High tea is on many traveler’s bucket list when visiting London! However, the abundance of places offering “high tea” in London can be overwhelming. I mean everyone offers tea – from clothing stores (hello, Oasis), to every single fancy hotel in town. The choice can be daunting, especially for us Americans who are not even familiar with the concept of “high tea.”
To help you sort things out, “high tea” is an institution in the UK, and especially so in London. High tea, or afternoon tea, a smart affair (i.e. no shorts and tank tops) and typically takes place in the afternoon between 1 and 4. Tea typically includes tea and sweet and savory snacks, often enough to make an entire meal. Proper tea at a for profit business can be quite expensive, with some of the fancier establishments costing $100 USD.
Most tourists with limited time will want to make a reservation for afternoon tea one afternoon during their visit (you will probably not want to do a fancy tea everyday!). When I previously visited London, I took tea at Kensington Palace, which was a fantastic treat! This time around I wanted something less traditional, and originally made a reservation at the Shard (supposedly one of the BEST places to have tea in London). But, upon stalking a lot of London Instagram accounts, I switched my reservation to sketch, a futuristic restaurant with its tea room done entirely in pink and a “caviar man.” SOLD.
Sketch is a former (and possibly still…) night club turned upscale restaurant in Mayfair, London, about a 20 minute walk from Buckingham Palace. For example, when we told our food tour guide that we were having tea at sketch he said, “I used to sneak in there to drink as a teenager.” Appropriate. I think sketch’s underage drinking days are over and it is now known as the pinkest place in London to take tea! Sketch’s main tea room is entirely done in pink and it’s extremely photographable!
Since sketch is so popular, reservations are essential and should be made in advance online. When we visited, sketch was even more popular than usual due to the Mayfair Flower Show taking place inside. We showed up a few minutes early to check out the flowers, which by the way, we’re totally gorgeous! The entrance and the entire front of the restaurant was done up in lots and lots of flowers!!
Once inside, we were seated right on time and our waitress promptly came over to explain the menu. For high tea (sketch also serves breakfast and dinner), sketch offers three options, ranging in price from £89 to £97. The tea includes unlimited tea, lots of sweet and savory snacks, and one glass of champagne (if you choose one of those options). You have your table for about 2 hours and when we were there, a trio of excellent musicians played in the background. We choose the cheaper champagne option (because, why not!) and picked our first pot of tea!
Every tea at sketch starts with Eggs and Soldiers. “Eggs and Soldiers” is actually a mix of comte cheese mornay and 63 degree egg yolk with two soldiers, or slight hard slice of bread. Um, DELICIOUS.
To accompany the Eggs and Soldiers – the caviar man! The caviar man is a man dressed in the most amazing pink suit ever who serves Russian Sturgeon caviar. While I hate caviar, I loved this guy (and Dan ate my caviar).
While the Eggs and Soldiers starter is delicious, the main event of the tea hour is a three-tiered stand of finger sandwiches and cakes!! Oh man, this looked amazing!! The sandwiches consist of four sandwiches: (1) coronation chicken; (2) smoked salmon and crème; tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise on pumpernickel bread; and (4) goose egg and mayonnaise. All were delicious, but the coronation chicken and goose egg and mayonnaise were the top sandwiches in my book!
In terms of sweets, there are so, so many!! The first row of sweets includes a chocolate brownie, a beautiful pink checkered cake, and chocolate and pistachio creme buff! The top tier of the try contained even more sweets – pink marshmallows and cheese cake in a glass!
Rumor has it that if you finish everything, you can ask for complimentary seconds… but, what I just described was not all of the food! Crazy!! In addition to the Soldiers and Eggs, the caviar, and the sandwiches and sweets, you are also served two scones with your choice of clotted cream, fig marmalade, and jam! This may have been my favorite part of the meal! Those scones were tasty!!
The tea service ends with your choice of cake – traditional Victoria sponge or fudge and banana loaf, or both. Dan and I split a slice of each and I would recommend that course.
Before you leave, be sure to check out the lavatories, which are very futuristic and a destination in their own right.
STEAL OUR TEA
sketch: 9 Conduit Street, London W1S 2XG. Tea served 11:30 – 16:00, but the restaurant is generally open all day. Reservations for tea are almost mandatory and can be made here. Afternoon tea costs close to $100 USD/person.
The Shard: Level 31, The Shard, 31 Saint Thomas Street, London SE1 9RY, United Kingdom. Another upscale restaurant serving afternoon tea with stellar views of London! Reservations are again necessary and the cost is similar to sketch.
The Orangery Restaurant at Kensington Palace: Kensington Palace, Kensington Gardens, London W8 4PX, UK. Less expensive (starting at £28/person for standard tea), longer hours, and more touristy than sketch and The Shard. Reservations should be made in advance here.
ON A BUDGET
Having tea in a fancy restaurant is most always an expensive proposition. However, you should remember that this type of tea is really a meal rather than a snack. If you are looking for a more low key tea-time experience, a lot of places offer a much lower-scale tea, where you can still enjoy tea and some sweets without breaking the bank. For example, the clothing store Oasis was even offering afternoon this summer!