The Athenaeum Hotel has the best afternoon tea in London. Well so says The Guild in 2012.
Afternoon tea is a long held tradition in the UK which to be honest is not maintained by the majority of English people today. A ritual of the higher classes and sometimes perceived as snooty.
In the modern day the afternoon tea in London is an accessible feature for many a tourist with a generous budget.
My bride and I first experienced afternoon tea in London in February 2011 with a visit to the plush and famous hotel, Claridges. This was only days after we were engaged so it was a worthy celebration.
Now it was July 2013 and we were recently married. We were based in London for a few days for some concerts and were looking for a treat. It was our first trip to London as a married couple and what better way to celebrate than the best afternoon tea in London.
After performing some research I soon discovered that there is an award for the best afternoon tea and in 2012 this was awarded to The Athenaeum. Like Claridges this is also based in Mayfair. The Athenaeum is located on 116 Piccadilly, a short walk from Green Park tube station.
Like any afternoon tea in a hotel in London it is always best to book in advance. In some places like Claridges and The Ritz there can be a waiting list months long. Planning ahead I booked our table a few months ahead. I also found out that the dress code is relaxed for The Athenaeum.
There are three sittings for afternoon tea in The Athenaeum, the first is at 12:30, then 3pm followed by 5:30pm. The first two sittings have a limit of 2 hours per sitting whereas the last one allows you to stay as long as you wish.
To be honest 2 hours was sufficient and we were stuffed by this point, money well spent.
We arrived about 10 minutes early for our booking and registered our arrival. We were asked to wait in the bar area whilst our table was prepared.
Just sitting in the bar area helped us appreciate we were in a plush Mayfair establishment. Exceedingly comfortable and expensive soft furnishings to sit on with mood lighting. The walls were adorned with original copies of Playboy magazine dating from the 1970s.
We were soon taken to our table in the tea room. Again lots of soft furnishing abound which made it a very comfortable resting place. Eat too much and there is danger of you falling asleep because you are so comfortable.
The soft furnishings with rugs on the floor was a distinct difference to our experience at Claridges. Whilst Claridges was amazing, it had high tables and chairs, tiled floors and less of a sense of privacy between tables.
We felt comfortable in our surrounds here.
The walls were decorated with creative art work. Some butterfly designs were made out of bank notes, I even noticed one made from an old £50 note! There was also a stunning paper made life size dog which really got us talking.
Our waiter soon arrived and explained the proceedings for the afternoon tea at The Athenaeum.
There was a reasonable selection of teas (although I remember there being a wider selection at Claridges). I chose a white tea whilst my bride opted for English Breakfast.
With afternoon tea in London there is always the option to not just have tea but also champagne as well. I took this opportunity and paid the £7 extra for a glass of Rose Petal Champagne. I must admit to not being a champagne drinker but this stuff was lovely, a real delight on the palate.
The afternoon tea consisted of two servings of sandwiches, a round of scones and crumpets followed by our choice from the trolley of cakes and pastries.
Sandwiches for afternoon tea
The sandwich selection consisted of four different types and each one had the crust cut off the bread. The sandwiches were:-
- Smoked Salmon
- Cucumber and Cream Cheese
- Egg Mayonnaise with Mustard Cress
- Ham with Red Onion Marmalade
We ended up taking two full rounds of these and I must say they were all lovely. I’m not a big fan of cucumber or cream cheese but I would happily eat those again.
Freshly Baked Scones and Toasted Crumpets
The next round was one of some indulgence. Many visitors to the UK will know of the British tradition of scones and they are an integral part of high society afternoon tea.
We received a carousel stand with four scones and two hot crumpets. All were fresh and delightful.
The top tier of the carousel contained bowls of clotted cream, fresh strawberry jam and lemon curd. This was so that we could serve our crumpets and scones as we liked. This was not an opportunity to be missed and all the toppings were rich in flavour.
We then came to the final and many people’s favourite part of the best afternoon tea in London, the dessert trolley!
There was a fine selection here and the waiter informed us that we could choose three items each. Already close to being totally stuffed this was a real battle with conscience over greed. Well it wasn’t coming cheap so greed won!
I opted for the Champagne Jelly, a Chocolate Strawberry and a small slice of Victoria Sponge Cake. All were melt in the mouth gorgeous and I managed to force them in.
Is this the best afternoon tea in London?
According to The Guild The Athenaeum has the best afternoon tea in London, so what did we think? Well my bride preferred The Athenaeum afternoon tea over Claridges. She preferred the setting and found it luxurious and maybe a little bit less posh than Claridges.
For me, there was little in it. I found both to be wonderful experiences. The setting was lovely and the food divine.
In Claridges we were given complimentary small boxes of tea leaves from our tea selection to take home, this did not happen with The Athenaeum. That is a small matter but not one to cloud judgement.
On price The Athenaeum was a clear winner. Whilst we’d been to Claridges a couple of years earlier it was certainly more expensive than our visit to The Athenaeum in July 2013. My bride’s afternoon tea (tea and sandwiches plus cakes) cost £29.50. My afternoon tea which was the same as my bride’s except it included a glass of Rose Petal Champagne cost £36.50.
These prices are before a tip. Groups of 6 people or more are subject to discretionary charge of 12.5% as a service fee added to their bill.
In conclusion I struggle to distinguish between the two. Claridges was an amazing experience which I hope to sample again some day. The Athenaeum was luxurious high society afternoon tea in a more relaxed setting at a cheaper price. Is it the best afternoon tea in London? Maybe.