Put that cappuccino down. Walk away from that latte. You’re in London, mate, and as the Mad Hatter shouted to Alice: “it’s 4 o’clock, time for tea!”
Afternoon tea – arguably the most celebrated, fetishized, and durable of British institutions – is suddenly fashionable again and brewing up a storm. Tea rooms are popping all around the capital, turning teatime into the new cocktail hour.
You’ve always wanted to “do a tea,” but didn’t want to look like a tourist. Now there’s no excuse for not getting comfortable with a proper cuppa. Iced or hot, tea is cool.
Up in Notting Hill, the neighborhood nearly destroyed by Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, The Tea Palace offers an adventure in tea tasting. For those who don’t know as much as they would like, the equivalent of a sommelier, called a “tea master,” is on hand to guide you through their enormous collection of favorites and rarities. Home made crumpets with honeycomb are to die for, not to mention the organic clotted cream. At the traditional tea counter you can buy your favorite loose teas to take away.
The elegant tearoom at The Savoy is immune to passing fads. Burton & Taylor and Bogie & Bacall may have given way to more down-to-earth types but the Savoy is never anything less than sophisticated. Aside from the traditional afternoon tea, a new Theatre Tea bridges the gap between lunch and dinner, providing the perfect pitstop before heading to a show in the neighboring West End. The Savoy even has its own theatre historian who can give you a tour through the theatre district and deliver you back in time for tea.
After touring Kensington Palace, the last residence of Princess Di and home to her dress collection, make like a royal and recharge your weary self with tea at The Orangery, where English monarchs once housed their delicate plants in the winter. In good weather, go al fresco. Nibbling cakes and tarts outdoors makes for peaceful, chic people watching and the views of Kensington and Hyde Park gardens are lovely.
At the whorishly glam deVille in trendy Marylebone, it’s only appropriate that their Fashion Tea for Two would be an homage to style icon Zandra Rhodes. You can’t help but think pink munching on Zandra’s Pink Meringues, Queen of Hearts Tarts and the most delicious itty bitty cakes and treats served on her own bone china. But if you’re looking for a masculine alternative, the Men’s Afternoon Tea is a one-of-a-kind affair perfect for the modern man about town. Tea with the boys comes with a round of games at the bar, roast sirloin sandwiches, and a range of proper whiskies.
Get on your glad rags and head to Piccadilly, where The Ritz is celebrating in a style to which you’d like to become accustomed. Afternoon tea in the Palm Court is about as close as you’ll ever get to the elegant era of Coward, Chaplin and Cole Porter. Limoges china, impeccable service and enough silver to gild the Chrysler Building will have you feeling like British nobility.
Yauatcha is the sister restaurant to Alan Yau’s popular Hakkasan in the heart of SoHo and the hotly anticipated Park Chinois here in New York. It’s also one of the best designed eateries in town, with beautiful fish tanks on the walls and beautiful people to ogle in the civilized upstairs tearoom. The intricate, hand made cakes look almost too good to eat. Almost. With a staggering 150 varieties of tea to choose from, plus nibbles and dim sum from the downstairs restaurant to keep you entertained, you might happily lose track of time.
The swanky Athenaeum recently underwent of major makeover and the installation of a living botanical facade, but updating the casually elegant main rooms hasn’t scared away the boldfaced names that call it home nor changed the impeccably comfortable atmosphere one iota. Tea is a relaxed tradition here: finger sandwiches, homemade scones with Devonshire cream and honeycomb from nearby Regent’s Park, plus Granny’s cakes (for wrapping in napkins and stuffing in your pockets for later). Thankfully some things never go out of style.