Tea in a pot, scones with cream and jam, finger sandwiches and dainty cakes... nothing could be more British than afternoon tea in London.
At these top London restaurants, advance booking is often essential and smart dress codes may apply.
Tea at The Ritz is nothing less than an institution. It has become so popular that there are now five sittings every day at 11.30am, 1.30pm, 3.30pm, 5.30pm and 7.30pm. Booking at least four weeks in advance is essential. Afternoon tea is served in the elegant Palm Court with music by a pianist or a harpist.
The Savoy's tea is served in the historic and elegant Thames Foyer, accompanied by a pianist playing on one of the hotel's traditional white pianos. Expect a selection of finger sandwiches, freshly baked raisin and plain scones, french pastries and Thames Foyer signature cakes, plus a huge selection of teas.
Fortnum & Mason
In Fortnum & Mason's St James's restaurant you can enjoy a range of teas selected by Fortnum's tea taster. The afternoon tea menu includes sandwiches, scones and pastries. There's also a Champagne Afternoon Tea; a Birthday Afternoon Tea; and a range of afternoon teas for special dietary requirements, including vegetarian, gluten free and diabetic.
If you're a fan of fashion, head to the Berkeley's Caramel Room for the Prêt-à-Portea tea. The éclairs, cakes and fancies are all inspired by the latest fashion collections, and are served in miniature mouthfuls for the figure-conscious. Madonna, Gwynneth Paltrow and the Beckhams have all been spotted here.
The award-winning afternoon tea at The Lanesborough includes freshly baked scones, thick clotted cream and homemade fruit preserves. If you have trouble choosing from the wide range of teas on offer, you can call on The Lanesborough's Tea Sommelier – the first in England – who will be happy to advise you.
Afternoon tea at The Langham has been a tradition since 1865. In the luxurious surroundings of the hotel's Palm Court, you can enjoy finger sandwiches, fresh scones with jam and cream, French pastries, mini cakes and specialist teas. The Langham's afternoon tea is so good, it was named the Tea Guild's Top London Afternoon Tea in 2010.
Afternoon tea is served at 2.30pm and 4.45pm in The Dorchester's famous marble and gilt Promenade. Treat yourself to the Laurent Perrier Rosé Champagne Tea, or enjoy the classic Dorchester Afternoon Tea. For something more substantial, opt for the Dorchester High Tea, which is served until 8pm and is the perfect pre-theatre meal.
The Waldorf Hilton
Traditional afternoon tea at the Waldorf Hilton is served daily in Homage Patisserie between 2.30pm and 5.30pm. Expect a selection of finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones, homemade tartlets and other Homage specialties. There's also a champagne option.
Swissôtel The Howard
You can eat your way around London at Swissôtel The Howard. Their TLSee (tea-london-sightseeing) menu features teatime treats in the shape of London attractions like Tower Bridge and the London Eye, plus finger sandwiches and home-baked scones with clotted cream.
The Metropolitan has reinvented afternoon tea with a touch of waist-friendly chic. Their guilt-free Afternoon Delight tea is served in the exclusive Met Bar. The menu has a hearts and flowers theme and includes cakes, cupcakes, macaroons and breadless sandwiches, plus a selection of fruit teas and Eco-tini cocktails.
The Orangery at Kensington Palace
Queen Anne built the idyllic Orangery in the grounds of Kensington Palace in 1705. Fresh strawberries and double cream are a seasonal speciality. Or try the Tregothnan English Tea, which comes with a glass of English Pinot Noir. Tea is served between 2.30pm and 5pm. Booking is not necessary.
Bánh Mì Bay
4-6 Theobald's Road,WC1X 8PN (020 7831 4079).
The locus of good Vietnamese food is slowly expanding throughout the city, and this friendly café on a busy Bloomsbury road is an enjoyable place to eat. The focus, as their name suggests, is on the Franco-Viet baguettes called banh mi – light, crisp baguettes filled with delicious morsels ranging from chargrilled pork to Vietnamese sausage, freshened up with pickles and coriander. But there are other highlights on the menu, such as handmade pork meatballs or bun – a cold noodle dish dressed with a punchy nuoc cham (fish sauce-based) dressing and topped with crunchy veg and meats of your choice. The freshly-blended fruit juices are great, too. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30.
92 Berwick Street, Soho, W1F 0QD
This vegetarian café serves the kind of fast food that makes you feel like a better person – including bean hotpot, veggie shepherd’s pie, quinoa taboulleh and wholesome cakes. Meal for two with soft drinks: around £15.
Bi Bim Bap
11 Greek St, W1D 4DJ
In Soho, try big, filling stone bowls of Korea’s national dish of rice mixed with variations of meat and vegetables, stirred together and served piping hot. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25
35 Panton Street, SW1Y 4EA
The latest branch of this growing Thai chain, just off Leicester Square, offers consistently vibrant dishes in bustling but stylish surroundings – just like the other branches. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40
114-116 Charing Cross Rd, WC2A 1PP
Judging by the queues out into the street during Chipotle’s first week, Londoners still can’t get enough of burrito bars. Chipotle claims to be a cut above the existing outlets, and it certainly charges more for its wraps. The chicken burrito at £6.60 is made with grilled ‘higher welfare’ chicken that’s been marinated in chipotle adobo (a paste made from chipotle chilli). Other fillings include braised beef, grilled steak, pork and a vegetarian black bean option. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £18.
Eat here for under £10, 65 Wigmore Street, Marylebone, W1U 1PZ
This Lebanese café is remarkably affordable for fresh dishes with zingy citrus and herb flavours. The small meze plate allows you to try several of the warm and cold dips and salads. Take note, though: it closes at 8pm. Cost per person without wine or service: around £9.
12 Upper St Martin's Lane, WC2H 9FB (020 7420 9320/www.dishoom.com).
Covent Garden isn’t exactly known for its decent, good value restaurants, so this particular venue – inspired by the Irani cafés of Bombay – is a brilliant find. There’s a no booking policy (unless there are six or more in your party) so the vibe is convivial and relaxed. Dishes such as the pão bhaji (a Portuguese-style bun cut in half and slathered with a thick vegetable curry) and house black dhal are comforting, packed with flavour and keenly priced. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40.
12 Gerrard St, W1D 5PR
The Chinatown spin-off of the Bayswater favourite, serving its signature juicy roast duck to the central London masses. Go early to avoid queuing. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30.
Golden Union Fish Bar
38 Poland Street, Soho, W1F 7LY
Here a ‘small’ cod and chips (£7.60) arrives with the freshly fried, hand-cut chips spilling off the plate, the fish encased in a tight, crisp batter. Meal for two with wine and service: around £30.
139 King’s Cross Rd, WC1X 9BJ
Inexpensive, elegantly presented vegan Japanese food near the two King’s Cross stations that will suit even a monk’s budget. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £45.
4 Sutton lane, Clerkenwell, EC1M 5PU
Excellent produce – such as organic meat and proper breads – underpin these home-style dishes and retro cakes. Meal for two with wine and service: around £35.
11 Rathbone St, W1T 1NA
This sleek restaurant looks expensive, but offers great value and superlative Korean cooking in Fitzrovia. The jeongol (casseroles, £19-£22) are big enough to feed four. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40.
49 Frith St, W1D 4SG
A bowl of slurpingly good handmade udon (Japanese wheat noodles) and a few delicious small plates – cider-braised pork belly, say – won’t set you back as much as you expect at this Soho joint. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40.
4 Macclesfield St, Chinatown, W1D 6AX
The menu ticks off many Taiwanese classics – oyster omelette with crown daisies, sanbeiji and sticky rice cooked in a bamboo container – though some confident renditions of Sichuanese and northern Chinese dishes are present too. Recently, the chain expanded to a third branch in Queensway. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40.
This Japanese café-bar in Clerkenwell serves keenly priced donburi (rice bowls), curry and noodles as well as a range of small tapas-like plates in the evening. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35.
86 Wilton Rd, SW1V 1DE
Hot main courses at this welcoming Wilton Road café are served in deep bowls in healthy proportions: aromatic chicken jalfrezi stew or a vegan Thai vegetable curry, both served with rice and costing a mere £4.95. Our baked eggs with chorizo, spinach, feta and tomato were slightly overcooked, but delivered on flavour and came with two lavishly buttered slices of good brown bread. It’s only open until 8pm weekdays and 7pm on weekends, but this is a commendable pit stop when you’re in the area, and is possibly your best pre-theatre option around these parts. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25.
135 Wardour St, Soho, W1F 0UF
Huge portions and sleek style mark out this Italian. The long counters feature an array of Italian goods, while separate counter at the back doles out hot pasta and meat dishes. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30.
Eat here for under £10, 5 Macclesfield Street, Chinatown, W1D 6AY
Nasi lemak, beef rendang – all done with aplomb in a restaurant that has clearly put in its best effort. The service is friendly and efficient, and mains barely top seven quid. Cost per person without wine or service: £8.25.
31 Catherine Street, Covent Garden, WC2B 5JS
At this South Indian vegetarian chain there are myriad variations on rice and spice to be had and the thalis (mild and light curries) are reliable too. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35.
Soju Korean Kitchen
32 Great Windmill St, W1D 7LR
A tiny Soho restaurant with plenty to offer on its comprehensive Korean menu. Greaseless japchae (stir-fried glass noodles) are spot on, and the kimchi is vibrant in flavour and presentation. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40.
Classic cheap eats, 18 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 4TN
The menu at this delightful Soho institution has barely changed since the 1960s. Pasta dishes and Anglo-Continental dishes are the mainstay, from spag bol to fishcakes.
Victoria Centre, Vincent Square, Westminster, SW1P 2PD
An inspiring dining experience featuring well-heeled dishes – such as crab bisque with eel – at everyday prices. The exquisite three-course menu (bookended by canapés, coffee or tea and petits fours) is a steal at £22.50.
12 Winsley Street, W1W 8HQ
The second branch of the original Soho Lebanese café is located just off Oxford Street, very handy for a breather and some tasty mezze halfway through a shopping spree. You can eat light or go for a hearty meal, mixing and matching items such as smokey baba ghanouj or nutty houmous with pomegranate molasses-glazed chicken wings or grilled lamb served with vermicelli rice. A cocktail bar dispenses refreshing drinks, though you can stay on the wagon and drink well, too – the apple, ginger and mint juice is a particular favourite. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40.