you can also find tea with a twist. Take a trip back to the 1940s, complete with vintage jazz, at Soho’s Secret Tea Room above The Coach & Horses pub. At the Volupté in Holborn, there are burlesque acts and singers. Enjoy the fashion-themed Prêt-àPortea at the Berkeley hotel, with cakes shaped like bags and boots (inset). If you’re travelling with children, the Egerton House Hotel and Chesterfield Mayfair both offer a ‘Little Prince and Princess Tea’ for under-12s; One Aldwych offers a ‘scrumdiddlyumptious’ tea inspired by the nearby musical, CharlieAndTheChocolate Factory ; and you can roll tea and sightseeing into one with the BB Bakery afternoon tea served inside of a double-decker bus, departing twice daily from Northumberland Avenue off Trafalgar Square.