Google ‘Afternoon Tea in London’ and you’ll be swamped with a choice of high teas that will leave even the seasoned Londoner confused.
If you’re not put off by the many different establishments offering menus at eye-watering prices, you might be deterred by the varying types of teas on offer.
High tea, cream tea, even burger tea… the list is endless.
For most visiting London, the big players are usually where it’s worth heading, including Fortnum and Mason’s London Afternoon tea on the fourth floor of the rather glamorous department store.
Situated on Piccadilly and standing proudly like an old grande dame, Fortnum and Mason has been trading on the street since 1707 and is renowned for its high quality food and drink.
300 years on and it’s still one of the world’s most famous grocery stores – stocking everything from rare wines to duck-egg coloured macaroons and everything in between (a barbour shop has recently returned and you can even buy perfume here).
Walk in through the main doors and you will be greeted by an assortment of colours and smells pouring out from the confectionery and teas that stand proudly on formal wooden shelves.
The shop is usually buzzing with activity, and it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of shopping and browsing.
There are 4 restaurants & bars to explore (along with a private dining room for the more distinguished guest) and most of the visitors escape to the top floor where you will discover the famed Diamond Jubilee Tea Room, opened by Her Majesty The Queen in 2012.
Here, for the modest(!) sum of £88 you and a partner can experience the famous afternoon tea. It’s incredibly popular and you will have to book in advance to get a table.
Personally, the tea room is not my favourite place in F&M.
While the tea here is fantastic, it’s rather formal, and traditional, and dare I say it – a tad touristy, and the majority of visitors here will enjoy it for that experience.
My recommendation for a visit to Fortnum & Mason? A trip up to the first floor, home to the less-well known ‘Parlour’.
The Parlour is an American-diner inspired cafe which serves brunch-style items and just the most incredible desserts.
Even if you’re not hungry it’s well worth the walk up just to take in all the different flavours of ice cream and cakes.
It’s not as popular as the tea room, but that’s part of the attraction for me.
From making your own sundae, to sampling the infamous Knickerbocker Glory (which has been on offer in F&M since the 1950s!) and ice cream afternoon tea – there’s something for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Even if you just fancy a coffee, you can have it served with a mini ice cream.
Don’t get me wrong – on a weekend you’ll probably end up queuing for a table, but the wait is usually no longer than 5 or 10 minutes and there’s something rather special on the menu that not everyone knows about – it’s known as ‘Fortnum Favourites’.
I went along with a friend to sample this amazing alternative to the Afternoon Tea and didn’t leave disappointed!
Unlike the setting up on the fourth floor, the parlour is a lot more casual. No crisp-white table cloths, no formal plinky-plonky music and the decor is incredibly playful.
Request a table by the window and you get a bird’s eye view of Piccadilly humming along – red buses flying past and people meandering down the street.
We ordered the ‘Fortnum Favourites’menu, which consists of a starter (wide range available, from avocado on toast to smoked salmon on soda bread) scones with clotted cream and jam, and to finish off a small macaroon ice cream sandwich.
You also get a pot of tea – so essentially it’s an afternoon tea, with a twist!
I ordered the avocado and chilli on toast, while my friend ordered the escalope of chicken with herb and lemon dressing.
Both dishes arrived promptly with the scones – and it looked really delicious. The avocado on toast was lovely and light, but the bread could have been seeded to have made it extra healthy.
My friend’s chicken looked delicious, but the salad was more of a garnish where as it would have been better had it come with a larger salad on the side.
The scones were delicious, beautifully warm and a choice of raisins or plain. Both came with delicious Somerset clotted cream and strawberry preserve.
They had been baked perfectly and crumbled softly as you took your first bite – delicious!
Once we’d finished these dishes, our friendly waiter brought over the macaroon ice cream sandwich.
It’s just a small dish but rather than filling up on cakes as you would during afternoon tea, its the perfect dessert!
For the first time in my life I actually left not feeling stuffed and sugar-loaded like I often do when I go for a glutenous afternoon tea.
The little pots of tea are really adorable and match the decor beautifully. It’s not stuck up or stuffy but fun and playful, perhaps a really great place to bring the kids along too.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the floor – apart from an array of tea cups, saucers and other high tea paraphernalia there is also a really awesome array of picnic hampers.
The picnic hamper from Fortnum & Mason is world famous – in fact over 120,000 are shipped around the world every year.
They were initially designed for well-heeled clients to take to the country, when dining on the road was less than appealing.
Customers would ask Fortnum & Mason to prepare a travelling basket, and since then it’s been one of the company’s biggest sellers – ranging in price from £55 to £1,000.
This really is a fabulous place to visit and if you’re after the full-blown afternoon tea I totally recommend it – it’s worth the money and the food and service is second to none.
But if you’re after something a little different but still get to experience the glamour and excitement of Fortnum & Mason – then perhaps the parlour might be for you!
Check out The Parlour and book a table (available at certain times of day)
If you’re tempted by the afternoon tea – this is a fabulous review by SilverSpoon London.