The ritual of sitting down to afternoon tea has graced the households of Brits for centuries, and has become a tradition recognized by many restaurants and hotels, too. Families around the country come together for a mid-afternoon meal of biscuits, pastries and finger foods, all centered around the main event: a refreshing pot of hot tea.
Many restaurants in England’s major cities put on a seasonal tea with special holiday drinks and nibbles. Seeing as this is my first Christmas living in London, I decided to check out a few of the teas to see what the fuss was all about. Verdict? I left each feeling very full, slightly guilty from overindulgence and yet…eager to book another the following weekend.
If you’re in London this holiday season, book yourself and a friend in at one of the following five teas for a traditional English experience:
1. The Langham
Just a stone’s throw from Oxford St, London’s busiest stretch of shopping, sits the perfectly posh Langham hotel. For a special occasion with a few friends, book their festive Wedgwood afternoon tea in the Palm Court dining room. It’s modern, luxurious and decorated beautifully for the Christmas season.
We kicked things off with a glass of champagne followed by a pot of fresh mint tea. The four courses of treats were plated on gorgeous Wedgwood china, starting with a red pepper brulee and pine nuts and followed by five finger sandwiches filled with goodness like smoked ham and cheese with white truffle oil. Moving on to the sweet bites, we were served up scones then a plate of pastries inspired by the Wedgwood collection. Standouts were the fluffy rose and lychee log and the white cameo Victorian sponge cake.
Details: The festive afternoon Wedgwood tea starts at £57 per person with seatings available until January 4th, 2015.
2. The Dorchester
From the moment you walk up the front steps and are greeted by doormen in top hats and tailcoats, it’s clear that your afternoon tea at The Dorchester is going to be pretty lush.
Beyond the massive Christmas tree that glows in the lobby of the iconic London hotel sits The Promenade, extravagantly decorated with even more pines and twinkling lights throughout. Shortly after we sat down at our plush booth and the waiter poured us a glass of Laurent Perrier bubbly, a young boys choir gathered around the piano to sing Christmas carols—a special touch that really put us in a festive mood.
The next couple of hours were filled with three courses of sweet and savory treats: a selection of finger sandwiches like turkey and cranberry on a basil bread, warm scones with clotted cream, and delicate handmade pastries to top it all off. You’ll get to choose from a selection of teas as well, but I’d recommend trying one of the three holiday brews on offer: Sugarplum, Santa’s Biscuits or Marzipan Dream.
Details: The champagne tea starts at £55 per person with seatings available until January 4th, 2015.
3. Sally Lunn’s
For a more informal affair just an hour outside of London, head to Sally Lunn’s in Bath. Dating back to 1482, it’s one of the oldest buildings in historic Bath and houses the original kitchen where Sally Lunn created the “Bath bun.” Visitors come from all over to try the world-famous buns, and the originals can only be found here. The secret recipe is often imitated but has never been replicated.
The dining area itself is informal and cozy, similar to what you’d expect your gran’s tea room to look like; in fact, it reminded me of popping round to my own gran’s house for tea and a chat. Standard English breakfast tea was served up (piping hot, just as the Brits like it) and we chose from a menu of seven bun options, ranging from savory smoked salmon to sweet cinnamon butter. The buns are large, sweet and quite filling, fueling you up for an afternoon wandering the stalls at the Bath Christmas Market.
Details: Buns with tea start at just under £7 each and reservations are recommended. The line wrapped out the front door the entire duration of our meal.
4. The Pump Room
Another Bath restaurant famous for its afternoon tea is The Pump Room, grand in scale and attached to the famous Roman baths. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more historic and elegant setting to enjoy your hot brews and dainty baked goods.
Filling up on traditional sandwiches, scones and pastries, we were serenaded with holiday tunes by the Pump Room Trio—a pianist, violinist and cello player—and chose from the 23 selections of loose-leaf teas. If you’re a real tea connoisseur, you’ll want to try out some of the unique blends on The Pump Room menu. They recently won the Tea Guild’s Award of Excellence for their offerings of everything from white cherry tea to China green gunpowder.
And if you prefer to add a little kick to your meal, try one of the restaurant’s seasonal beverages, like the fresh Blood Orange Bellini or the Northern Lights cocktail with Seville orange and grenadine.
Details: Afternoon tea starts at £21 per person. Champagne tea starts at £35 per person.
5. One Aldwych
Just a stone’s throw from the Thames and heading into the heart of Covent Garden sits One Aldwych, a beautiful modern hotel with a tea room that overlooks the lobby bar with its great arched windows and frosty blue Christmas tree.
When I heard that the tea was themed to match Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the hotel is an official partner of the West End musical), I had no idea what to expect. Little did I know, I’d be spending the next two hours munching on delicious sweets created to make you feel like a kid in a candy shop.
We started off with a pot of tea and some savory bites (noteworthy were the beet and onion marmalade pastry and the leek and Stilton quiche), before moving on to the main event of decadent sweets. Each selection was more delicious than the last, with caramel chocolate milk, candy floss, gingerbread cake pops, chocolate financiers, and a golden creme egg filled with cheesecake. We washed it all down with the “Cocktail Charlie,” a tasty treat of whiskey, champagne, chocolate bitters and cherry syrup. Served up in a glass teapot with dry ice, it’s an absolute must-order.
Details: Tea starts at £34.50 per person or £45 per person if you’d like to add a glass of champagne or a Cocktail Charlie.
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