Afternoon tea is an essential element of any trip to London. A historic hotel like The Ritz London or Claridge’s is a must-visit as far as classic afternoon teas are concerned, but why not be bold and check out one of the capital’s more unusual services, too? From empanadas in place of finger sandwiches to cotton candy for dessert, this is a dining trend to set venerable old Earl Grey spinning in his grave.
Those with a sweet tooth will go wild for the quirky afternoon tea inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Taking place in the elegant lobby of the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel, just around the corner from the theater where the hit West End musical is playing, the tea is an escape into a world of childhood nostalgia. The savory dishes — including a classic cucumber and chive crème fraîche sandwich and a flaky caramelized onion and goat’s curd tart — will set your mouth watering, but it’s the sweet second course where this tea comes into its own. Melt-in-the-mouth cocoa bean financiers arrive in a basket with warm scones and blueberry brioche, a golden chocolate egg filled with vanilla cheesecake and mango purée will have you longing for Easter, and housemade cotton candy (or candyfloss in the U.K.) is available in classic flavors. Eschew a traditional tea blend in favor of the Cocktail Charlie, a delightful concoction of Dalmore whiskey, Grand Marnier cherry, chocolate bitters, grapefruit juice and cherry syrup, and topped with champagne.
For a more grown-up — but no less innovative — afternoon tea experience, head to Asia de Cuba at St Martins Lane, which has just launched a Cuban-inspired tea offering called Cafécito. Come with an appetite; it’s one of the most generously proportioned teas around. A cake stand stacked with fiery empanadas, crispy spring rolls and much more is first to arrive — don’t miss the savory scones with mojito butter, a clever nod to traditional tea services but with a Cuban slant. The desserts are no less delectable, with Caribbean fire again represented in a smooth chocolate-chili cream with pistachio crumble. Mini butterscotch doughnuts and banana spring rolls with white chocolate and coconut ganache are other standouts. Each course is accompanied by its own tea selection — we love the traditional Iron Buddha, a mix of green and black leaves, with the savory course — and the cocktails are pretty good, too: Try the Old Cuban Martini for a new twist on a classic. Daily.
It’s the location that’s unusual, rather than the tea service per se at the Palace of Westminster. Work up an appetite on an engaging guided tour that lets you in on the secrets of the birthplace of democracy, then take tea in the Pugin Room. Named after the man who designed the interiors of this Victorian Gothic marvel of a building, Augustus Pugin, this wood-paneled parlor is one of the places where British members of Parliament kick back when they’re not debating in the House of Commons just down the corridor. Enjoy unlimited refills of your choice of Twinings English breakfast, Earl Grey (named after the Earl Grey who served as prime minister in the 1830s), fruit tea or filtered coffee as you dine on dainty sandwiches (citrus-marinated Scottish salmon with cream cheese, lemon curd and chive on a mini bagel), a sweet scone with jam and clotted cream, and a duet of desserts. Gaze out over the River Thames, Westminster Bridge and the London Eye as you think about the political intrigues that these walls must have been privy to over the years. Saturdays through December 21.
Photo Courtesy of One Aldwych Hotel