Every trip to London should include afternoon tea but nowadays there are many more options than the Ritz. Here’s chef Signe Johansen’s pick of the best:
The English Tea Room - Brown’s Hotel
Albemarle Street, Mayfair, London W1S 4BP
020 7518 4155.
The English Tea Room in London’s historic Brown’s Hotel recently received an Award of Excellence from The Tea Guild for their Rolls Royce of a tea room experience. Renovated in 2005, the tearoom has retained its traditional wood panelling, cosy fire places and Jacobean plaster ceiling, and offers a fine selection of teas.I tried a unique Cornish Grown blend with Assam from the Tregothnan Tea Plantation near Cornwall which had just the right note of freshness to match the delicate finger sandwiches, scones and pastries. Other examples from their tea menu which contains 17 different teas include the Browns Afternoon Blend, and their splendid Oriental Beauty Oolong.
For special occasions, or when you’re in need of a treat, you could splash out on the Rosé Champagne Afternoon Tea (an eyewatering £48) which you can sip to the tinkling of a piano from the tea room’s Baby Grand, You can also buy Afternoon Tea gift certificates - a nice idea for an indulgent present.
The Parlour, Sketch
9 Conduit Street, London W1S 2XG
0870 777 4488
Still in the heart of the West End is an altogether more casual affair. The Parlour at Sketch is a playful, quirky spot for tea, yet as manager Denise Tse told me, the kind of place where people come to sit on their own and read a book. There seems to be everything you could possibly think of from the classic Dragon Well Green tea, to the marvellously named Iron Goddess Oolong and Nagri Estate Darjeeling along with a brilliantly innovative selection of cakes and pastries (the consultant to the whole complex, which includes a Michelin-starred restaurant, is top Parisian chef Pierre Gagnaire).
Teas I sampled included Genmaicha (Japanese pan fired sencha tea and roasted rice), Dragon Well Green, and Chai tea (black tea with ginger, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and peppers). The first two were predictably good, with the Genmaicha’s classic nutty flavour, but the Chai really was the winner – not too peppery, but with a pleasing cinnamon and cardamom aftertaste.Whimsical and fun, Sketch Parlour appeals to a well-heeled younger demographic and shoppers in need of sustenance after a hard day’s shopping in Bond Street! Unfortunately you can’t get a great deal of information from their irritatingly gimmicky website www.sketch.uk.com
6 Lamb Street, Spitalfields, London E1 6EA
020 7247 1333
www.teasmith.co.uk (website being redesigned - currently a holding page)
Tucked away in the heart of Spitalfields market, TeaSmith is a tea bar with a pared-down, modern look. Owner John Kennedy took Fiona and me through his tea-tasting masterclass, allowing us to experience the full range of taste and textures associated with the various tea groups.
Trained in Hong Kong, John’s tasting approach is highly methodical – not unlike a wine tasting! His White Silver Needle has a subtle, lightly malted flavour – delightful at any time of the day. We also tried a Green, three Oolongs, a Red and a Pu-erh. The Oolongs were particularly impressive – we tried a floral Teguanyin Supreme from Anxi, China, a perfect afternoon tea with a marked orchid aroma. The fruity Phoenix Supreme from Guandong, China, was exceptionally fruity, with hints of mango and tropical fruit – a great base for cocktails or tea vodka jellies!
According to John, the digestive Oolong, Big Red Robe, from Wuyi, China, is many tea experts’ favourite thanks to its complex, charcoal flavour characterised by an initial acidity hitting the palate that mellows and becomes sweeter at the back of the throat.TeaSmith also offers an array of delectable pastries and truffles, made by award-winning chocolatier William Curley. The savoury Walnut and Miso biscuit went well with green tea, while the Chocolate-covered Fig and Jasmine Truffle were great matches with Oolong. You can book a tasting similar to the one we had by mailing TeaSmith at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Paternoster Square, St.Paul’s Churchyard, London EC4M 7DX
020 7248 6606
A haven in the heart of the City, I left wishing there was a Tea in my neighbourhood! It's the brainchild of chartered tax accountant Daren Spence, and his partner, management consultant Suzanne Connolly who saw a gap in the market for tea drinkers and created a contemporary version of an English tea room. With clever branding, a clear colour-coded system for ordering teas, and well-trained staff (trained by tea guru Jane Pettigrew)
Tea’s first store is already converting those who might normally resort to coffee for their pick-me-up.Choose from an excellent assortment of white, green, oolong and black teas (I tried the peachy Monkey Picked Oolong) – or one of their wellbeing Superteas, such as Immunitea, Puritea or Ingenuitea – the latter designed to give the grey matter a boost!A more extensive menu than many tea rooms with breakfast, light lunches and - hurray - crumpets for elevenses
15 Broadwick Street, London W1F ODL
Having only eaten dim sum at Yauatcha, I was reminded how seriously they take their tea when I visited recently. Designed as an authentic all-day teahouse, with a modern twist Yauatcha’s appeal is not only that it looks cool and tranquil but its tea menu is really tempting.
A Taiwanese tea master chooses the tea for the teahouse on the ground floor, and patisserie chefs prepare unusual and colourful pastries including the exquisite Shanghai Lily (Almond rose biscuit, gewrztraminer, lychee compote and rose confit), macaroons (try the Matcha Kalamanzi or Chocolate Jasmine) which one can order alongside a choice of 150 different teas (bestsellers include White Silver Needle, Classical Beauty, Four Seasons Oolong, Dragon’s Well and Jasmine) or take away.
Afternoon tea is popular – with an assortment of succulent dim sum (including really excellent prawns on toast – bursting with flavour), scones and a rainbow of multi-coloured pastries. Tea-wise, try the classic White Silver Needle, for its refreshing cucumber aroma, and if you’re feeling adventurous, this is the place to sample Pu-erh and witness a Chinese tea ceremony: I tasted a vintage 25-year old Pu-erh, and it was a revelation: surprisingly mild in flavour, with a robust liquor not unlike the colour of dark soy sauce.
Note: there’s been a fair amount of criticism of the slow service here which may or may not improve now founder Alan Yau has sold the restaurant (FB)
For more suggestions of places to take tea buy the 2007 copy of 'Afternoon Tea - Perfect places for afternoon tea' which is published by the AA in conjunction with the Tea Guild (£9.99 from www.tea.co.uk) You might also enjoy the recently opened London outpost of Ladure (famous for its macaroons) in Harrods.