Is this the best afternoon tea in London?

The English tradition of afternoon tea started in 1865  as a way to avoid the mid afternoon sinking   experienced by Anna Maria, the 7th Duchess of Bedford  (and lady-in- waiting to Queen Victoria).

The story goes that one afternoon she asked for bread, butter and tea to be delivered to her room. She enjoyed her petite feast so much she began inviting friends to visit and share the ritual, – tea, treats and a little bit of conversation. From then the fare expanded to cakes and scones, pastries and sandwiches. But in the beginning it was about bread and tea.

Here at the Langham there is edible glitter on my raspberries. There’s a sommelier dedicated to the tea selection. And our conversation is accompanied by the elaborate riffings of a pianist .

It’s a long way from a piece of bread in a bedroom.

We’ve come to London’s first grand hotel in search of London’s best afternoon tea.  We are four ladies- two who are visiting from overseas and two who are living here. After a full year of living on English soil two of us realised we hadn’t tasted this most English tradition yet. Something had to be rectified. These special guests were just the excuse we needed.

So on a sly Tuesday afternoon we closed down our respective computers and pulled out our high heels. We  negotiated the hoards at Oxford Circus and found our way to the Palm Court at The Langham. It’s a space marked by high ceilings and art deco elegance, to the rear of the hotel lobby.

Image via

We’ve booked a two hour slot; from 2pm -4pm.  It seems here  even hedonism has a schedule to maintain.

Inside the refurbished Palm Court the crowd is a mix of ladies celebrating landmark occasions (birthdays, engagements and large shopping sprees) and tourists. There are women juggling small forks and enormous cameras. There are also some slightly unimpressed boys with baseball caps pulled down low, shuffling in their wide set chairs.

Without invoking gender stereotypes, it seems this afternoon tea is designed more for a feminine palate.

There are three options of menus. There’s the ‘Wonderland’, which includes tea and clocks in at £38. There’s the  Bijoux at £46 which takes inspiration for its treats from the jewellery designers near the hotel.

And if  like the late Queen Mother your afternoon isn’t complete without a little shot of gin there’s the Gin and Tea time, which includes a tea inspired by the flavours of Beefeater and a Beefeater and Tonic (£42).

You also can upsize the indulgence (and the price) of your feast with a glass of Laurent Perrier NV (£12).

We opt to keep the afternoon dry and go for the most financially prudent choice- and take ourselves to Wonderland.

It starts with a light panna cotta, set with jelly in a thimble esque tea cup. While we’re trying not to make too much noise with our spoons we’re contemplating teas. This is no simple task. There are 39 to ponder, traversing from the classic Earl Grey to special blends created for the hotel. Some; like the Imperial Mountain Silver Needle Yellow Tea bring a supplement (£40 for that very special tea, favoured by Chairman Mao).

Maybe it’s the romantic atmosphere, the suggestiveness of the flushed red roses stoutly sitting in a teapot on the table, or the fact that I was told in the spice markets of Marrakech that rose infusions are good for digestion, I opt for the rosebud tisane. Considering the extent of our indulgences, it proved wise.

There are special trolleys for the tea and elaborate ceremonies for brewing and pouring. The tisane is lightly honeyed in colour and smells like a stumble through an early morning flower market.  There are many reasons why the afternoon tea at The Langham won the Tea Guild’s award for best afternoon tea in London in 2010. Just how seriously they take their tea must be top among them. 

From there we embark on a platter of sandwiches. There are no fewer than five finger sandwiches and rolls for each of us.

Clear favourites are the cornfed chicken breast with honey mustard, the poached Scottish salmon with creme fraiche and the zesty mix of tuna, with roma tomato.

The egg with cress in brioche brought back traumatic childhood memories for some, but to me was up there with the cucumber, cream cheese and chives for elegant simplicity.

After the first round, a second tray is brought if anyone would like seconds. We collectively decide that ladies probably only ask for no more than two extra. Chicken, tuna and salmon are all invited back for encore performances.

Meanwhile I’m mainly  grateful I didn’t have much lunch and haven’t made firm plans for supper.

From there out come warm scones, clotted Devon cream that’s as thick as gluggy Lanolin and a pot of strawberry jam.

Half of the scones are studded with sultanas, the other half plain. There’s one of each for all of us.

Throughout all of this we hear the the constant strains from the piano, which skirts from Adele through to Barry Manilow and Cole Porter tunes, before crescendoing to ‘Happy Birthday’. At this point  waiters march towards four tables where celebrations are in store, bearing cake and candles. It’s all very staged, public and sweet.

We have no birthday to celebrate, so we move to our sweets, which are a kaleidoscopic whirl of colour.

Three come on sticks of some sorts. The first and most obvious is a salted caramel meringue lollypop, studded with popcorn. It’s kept stable in a shot glass, glued to the presentation plate that’s swirled with green and white sherbert. We keep our dignity and only taste a small teaspoon of the sherbert.

There are small passionfruit and mango jellied sponge cakes, best eaten by lifting them from the cocktail skewer that’s jauntily angled through their bellies.

There are cylinders of dark chocolate mousse, decorated with art deco swirls and made sturdy at the base with a crunch and crackle of puffed rice.

And then there are half macarons, decorated with lychee cream and fat fresh raspberries.

Raspberries which are dipped in edible glitter.  Yes, it is a long way from a piece of bread in a bedroom. At £38, plus a 12.5 % service charge it’s also a long way from the 7 and a half pence that afternoon tea set you back when it first started at The Langham in 1865.

There are a few quirks of this indulgence at The Langham; the bathrooms are a good distance away, down two flights of stairs and along a corridor. Which is relevant when you’re talking about bottomless pots of tea. Knowing that you’ve only got your seat for two hours adds a sense of haste to what could be a very languid experience. And with all those sandwiches, scones and cakes god only knows what you’d eat if you were gluten intolerant. It would be interesting to see how they would muster a tailored menu.

The Langham is a special occasion place. You’ll  need to book your afternoon tea in advance. You’ll feel better about the indulgence if you make the effort to frock up a little.  You’ll also have as lovely a time as I did if you come with people who are near and dear to you.

It’s also worth noting that you also won’t need much to eat before or after.

Back in 1865 Anna Maria may have needed afternoon tea to stop her sinking in the afternoon.

These days, after two hours of consumption of tea, cake and bread at The Langham, I’ve got more than enough ballast to keep me going until well beyond dinner time.


1c Portland Place, 
Regent Street, London

Tube: Oxford Circus
Open daily: 8.30 – 23:00
Afternoon tea seatings: 14:00, 14:30
16.30 and 17.00
Bookings here

 Palm Court at the Langham on Urbanspoon

  1. I've heard so much about the high teas in London! They have quite a reputation! Loving the Wedgwood Harlequin china-they're just wonderful! The food looks good although the points about the loos and the 2 hour time limit would be slightly off putting as when I catch up with my girlfriends we spend ages just talking! 😛

  2. Now THIS is a serious afternoon tea! Edible glitter too… not seen that about before.

  3. I'll see your Langham and raise you Claridges , try it around Christmas for the extra bonus of old school Christmas decor, similarly fab and you'll roll out the door happy. Christmas bookings need early booking though. Enjoy!

Leave a comment


{ 3 Trackbacks }