London's best afternoon teas from the traditional tea at the Ritz to the quirky Gentleman's Tea at The Sanctum, and everything in between.
In the same way that 'edutainment' revolutionised education (by, you guessed it, making it more entertaining), it seems that off-site corporate meetings can be greatly enhanced by doing something somewhat unconventional. An offsite meeting room has been proven to increase productivity, simply because it's...erm...offsite (proving that an unfamiliar environment stimulates creativity and keeps delegates more on their toes), so an offsite meeting theme or activity should, in theory, enhance this notion. Whereas business lunches are more of a commitment (almost always writing off the entire afternoon which, in the right circumstances, is a good thing) and business dinners are an entirely different animal - usually a second or third 'date' in business terms, breakfasts and afternoon teas are the new 'coffee' because they're a bit more interesting, memorable and, above all, committed. You'll remember the person you had salmon and poached eggs at the Ridinghouse Cafe with, more than the person you had a grande latte at Starbucks with, every time (unless, of course, they’re really, really pretty!)
What's more, things that are quintessentially British are quintessentially British for a reason and that's because they've evolved over hundreds of years. In the great industrial era of the Victorians, afternoon tea was a key cornerstone not only of society, but also of the business community. It's civilised, relaxed and, above all, really rather splendid!
For these simple yet deep-set reasons, afternoon tea (or high tea if you're really old fashioned (or hungry!)) is making a resounding comeback. It's not unusual for me to have some form of afternoon tea during a meeting, at least once a week - and that's after seventeen coffees, more often than not some kind of West End breakfast and, of course, the customary 'no lunch' which is, in fact, the ‘new lunch’. It does, however, precede my somewhat compulsory standard Champagne and canapé supper - an occupational hazard of sorts, as it turns out…
Indeed, afternoon tea was accidentally invented by the Duchess of Bedford over 200 years ago when she suffered from exactly the same frustrations as us busy people endure to this day - vast periods of time between our early breakfast meetings and our late night canapé sessions. Admittedly though, they had it much tougher due to an unbearable lack of a Starbucks on every corner. She solved this conundrum via secret bedroom snacks in the late afternoon and it soon caught on!
Being someone who revels (in a fairly ironic sort of way) in my distinctly privileged, public school upbringing which was peppered with outrageous interludes and discrepancies which only an indestructible and fearless (idiotic) extrovert could ever muster, I quite like the irony of the modern day 'afternoon tea' especially as it reminds me of prep school (my best friend from America used to gleefully inform me that he and his friends in Washington DC referred to me as "Mr. Oh-Tea Time!"). Borne of suppressed societal necessity, it's a sort of aristocratic elitist throwback Thursday kinda vibe, which is okay because it's become a paradoxical experience, fusing eras, styles and even attitudes. Furthermore, afternoon teas have become somewhat iconic. Again, they are a symbolic statement of intent - refinery, sophistication, cheekiness, ‘laviciousness’ and even anti-establishment glamour (because the Duchess was secretly breaking the rules whilst inventing it).
It's also important to mention that whenever I'm invited to 'afternoon tea' I inadvertently think "Oh, hello! This person means business...!" You had me at 'tea'.
So, with all this in mind, here are our top twelve destinations for meetings over afternoon tea – try it, you might be pleasantly surprised:
1. The Ritz
As members of the actual 'Tea Council's, Tea Guild’ (yes, there is one!), this is the grand dame of all the classics. In fact afternoon tea at the Ritz is possibly the most famous afternoon tea in the world and its (ironically) available from 11.30am, presumably due to its iconic popularity. Don't get all casual or ‘media’ on these guys though - jeans and trainers are an absolute no-no, whoever you think you are!
2. The Athenaeum
For an unpretentious, cozy and quintessentially authentic experience (one of the UK's original and most respected restaurant critics chooses to hold his meetings here - I know because he's met me here!), you can't go wrong with this stylish yet charmingly understated Hyde Park Corner haunt. Conveniently located near the base of Park Lane too…
3. The Sanderson
Perhaps the most fun (and popular) afternoon tea in town, the Sanderson's 'Mad Hatter's Tea Party' is one afternoon tea experience that you can't just rock up to (unless you’re really jammy!). You'll have to book this one well in advance but it's seriously worth it. A magical and totally unique experience that your guests will never, ever forget...tick, tock…
4. The Mandarin Oriental
The Mandarin's Rosebery is a modern take on a classical Knightsbridge saloon. With a dash of panache and a splash of colour, The Rosebery is supplied by the East India Company and is a classic reminder of the colonial past, oozing with nostalgic glamour and timeless elegance. A modern classic and an absolute banker.
Not to get too technical but Claridges even have their own in-house world-renowned tea connoisseur, Henrietta Lovell, who is responsible for 'scouring the world' for the finest selection of world-class teas. That's how seriously they take it. And just as you’re thinking that may be a little excessive, their chefs have been refining their afternoon tea finger sandwiches for some 150 years (not the same ones of course!). As you'd imagine, the food is presented as a veritable work of art and afternoon tea at Claridges continues to be a magical institutional experience all round.
Recently opened in the Shard, the Shangri-la hotel is unquestionably a must-visit destination. OK, so it’s a little ironic going to a quintessentially Asian mecca of oriental style for a quintessentially English afternoon tea but, catering for a discerning international clientele, Ting restaurant and lounge deliver (I don’t mean they do take-away!) in style, just as you’d expect. It’s stunning and not as expensive as you might think (prices starting at the standard £49 per head) so for a proper ‘high tea’ (geddit?) reserve a table at Ting…
7. Dean Street Townhouse
Perhaps surprisingly, afternoon tea in this rapidly-becoming-iconic Soho destination is half the price of the classic leading hotels, yet the selection and quality of their offering is up there with the best. Dean St. Townhouse is an eclectic mix of urban style and Georgian elegance, making for the perfect environment (and location) for a productive meeting over afternoon tea.
8. The Goring
As a family business for over 100 years and the current Champions of ‘The British Tea Guild Award of Excellence’ for Afternoon Tea, The Goring have been perfecting the art of hands-on service for over a Century. In terms of afternoon tea, though, this one’s quite specific and you’ll have to plan to be in their Goring Lounge Bar or on the Terrace between 3pm and 4pm. I last went to the Goring in 2011 where their enormous (somewhat secret) garden square was transformed into a Barbados style pop-up Basil’s Beach Bar which was breathtakingly brilliant!
9. The Royal Horseguards Hotel
Nestled strategically between Whitehall and the River, the Royal Horseguards is excellently located for a relaxed, yet elegant afternoon tea meeting. With a choice of their classically styled lounge accompanied by the dulcet tones of their resident harpist or their little known terrace with views of the London Eye on the Southbank, this is a great mid-afternoon destination all year round.
10. 5th View
A little known gem on Piccadilly, 5th view is a secret hideaway mainly for the 'literati' (I think I just made that word up!), that is to say, those in the book world. It's perched on top of Waterstones Piccadilly (which, perhaps surprisingly, hasn't succumbed to Amazon or their Kindle yet) and is regularly graced by learned/literary celebrities such as Stephen Fry. I was there last week and so was the altogether (slightly) more famous Dermot O'Leary. Following a recent refurbishment (their purple walls are now white, for a start!), this cozy, relatively un-discovered and stylish venue is absolutely ideal for an afternoon tea meeting with a view...
Afternoon tea at 5th View
203-205 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LE
020 7851 2433
11. The Sanctum Soho
For a proper rock n' roll 'man's' afternoon tea and, let's be honest, more of a feast than a 'tea', then the vibrant and achingly elegant new Sanctum Soho is worth a visit. This small yet beautifully appointed boutique hotel, restaurant, bar, roof terrace and cinema has everything you could possibly need - even a cheeky hydro hot-tub (but I'm yet to attend a meeting which has led to the discovery of where that actually is!). A retro Marshall valve amp-head prop makes it all the more manly from the outset!
12. The Landmark
The Winter Garden is undoubtedly the most awe-inspiring and spectacular hotel 'lobby' in London. This gigantic enclosed glass atrium is as awesome as it is steeped in history. It used to be the headquarters of secret service MI9's interrogation centre where escaped war heroes such as Airey Neave (who escaped from Colditz (and who’s grandson I went to school with, making for the best dormitory story of all time!)) were questioned to establish they hadn't been turned into double agents. It's also the most beautiful space for afternoon tea and if it's good enough for the England football (and cricket) teams who regularly stay, then it's good enough for me. With a wide selection of beautifully presented food and drinks available, prices start at £42 per head whereas most others start at £50 which, relatively speaking, looks like great value, especially in such spectacular surroundings!
And HOT off the press...Game High Chai at the Cinnamon Club!
In honour of the British game season the Cinnamon Club are serving an Indian-inspired game afternoon tea in the stunning Library Bar in the historic Grade II listed Old Westminster Library. Hurry - only available until 31st October. A quirky alternative to the traditional afternoon teas using the best of British game!
Will Broome CEO