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So, what is Afternoon Tea, exactly? Well, it means real tea (Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Ceylon, Darjeeling, or Assam) brewed in a china pot, and served with china cups and saucers, milk, lemon, and silver spoons, between 3 and 5:30 pm.
For the full experience there should be elegant finger foods on a three-tiered cake stand: crustless sandwiches on the bottom; fruit scones with Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry jam in the middle; and rich cakes, shortbread, patisseries, macaroons, and fancies on top.
Tea-goers dress smartly (though not ostentatiously) and a certain level of decorum is, of course, expected.
Claridge's. The hallowed tea tradition is given a sophisticated, contemporary twist at Claridge's in Mayfair, where your teatime companions are more likely to be film stars and supermodels than aristocrats. Afternoon tea is £39 and rosé Champagne tea is £63. Dress code is elegant smart casual, which—rightly!—means "'no shorts, vests, sports wear, flip flops, ripped jeans, or baseball caps." Brook St., Mayfair, London, W1K 4HR. www.claridges.co.uk. Served daily 3, 3:30, 5, and 5:30. Tube: Bond St.
Momo. Enjoy a hybrid afternoon tea with a twist at Mourad Mazouz's souk-like Moroccan restaurant Momo off Regent St., where you'll find traditional scones and clotted cream with fig or strawberry jam, plus more exotic mint tea, cheese-filled biouats (crisp pastries), rosewater macaroons, and Berber-style crêpes, filled with nuts and honey. Afternoon teas £22 to £32, from 12:30 until 5:30. 25 Heddon St., Mayfair, London, W1B 4BH. 020/7434–4040. Reservations essential. Served daily 2:30 and 4:45. Tube: Hyde Park Corner.
Fortnum & Mason. Upstairs at the venerable 300-year-old store and grocer to the Queen, four set teas are ceremoniously served at The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon: afternoon tea (£40), savoury afternoon tea (£42), old-fashioned high tea (a traditional light meal, £44), and Champagne tea (priced according to Champagne). We are very upset to report that their top floor tea parlor was dowdy as all get-out, stained, and nearly all of the edibles were completely inedible. Shocking! The Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, 4th fl., 181 Piccadilly, St. James's, London, W1A 1ER. 020/7734–8040. www.fortnumandmason.com. Served Mon.–Sat. noon–9, Sun. noon–8. Tube: Green Park.
The Ritz. Afternoon tea at the Ritz is served in the gaudily gilt-edged Palm Court, with linen-covered tables and Louis XIV chaises complete with musical accompaniment, providing an authentic taste of Edwardian London in the 21st century. Afternoon tea is £45 and Champagne tea £57. Reserve a few months ahead and remember to wear a jacket and tie. 150 Piccadilly, St. James's, London, W1J 9BR. 020/7300–2345. www.theritzlondon.com. Reservations essential. Served daily 11:30, 1:30, 3:30, 5:30, 7:30. Tube: Green Park.
The Wolseley. The giddying, double-height dining room at The Wolseley Viennese-style grand café on Piccadilly, attracts le tout London and is perfect for an inexorbitant afternoon tea service. Cream tea is £9.75, afternoon tea is £22.50, and Champagne tea is £32.50. You can usually get a booking on spec, or a few days ahead. 160 Piccadilly, St. James's, London, W1J 9EB. 020/7499–6996. www.thewolseley.com. Served weekdays 3–6:30, Sat. 3:30–5:30, Sun. 3:30–6:30. Tube: Green Park.
The Berkeley. Afternoon tea gets a wacky couture makeover at Prêt-à-Portea at the intimate Caramel Room at the Berkeley, where the cakes and fancies are stunning mini-creations inspired by the latest collections and fashion deities like Manalo Blahnik, Marc Jacobs, Prada, Lanvin, Yves Saint Laurent and Diane von Fürstenberg. Fashionistas can sip loose leaf tea and nibble a forest green "YSL" Victoria sponge cake handbag or a "Fendi" maple and ginger ankle-boot shaped biscuit. Teas from £39 to £59 daily from 1 'til 6. The Berkeley, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge, London, SW1X 7RL. 020/7235-6000. www.the-berkeley.co.uk. Daily, 1 to 6. Tube: Knightsbridge.
The Savoy. Hands down, this super glamorous riverside hotel offers the most beautiful setting for Tea: the Thames Foyer, a symphony of gold and grays centered around a wrought-iron "winter garden" gazebo, is just the place for the resident pianist to accompany you as you enjoy the award-winning house teas, along with finger sandwiches, homemade scones, and yummilicious pastries. Don't forget to swing by the adjacent Chinoiserie Vestibule—an impossibly chic black-and-white chintz covered room—to make some purchases in the Savoy Tea Boutique. Strand, London, WC2R OEU. 020/7836 4343. www.fairmont.com/savoy-london.
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