Egg and cress, cucumber and salmon, finger-style without crusts. The classic sandwiches of a traditional British afternoon tea may be delightfully refined, but they're merely a precursor to the real indulgences of the occasion - freshly baked scones with clotted cream and jam, fancy cakes and delicate pastries, all served alongside piping hot, perfectly brewed tea in bone china teacups.
London is the unsurpassed originator of the afternoon tea, and there are a plethora of places to satisfy your sweet tooth in style, from chic cafés to grand hotels and even palaces. Here's a pick of our favourites...
Situated on a prime corner of Sloane Square, The Botanist is a light, airy and contemporary retreat-like dining room and bar. The extensive menus include breakfast, lunch, dinner, pre-theatre, Saturday brunch and Sunday lunch, as well as a full bar menu - but the afternoon tea here is a really special treat. Choose a table in the rear room, beneath the beautiful backlit glass murals depicting botanical illustrations, and hunker down with homemade scones and a pot of Jing Tea.
The Langham Hotel
Winner of the Tea Guild's Top London Afternoon Tea 2010 award, the Palm Court at the Langham on Regent Street is renowned as the birthplace of the afternoon tea tradition. To say they take tea seriously here is a huge understatement - there's even an etiquette guide on their website. Did you know that it's not the done thing to clink the sides of your cup when stirring, and that the spout of the teapot should always face the host or pourer? This is a high-end, special occasion venue so reservations are encouraged .
Elegantly situated within the grounds of Kensington Palace, the 18th century Orangery restaurant has to be one of the capital's grandest locations for afternoon tea, yet it's remarkably laid-back and relaxed. There are a number of menus to choose from, incluing the Signature Orange Tea which comes with orange scented scones, to the Enchanted Palace Tea featuring the Palace Chocolate ganache slice.
Beautiful 16th century north London mansion Hendon Hall was converted to a hotel in 1911, and later became famous as the accommodation of choice for the England football team in 1966. We're not sure if Sir Alf Ramsey's lads partook in the afternoon tea tradition during their stay, but if not, they missed out - the lemon and white chocolate cake, chocolate brownies and clotted cream scones would have certainly given them a carb boost.
National Dining Rooms
The National Dining Rooms, in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, is the creation of renowned restaurateur Oliver Peyton, and if you indulge in afternoon tea here (and it truly is an indulgence), you'll be treated to lashings of organic jam from the Peyton and Byrne bakeries to spread generously on your buttermilk scones. For a good value but equally delicious alternative, nip over to the National Café in the East Wing instead.
Knightsbridge's famous Berkeley hotel is home to the capital's most fashionable tea by far. Prêt-à-Portea is an edible Haute Couture fantasy, inspired by some of the fashion world's most colourful characters, and fittingly served in the hotel's low-lit Caramel Room. You'll need to reserve a spot three days in advance, but the Christian Laboutin sparkly high-heeled ginger biscuit, Fendi chocolate baguette and Philip Treacy chocolate hat cake are all well worth the wait.
Where's your favourite spot for a classic afternoon tea? Let us know in the comments below. And if your preference is for something rich and roasted, check out our recent post on London's Best Coffee Shops.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.