Anyone know somewhere quirky for a special occasion afternoon tea (perhaps not one of the big hotels…)?
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Drink, Shop, Do – you can have afternoon tea and make stuff! A friend of mine had a hen-do there.
The Wolseley is the classic not-a-hotel-but-that-kinda-vibe tea: http://www.thewolseley.com/. It’s just been refurbished, too, so should feel a bit smarter.
Lots of people rave about Bea’s afternoon teas : http://www.beasofbloomsbury.com/afternoon-tea/. I’ve only stopped in for a post-shop cake in One New Change, which isn’t the most atmospheric branch, but nice food nonetheless.
For something less formal, try tea and scones in the Fortnum’s Parlour: http://www.fortnumandmason.com/c-157-ice-cream-parlour-london-the-parlour-restaurant.aspx. I also highly recommend the chocolate fondue…
Lastly, Sketch is pricy – and a bit bonkers – but definitely one of a kind: http://www.sketch.uk.com/afternoon_tea.php.
I’d second Sketch and Drink, Shop, Do! Also, Le Chandelier in Dulwich is lovely, and the National Portrait Gallery Café does a simple cream tea which is really very good (not a full-on fancy afternoon tea, though), and has an excellent view.
I’d second Bea’s of Bloomsbury. Like Eleanor, I’ve eaten only at the One New Change branch, but the staff are friendly, you can admire St Paul’s from the mezzanine gallery boothes, and the food is a fun twist on the traditional tea menu, including mini baguettes, marshmallows, brownies and, of course, scones to accompany the well-sourced teas. They do a Valentine’s menu too…
Just to offer some balance to your decision-making, Rachel, these are hotel teas I’d recommend:
The Corinthia, Whitehall Place – their seasonal teas are surprisingly playful, given the grand surroundings. eg for Hallowe’en, they served spider surprises, witches’ hats and eyeball fancies.
Brown’s Hotel combines superb cakes, genial hospitality, a haven of calm from the bustle of Mayfair shops, topped off by a pianist tinkling away in the background.
The Athenaeum on Piccadilly regularly offer themed teas, but the standard menu is excellent. They won’t let a hungry guest’s plate stay empty for long either. If you or your companions have healthy appetites, my tip would be to book the last sitting of the day…