The Ultimate Luxury Afternoon Tea
Jam first or kick off with the clotted cream? Whichever way you like your scones (and let’s not even get into the pronunciation debate here) we think a really luxurious afternoon tea is a fantastic way to mark a special celebration, such as granny’s birthday, Mother’s Day, or your best friend’s 40th (just add shopping and a cocktail). Let’s face it, you don’t actually need a reason to indulge in a tower of treats at any time, so we have found a selection of some of the UK’s very best places for a fondant fancy and a superior brew . . .
Situated in one of Edinburgh ’s grandest buildings along the bustling Royal Mile, the Colonnades tea salon is set within the Signet Library, home to an historic society of lawyers. All Corinthian columns, elaborate panelling and beautifully ornate ceilings – this is a marvellously opulent place (not usually open to the public) in which to partake in the formal ceremony of taking afternoon tea. And what a tea! The selection of tiny savouries, delectable sandwiches and decadent cakes served on silver tiered stands is first class, with highlights including a mini pumpkin, applewood cheddar and celery tart, strawberry and white chocolate macarons, a peach and pineapple jelly confection and of course, freshly made scones. There’s also a tantalising tea selection including a specially created house blend, all served with great panache by the superb staff.
Claridges hotel has been offering a traditional afternoon tea for the best part of 150 years, faithfully producing dainty sandwiches, ravishing pastries and warm scones for countless delighted guests since the late 19th century, when a chum of Queen Victoria started the trend. They even retain their own tea connoisseur, who travels the world sourcing the finest leaves. Tea is taken in the magnificent Art Deco style foyer with fine bone china made to a unique Claridges pattern. Highlights include divine finger sandwiches with scrumptious fillings like English cucumber, buttermilk, lemon verbena and wild rocket, or roast corn-fed chicken with asparagus and avocado. Sweet treats such as a dark chocolate brownie with raspberry feuilletine and orange and almond cake with saffron infused cream are to die for. If you work your way through the afternoon tea delights at Claridges, seriously, you won’t need dinner.
Established in 1919, Betty’s and Taylors of Harrogate is a real institution, not just in the smart towns of Yorkshire where the business is based, but increasingly as a brand recognised all round the world. So it makes sense that afternoon tea here is something of an art form, with the luxury option of the Lady Betty Afternoon Tea not to be missed by any scone aficionado. For a special occasion, especially when you have a range of ages to keep happy, the Imperial Room in Harrogate or the Belmont Room in York are the perfect backdrops to the gleam of silver cake forks and the soothing sound of tea being expertly poured. Savouries include a miniature pork and apple pie (well, we are in Yorkshire), and a smoked salmon and dill roulade; while the scones take on a whole new dimension with rose or lemon versions edging the traditional fruit or plain off the stand. A tiny individual Battenberg, gooseberry macaroon and pistachio and chocolate slice are just three examples of the sweet selection there for the scoffing. And whether you go all out with a glass of champagne or stick with a perfectly brewed cuppa, each afternoon tea begins with an appetiser of a pea, cucumber and tomato cocktail. As Betty would say, fancy!
A member of the prestigious UK Tea Guild, no less, and winner of their top national award (the Oscar of the tea world) in 2011, the Angel knows a thing or two about afternoon tea, boasting an in-house baker and a cheeky little cocktail menu to entice you even further: sloe gin and prosecco or a classic Kir Royale might be just what you need to accompany the warm savoury pastries (think superior sausage rolls), exemplary scones with clotted cream, and a fabulous selection of cakes and even mini trifles. It’s crisp white tablecloths and bone china all the way, with the tiered trays groaning with a massively generous array of delights. We recommend a bracing hike in the surrounding Brecon Beacons before you tuck in – you need a massive appetite to do justice to the spread. Helpfully, a boxed up leftovers service is offered, should you be unable to finish that last meringue . . .
Legendary for its traditional Chelsea buns, Fitzbillies is a patisserie, baker’s shop and tearoom all rolled into one (well, two, as there are now a couple of branches in town), with almost 100 years of creating British pastries and cakes under its (expanding) belt. We love their clever idea of providing full afternoon tea for up to four people in a wicker picnic hamper to enjoy by the river or any of the endless Cambridge beauty spots. Crockery, cutlery and a thermos of hot tea are all present and correct: delicate sandwiches include home-baked ham and mustard and smoked salmon; there are scones, raspberry jam and clotted cream, and a selection of cakes fresh from the bakery including a fruit tart, chocolate éclair and a macaron. Sparkling elderflower cordial can replace the tea if it’s a hot summer’s day. All you need is a picnic blanket and a vintage tea dress or stripy blazer and you’re good to go.
The dazzling surroundings, ornate ceilings and plush velvet seating make the Corinthian Club, situated in the heart of Glasgow , a luxurious venue for a quick pre-theatre menu or a late nightcap. Add the ritual of afternoon tea and you have the ideal setting for their Signature version: exquisite sweet and savoury treats are baked daily and hand finished by the in-house pastry chef. If it’s fizz you’re wanting, the list is extensive and adds a bit of sparkle to the occasion. Make a day of it with some designer shopping in the iconic Italian Centre round the corner followed by a pick-me-up afternoon tea in this most glamorous of buildings.