The south of England is renowned for having the best afternoon tea in the country, but away from the jam first vs cream first war in the south west, where will you find the classiest selection of finger sandwiches, flavoured scones and mini cakes in the south east? Treat yourself to one of these fabulous locations in and around London where you’ll feel an undeniable sense of prestige.
1. The Ivy
Afternoon tea at The Ivy is available at several locations in the south east: London Soho and Tower Bridge, Cobham and Guildford. Served every day between 3 and 5pm, the Guildford branch currently offers an Alice in Wonderland themed menu which pays tribute to Lewis Carroll, who spent a lot of time in the town’s castle grounds. The expensive reputation of the London Ivy menus isn’t as true for the afternoon tea menus, enabling you to have a cream tea for just £7.95 or a full afternoon tea for a reasonable £18.95. If it’s a special occasion, you can splash out on the champagne afternoon tea for £26.50.
The savoury selection includes the classic sandwich fillings of smoked salmon and cream cheese (with a beetroot bread twist), ham and mustard and cucumber and dill at the Guildford branch, with the other brasseries substituting the ham and mustard for a chicken brioche roll.
The sweet selection is comprised of generously large fruited scones accompanied by pots of cream, jam and even fresh strawberries – the highlight of the meal whichever restaurant you visit. The menus include a few more sweet treats before the Alice in Wonderland themed offering is finished with a mysterious ‘drink me’ shot (not that you’ll want to grow any more after filling your belly with sandwiches, scones and biscuits!). Definitely worth a trip for the cute presentation – it almost looks too good to eat! Check the website of your desired location in advance as not every establishment offers an afternoon tea menu.
2. The Tea Terrace
Clearly the most popular south east locations for afternoon tea, this tearoom also has branches in London, Guildford and Cobham. Its distinctive décor truly makes you feel as if you’ve fallen down the rabbit hole (despite having to go up to the very top floor of House of Fraser to reach the Guildford location!). Its oversized chairs, pastel colour scheme and quaint table decorations instantly make you smile before you’ve even tasted the variation of delicious scones on offer.
Slightly more expensive than The Ivy, a cream tea will put you out of pocket by £9.35, whilst for a traditional afternoon tea, you’re looking at a price tag of £22.75 per person. You get pretty much the same amount of food as you do for the cheaper version at The Ivy, however you’re able to choose your sandwich fillings from a choice of six, giving you a more personalised experience.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth and find all the cakes on offer just too tempting, opt for the slightly more expensive indulgence afternoon tea which provides you with more sweet treats than the traditional option. Alternatively, choose the celebration afternoon tea to receive a glass of prosecco on top of your tea or coffee. You certainly have a great choice at The Tea Terrace, ranging in price and catering to your mood or occasion. The uniquely flavoured scones (both sweet and savoury) are a real treat and not to be missed, like The Ivy, the highlight of the afternoon.
3. Hilton Brighton Metropole
With Hilton hotels all over the world, this isn’t an obvious choice for afternoon tea but it’s a great one. Having visited the Brighton location, I found that paired with a relaxing spa treatment, the Hilton hotel offers more than just afternoon tea, but more of an all-round leisurely experience. It’s a perfect day out with friends or family and makes a great gift experience, with many great offers available on online sites such as Buyagift and Virgin Experience Days.
If it’s just the afternoon tea you’re after, it’s the priciest so far at £24 per person for a generous tower of baguette style sandwiches and wraps, scones and cakes, but with a view out to the Brighton seafront on a beautiful sunny day, it’s worth paying the extra few pounds in my opinion. Plus, you can make a day of it in one of the UK’s most fun-loving cities, strolling along the pier and through the picturesque Lanes.
4. The Dorchester Hotel
If you’ve got some cash to splash and you’re looking for a high-end afternoon tea experience, head to this exquisite five-star London hotel for the specialist of occasions. Enjoy your miniature food items in an opulent lounge, accompanied by the soothing sounds of a live pianist.
Unlike most other afternoon teas presented on a cake stand, The Dorchester waiters appear at your table multiple times with a platter of perfectly cut finger sandwiches for you to pick from, creating an unlimited food feeling. Be careful not to fill up on sandwiches though, as the selection of scones and mini desserts which subsequently land on your table are equally as divine. However, what really sets this afternoon tea menu apart from its competition is the extensive tea menu, offering a total of 30 different teas! If you’re willing to part with a minimum of £65 per person for the traditional afternoon tea, reserve a table now!
5. Wyevale Garden Centres
In stark contrast to The Dorchester, these garden centres provide a much more affordable afternoon tea experience, working out at just £7 per person! Served from 2pm onwards, you’ll get triangle sandwiches filled with not so traditional fillings, such as Somerset Brie and caramelised onion chutney; fruit scones and a colourful cake selection as well as tea or coffee (or prosecco for an extra £4.95). There are various locations around the south east, including Crawley and Windsor where you can make your garden centre trip a little more luxurious!
6. Alexander Hotels
With multiple establishments across the south east, including Guildford, Windsor and West Sussex, Alexander Hotels make stunning settings for an afternoon of quintessentially British tea and scones. Served from an earlier time of 12pm, the menus here are slightly pricier at £29 per person for the traditional afternoon tea and £39 per person for the classier champagne option (weekdays). Try to avoid going at weekends as they up the prices! There are also prosecco and gin alternatives priced at £36 per person. All the menus include the traditional finger sandwiches, scones, pastries, cakes and jarred desserts to be enjoyed whilst gazing onto the beautiful lawns at the West Sussex hotel.
7. Mandalay Hotel
Located in Guildford, the independent boutique Mandalay Hotel offers both a basic cream tea and a traditional afternoon tea, with the option to add prosecco. Both menus are priced exactly the same as the Ivy, creating stiff competition between the popular afternoon tea trade in Guildford. The Ivy does beat the Mandalay however when it comes to the price of the champagne afternoon tea. On the other hand, The Mandalay provides a wider range of finger sandwiches, both classic fillings and more adventurous options (coronation chicken is a firm favourite), giving the traditional experience a more modern feeling, aided by the boutique design of the hotel, unique from the hotel chains that routinely offer afternoon tea.
8. Mayfair Lavender Fields
The Mayfield Lavender Farm in Surrey provides an afternoon tea experience like no other. Forget sitting around a table and being presented with an impressive looking cake stand full of savoury and sweet treats and instead picture all these goodies packed into a picnic box for you to enjoy in the middle of a gorgeous iridescent blue lavender field – the perfect romantic date for summer if you ask me!
At £20 a head, this location is mid-range in terms of price but what you’re really paying for is the beautiful setting in which you eat your lavender cheese and chutney sandwich, lavender scone and four miniature lavender desserts (there’s definitely a running theme here). Allow lavender to consume all your senses as you graze on your afternoon tea picnic surrounded by the sweet, cosmetic scented plant itself. Pure bliss.