Like a Local: 10 of the Best Places for High Tea in London

by Paul Joseph  |  Published March 12, 2024

There are few more quintessentially British activities than sitting down to an indulgent afternoon tea, replete with sweet and savoury treats and limitless mugs of what quirkier natives call “Rosy Lee”

(Photo: Fortnum and Mason)

Among the melting pot that is London, a number of establishments continue to offer this most classic of British customs to tourists and locals alike. Typically comprising a spread of scones with clotted cream and jam, dainty sandwiches, cakes, pastries and tea served in china cups, all presented on a tiered silver cake stand, the origins of High Tea date back to the 1880’s when high society women would change into long gowns, gloves and hats for the occasion. Today, many of those who partake in this enduring tradition still use it as an opportunity to dust off their glad-rags and embrace the quaint Britishness of it all. Here are 10 of the best places for High Tea in the capital.

Fortnum and Mason

With its connection to the Royal family that dates back to the store’s very foundations, and the awarding of a prestigious Royal Warrant in 2010, it’s little surprise that Fortnum & Mason serve up an afternoon tea fit for a queen. Indeed, the iconic Piccadilly store’s high tea offering is served in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, named in honour of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 2012. Patrons are invited to enjoy a cuppa in her honour, not to mention finger sarnies filled with smoked trout and dill, or Coronation chicken. Rose and pistachio cake provides the perfect sweet finale.

181 Piccadilly, St James’s, W1

Aqua Shard

(Photo: The Shard)

Activate your suspension of disbelief and be transported into the enchanting world of Neverland during this captivating Peter Pan-themed afternoon tea experience high in the sky at London’s tallest building, The Shard. Perched on the 31st floor, Aqua Shard delivers modern British food and panoramic views. But once your high tea arrives, you’re unlikely to divert your eyes away from the tea-stand resembling Captain Hook’s infamous ship and stacked to wobbling point by the arrangement of sweet and savoury treats for your predilection. Like Peter Pan himself, you’ll never grow old of this kind of thing.

Level 31, The Shard, 31 St Thomas Street, SE1

Petersham Nurseries

Fairy-tale like aesthetics make tea at this Richmond institution a particular favourite with families who may struggle to keep their little ones entertained in the kind of staid and sober setting better associated with the afternoon ritual. Amble  through scenic meadows, along a tree-lined path and beyond a verdant plant collection and you’ll come to a conservatory straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Here, an abundance of foliage, antique garden furniture and dashes of whimsy add to an air of eccentricity. Even the presentation of the food is lent drama by an elaborate floral arrangement topping the cake stand. Rustle deep and you’ll come to savoury treats including salt beef mini bagels with pickled cucumber, and radicchio and wild mushroom sandwiches. Clementine and pomegranate cakes, and pecan tarts with crème fraiche ensure the sweet toothed depart with a smile.

Nightingale Lane, Richmond, TW10

The Ritz 

(Photo: The Ritz)

The words ‘tea at the Ritz’ have gained an indelible place in the English lexicon, evoking images of pre-war London glamour unlike anywhere else. Adorned with gold walls and twinkling chandeliers, afternoon tea has been served at the legendary hotel’s Palm Court since it opened in 1906. Such ornate surroundings positively demand a spread of equal grandiosity – and the Ritz doesn’t disappoint. Ham with grain mustard mayonnaise on brioche, smoked salmon with lemon butter on sourdough, and egg mayonnaise roll with chopped shallots and watercress are mere appetisers to the impossibly rich fruit scones and elaborate desserts that come next. As such dishes and delicacies are savoured – perhaps with a glass of a Rothschild Champagne in hand – a resident pianist serenades guests with dulcet tones.

150 Piccadilly, St. James’s, W1J

Mariage Frères

Set in a Georgian townhouse in Covent Garden, Mariage Frères’ London emporium claims to offer the world’s “largest collection” of teas. Little surprise, therefore, that the historic Parisian-based tea house knows how to put on a show when it comes to its high tea offering. But while tea plays a prominent role in the experience (expert staff are on hand to offer tips on everything from flavour profiles to oxidation states) you can expect far more than herbal, fruity, contemporary, rare and vintage blends when you sit down in the store’s elegant upstairs salon – decked out in Parisian black and white monochrome décor – for your afternoon of sweet and savoury splendour. Based around seasonal themes, Asian influences often tend to feature, with traditional sarnies replaced with eye-catching coloured bao burgers. For your sugar fix, a medley of tea-infused treats including bourbon vanilla & golden raisin scones do just the job.

38 King Street, WC2E

The Theatre Royal

(Photo: The Theatre Royal)

If you really want to overload on national pastimes, then following up your afternoon tea with a trip to the theatre will gain you plenty of kudos when it comes to you commitment to Britishness. One of London’s most historic theatre houses, Theatre Royal Drury Lane has been a fixture on the capital’s entertainment scene since – wait for it – the 1600s. Yep, that’s right – all the way back to Shakespeare’s time. Whether The Bard himself would have been partial to mini crumpets topped with Earl Grey-infused cream cheese, or savoury madeleines with whipped feta and pickled carrot, is open to debate but the popularity of their Grand Saloon high tea – served under spectacular chandeliers – with the theatre’s contemporary patrons is in no doubt.

Catherine Street, WC2B

The Wolseley

Combining British heritage with European art deco grandeur, The Wolseley has been a magnet for the great and the good of London’s high society set since opening its doors in 2003. The acclaimed brasserie on Piccadilly boasts elegant double-height ceilings, under which a steady stream of patrons come to enjoy its all-day continental food in distinguished company. For afternoon tea, the restaurant goes full tilt with the pomp and ceremony, with one-of-a-kind teapots and silver strainers engraved with the Wolseley monogram. Assorted sandwiches, scones, a selection of pastries and an ever-changing spread of cakes guarantee substance – and sustenance – to match the style.

160 Piccadilly, St. James’s, W1J

One Aldwych

(Photo: One Aldwych)

One Aldwych’s afternoon tea experience is themed around Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – but with a chocolate, whisky & cherry cocktail complete with dry ice smoke and poured from a glass teapot, don’t be fooled into assuming this is necessarily one for the kids. Saying that, there is a non-alcoholic version, so if you are confident they’ll behave in this upscale hotel setting, then it would certainly be an occasion for them to remember. As for the foodie offerings, expect finger sandwiches, savoury scones served with a choice of bacon jam, lemon curd, blackberry jam and clotted cream. But it’s the sweet treats that are the real show-stopper: think rainbow layers of bubblegum-flavoured panna cotta, mysteriously flavoured candy floss, honeycomb cake pops, and chocolate eggs filled with vanilla cheesecake and fruit purée. And if the kids get fidgety, that’s nothing a hastily-ordered bottle of chocolate milk won’t fix.

1 Aldwych, WC2B

The Library at County Hall

Anywhere else, the picture postcard views over Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament could risk making the prospect of afternoon tea an after thought. But if there’s ever a way to be distracted by such impressive vistas, then it’s by the kind of delectable spread served up throughout the day at this renowned dining establishment in the Marriott County Hall Hotel. Oak bookcases stacked with classics tomes and busts of literary and historical greats including Shakespeare, Plato and Milton lend the venue a stately look and feel – quite the backdrop to the array of finely cut sandwiches, freshly baked scones and delicate homemade cakes that will be coming your way.

Westminster Bridge Road, SE1

Royal Lancaster 

The one barrier to afternoon tea in London is that it tends to come at a price. That’s where the Royal Lancaster hotel stands out from the crowd with a high tea offering that won’t blow your Big Smoke budget. But don’t be fooled by the cost, because tea here is as impressive as you’ll find anywhere in the capital – and with added quirkiness. Served in the hotel’s beautiful Hyde Café, each pot of tea comes with an infusion card to keep track of optimum brewing times. Just be sure to keep your eye on the clock and avoid the distractions of your luxurious surroundings. Daintily arranged sandwiches  are accompanied by warm tarts with caramelised red onion and goat’s cheese before the big hitters arrive –  hot almond and fruited scones straight from the kitchen with homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream to be liberally lathered at your discretion.

Lancaster Terrace, W2