Updated: Jul 30, 2019
England: home to both afternoon tea and Her Majesty the Queen. So, how does the modern Londoner take their tea like a true royal? In today's post, we've explored the best places for afternoon tea in the city, and share all the luxuriously fun details.
It was four o'clock in the afternoon in the year 1840 and Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, was hungry. At this hour between meals—between lunch and her fashionably late eight o'clock evening meal—that she decided to take tea (typically Darjeeling) along with small cakes or sandwiches. The rest, as they say, is history.
So yes, at half past three, everything stops for tea (just like the song with the same name states). With this in mind, you want to make sure you're doing it correctly. Although one should pour their tea before their milk to avoid overpowering the flavours of the leaves, as well to allow their tea to brew for two to five minutes before serving (however, keep in mind: the larger the leaf, the longer the brewing time), there are still some debatable aspects of teatime. With regards to spreading the clotted cream or jam on your scone first, you can opt to follow Devon tradition, where the cream comes first with jam spread on top, or the Cornish tradition, which is to slather the jam on and top it off with cream. Truly, it's up to you, but I personally opt to go with the former method.
Of course, while exploring London with my friend Kat, I wanted to take part in this nearly 180-year-old tradition myself. Finding the best places in London, England was much easier than I thought, and I quickly compiled a list of must-try places in the city to take afternoon tea. This incredible 'niche' in the British food scene is one that everybody should delve a little further into.
Park Room at Grosvenor House
Located in the Mayfair district of London in the JW Marriott Grosvenor House, taking traditional afternoon tea at the newly renovated Park Room is undoubtedly the stuff that dreams are made of. Adding even further to the elegance of the whole affair, one should also be aware that this hotel was the former residence of the Duke of Westminster. How properly royal!
As well, Park House is mere moments away from Hyde Park, Oxford Street, and Buckingham Palace, making it easy to follow up teatime with further explorations of this lovely city. This is definitely something that we capitalized on! However, don't let your evening plans allow you to lose focus on the incredible experience of teatime.
Being sure to follow the points of etiquette outlined on their website, I ensured that my spoon was placed in a six o’clock position in the cup and folded the tea towards the 12 o’clock position, all the while being careful not to clink the spoon against the sides of the cup whilst stirring in my cube of sugar.
Thanks to the fact that the Grosvenor House Hotel is celebrating its ninetieth anniversary, they have a specialized list of tea blends intended to reflect the very English flavours that have graced the palates of locals for generation upon generation. We each selected a tea from Park Room's rare & exclusive tea selection from Newby, accompanied with a glass of Perrier-Jouët Blason Rosé.
Though only meant to tide one over from one meal to the next, Park Room certainly provides no shortage of incredible finger foods. While Kat ate off of the regular menu, they effortlessly catered to my herbivorous diet by omitting any meat from my plate (and, impressively, never cross-contaminating them with the items from the regular menu). From delectable sandwiches with onion and sweet pepper chutney; to Devonshire clotted cream accompanied with rose petal, rhubarb and ginger, raspberry, and blackcurrant British preserves to spread atop both plain and raisin buttermilk scones; to an assortment of tantalizing afternoon pastries including kaffir lime and ginger éclairs and lavender cakes... Needless to say, this was heaven on earth.
Toward the end of our afternoon, shortly before leaving, we finished off with a chocolate loaf and a classic English Breakfast Tea, one of my all-time favourite blends. It was the perfect end to a perfect afternoon tea.
Mr. Fogg's Gin Parlour
Mr. Fogg's Gin Parlour, found in the district of Covent Garden, is the perfect place for afternoon tea with a twist. Though they are home to a wide variety of experiences, their G & Tea was right up both mine and Kat's alleys, with gin being both our spirit of choice.
Taking place every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at both 1.01pm and 3.31pm, one needs only to sit back listen to Mr. Fogg's gin experts* educate them on the history of this delectable drink. Our host brought us back in time to the Dawn of the Gin Age, pulling us slowly forward through the eras to the modern day whilst giving us a chance to taste the evolution of gin's flavour throughout time. This was done in little glasses placed at our table, as well as sampling the juniper berry itself (which actually has no shared properties with a true berry). These were just some indulgences of over two hundred (*squeal*) in-stock gins inspired by flavours from across the globe
It eventually came time to select the "Cuckold’s Comfort" of choice; I opted for the "Bombay Tea-Ser" (Bombay Sapphire gin, bamboo syrup, homemade black cardamom tincture, lemon juice, and sencha tea), while Kat selected the "Rule Britannia!" (Bombay Sapphire gin, sage syrup, lemon juice, homemade lavender tincture, and barrel-aged Earl Grey tea).
With the nectarous gin added to our teapots, we sipped out of fancy china cups like true bourgeoisie socialites whilst nibbling on a selection of homemade and authentically Victorian sweet and savoury delicacies, including delicious finger sandwiches and an array of small but richly flavoured desserts. From the tea to the food, everything tasted so wonderful!
As we nibbled at the plethora of foods spread out before us, we found ourselves mulling over the facts of gin's history that we had just recently discovered. Though of course the Victorian era did not possess the same scientific advancements and knowledge that we have today, it still came a shock to hear that many women replaced breastmilk with gin to feed their newborn babies, or that people drank straight gin (which was upwards of 70% alcohol in those days, as opposed to the typical 35-45% served today) after work daily, by the pint.
One thing I can get on board with however, is the idea that if juniper berries are healthy, maybe a gin and tonic once a day isn't so bad, after all. Right? I mean, the queen drinks one every afternoon, so it can't be terrible.
*Also, where can I sign up to be an on-site gin expert?
A Picnic in Kensington Gardens
For those of you looking for a cheap yet scenic spot to have afternoon tea, setting up a picnic in Kensington Gardens (or any of London's many gorgeous parks, for that matter) is the ideal go-to location.
Depending on where you place yourself — right next to Kensington Palace, by the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, or somewhere on the stretch in between — the view surrounding you will differ slightly.
With a selection of finger sandwiches, pastries, and Thermos filled with tea (bonus points if you pack actual china cups and saucers with you for the full effect), lay out a blanket on the vibrant green grass and enjoy a quiet afternoon of people watching.
One of the loveliest spots would be right in Kensington Palace's Sunken Garden, which offer visitors park benches placed under beautiful archways of greenery, and a chance to escape the direct heat of the sun in lieu of cooler shade. Not only will you have an escape from the heat, but you can also enjoy the spot where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement. These lush gardens were also a special space for Prince Harry's mother, Princess Diana, who would often visit the garden seeking moments of contemplation when she lived in the adjoining palace. She would come by the Sunken Garden to admire the floral displays as they changed through spring and summer, and to chat with the staff.
Regardless of where you opt to set up your lovely afternoon tea, you're bound to have an amazing time whilst doing so. Everywhere you turn in these gardens offers the ideal spot for afternoon tea.
My fully immersive experience with afternoon tea during my first trip to London was truly a dream come true.
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