With a royal baby and Brexit in the news, there’s lots to discuss over afternoon tea in London. This quintessential British experience can be laid-back (a cuppa at a Tesco café) or lavish (jewel-like tarts paired with three sake varieties at the Rosebery Lounge in the newly reopened Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park). These five afternoon teas tweak the usual formula with planetary pastries, wizard-inspired sips, and Project Runway–worthy cakes. The Victorian-era tradition is evolving, remaining elegant but not stuffy—rather like the Duchess of Sussex herself. (For more on tea, see our story on the perfect cup in China.)
1. Science Afternoon Tea at the Ampersand Hotel
Not far from the Natural History and Science museums in South Kensington, Ampersand Hotel offers an award-winning Science Afternoon Tea. This fun interactive experience, held in the artful Drawing Rooms, sets the table with glass beakers, tubes, and Petri dishes. Guests pipe honey into a macaron with a pipette, squeeze lemon curd from a paint tube onto a cranberry scone, and use a paintbrush to whisk away chocolate “dirt” in a little wooden box to reveal a dinosaur-shape biscuit and a milk-chocolate fossil. The highlight: a Saturn-shaped passionfruit cake set in a bowl of dry ice that smokes as dramatically as a rocket launch when H2O is added. This tasty interstellar spread comes in vegetarian and kids’ versions too.
2. The Potion Room at Cutter & Squidge
This light-filled Soho bakery is known for its Billionaire Cake—which is just as decadent as it sounds—and other dreamy, all-natural desserts. But down a flight of stairs lies the dungeon-like Potion Room, home to a wizard-centric afternoon tea. Guests don black robes, take up wands, and mix their own welcome drink (a refreshing tea with, um, “unicorn tears”). A Potions Master conducts the alchemical class, spinning tales and dropping puns as each course of the two-hour tea materializes—traditional fare like Yorkshire pudding and scones with clotted cream as well as more bewitching bites like a “cauldron biskie” (their signature cookie sandwich). Organizers make sure to point out that the experience has no connection at all to a certain boy wizard, but guests will likely still find themselves chatting with tablemates about the latest Hogwarts happenings.
3. High Chai Tea at the Lalit Hotel
Leaves from India have filled countless tea cups. The Lalit Hotel, near Tower Bridge in Southwark, takes the afternoon tea experience back to the source with its High Chai menu. Stick with a pot of Earl Grey or try Masala Chai instead, to complement a feast that includes samosas and kathi rolls (flatbreads stuffed with chicken or paneer), as well as desserts like flaky soan papdi. Nab a plush seat in the wood-paneled wraparound gallery for better views of the main dining room’s cobalt-blue, handblown glass chandeliers.
4. Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea at Sanderson
Don’t be late if you have a very important date at Sanderson’s Alice in Wonderland–themed Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea. Fruity drinks come in bottles with “Drink Me” tags, the menu nestles inside old books, and macarons are shaped like a pocketwatch. Located in the West End, Sanderson has been hosting nervous white rabbits, curious little girls, and regular travelers at this wonderfully theatrical tea party since 2010.
5. Prêt-à-Portea at The Berkeley
In tony Knightsbridge, The Berkeley struts out every six months with a different fashion-themed afternoon tea. Created in 2006, the Prêt-à-Portea has designed menus inspired by Jason Wu, Anya Hindmarch, and milliner Philip Treacy. Currently featuring cakes and “fancies” in the spirit of Christian Dior, the stylish service includes a lychee-and-raspberry slice that looks like a Miss Dior perfume bottle and a slingback shoe–shape cookie perfectly iced in pink frosting. To view the iconic real-life dresses, visit the blockbuster “Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams” exhibit at the V&A Museum until September 1, 2019.