We discover where to find London’s finest afternoon tea
“Your country’s one indisputable contribution to Western Civilization: afternoon tea,” observes the character Drax, in that thoroughly reprehensible Bond film, Moonraker.
But misgivings about acting, plot and special effects aside, Michael Lonsdale’s droll observation was arguably spot on: although the UK has undoubtedly contributed far more to the world than Oriental teas and French patisserie, it is true that afternoon tea remains a quintessentially British pastime.
Moreover, the habit of taking afternoon tea is enduringly popular with tourists at the moment, with an explosion of new venues opening across London.
And I must admit, I am a massive fan of this age-old tradition of taking high tea in opulent surroundings. For it remains the most civilised method of whiling away a few hours on lazy weekends, particularly if champagne is involved.
In fact, the only real problem is deciding where to indulge your sweet tooth: do you stick to old favourites like the Ritz and Claridge’s, or brave newer venues like Clerkenwell’s Modern Pantry? It is a question I have been agonising over for years, but after visiting numerous destinations across the capital, I think I have finally found London’s best afternoon tea.
“If experience is anything to go by, these guys know exactly what they are doing”
It is an afternoon tea that involves more than a little pomp and ceremony, not to mention quite a bit of fuss. It is also, appropriately, one of the oldest and most celebrated venues for afternoon tea – The Langham Hotel’s Palm Court. Indeed, the Palm Court has been serving superlative tea and cakes for over 150 years, so if experience is anything to go by, these guys know exactly what they are doing.
Which is something I can now vouch for: taking tea here is a very special experience indeed and one worthy of some considerable proselytizing. It starts on a high note when the Langham’s gracious staff escort you into the Palm Court, and then simply gets better and better.
Indeed, such is the majestic beauty of the Langham’s star attraction that the hotel could serve dire fayre and still pull in the crowds. For the Palm Court is the kind of place you never want to leave: high ceilings, chandeliers and ornate gold decorations lend the venue a thoroughly opulent air, while the furniture is almost ludicrously comfortable.
There is a live pianist during the day and jazz in the evenings. The service too is simply perfect – polished, effortless and amazingly personable. And so sipping our glasses of champagne and admiring the setting, my companion and I discussed how we could elongate our stay for as long as humanely possible.
However, The Langham does not just let the setting do the work, far from it, in fact. Their food offering is, in my experience, the finest in London, including exquisite finger sandwiches with truffled duck egg brioche, smoked salmon and asparagus or moreish corn-fed chicken on the cards.
The sweet stuff was to die for as well: shortbread with salted caramel, chocolate mousse with Yuzu curd and the obligatory fresh scones hit all the right notes. Nothing remotely health conscious, of course, but then who goes for afternoon tea counting calories? One takes tea at the Palm Court expecting to get stuck in an opulent time warp for two hours, so in that sense job impeccably, exemplarily, exquisitely done.
Before leaving, we decided to indulge in a further glass of champagne or two at the similarly glamorous Artesian bar, which was named World’s Best Bar in 2015. The atmosphere was lively, the champagne flowed and the service was spot-on.
But then, what else would you expect from the home of London’s finest afternoon tea?
The Langham Hotel
1c Portland Place, Regent Street, London
0207 973 7515