Served on trays made of slate, food items include a delectable, creamy goat cheese and beet quiche and rolled butter-poached chicken and avocado sandwich (vegetarian options are available). Following tea, be sure to take a walk around the 33rd floor’s viewing level for a glass-enclosed, 360-degree survey of London. For another literally high tea, The Shard building’s 31st level restaurant and bar, Aqua Shard (31 St. Thomas St., London. Tel: +44-20-3011-1256. www.aquashard.co.uk), serves tea for $58 per person from 3-5 P.M. daily with stunning views through its IMAX-sized windows.
You can even enjoy tea during a tour of Parliament (www.parliament.uk) for an additional $46. Meanwhile, some Londoners regard Kensington Palace’s The Orangery (Kensington Gardens. Tel: +44-20-3166-6000. www.orangerykensingtonpalace.co.uk) as one of the city’s most delightful, under-the-radar, fabulous tea spots ($40pp). An 18th-century structure that served as entertainment venue for Queen Anne, The Orangery is surrounded by lush gardens. Served between 2-5 P.M. daily, service includes honey-roasted ham with English mustard sandwiches and orange-scented scones. Add a glass of Champagne or Pimm’s for a few pounds more.
In fact, adding Champagne to tea is now the norm, while some venues have done away with tea altogether in lieu of cocktails, booze, and even beer. Hot on trend, as always, is W London (10 Wardour St. Tel: +44-207-758-1000. www.wlondon.co.uk) in buzzing Leicester Square, just a stone’s throw from über-gay Soho. Their daily Rock Tea ($42pp) pays tribute to musical legends (some of whom recorded at nearby Trident Studios) serving colorfuly sweets named after iconic hits on a three-tiered tray of 12” vinyl albums from 1-5:30 P.M. For $18 extra you get the Rock Mar-Tea-Ni, a tasty Hendrick’s gin-based cocktail served in an actual teapot. While the teas themselves are bottomless (organic Breakfast blend, pomegranate oolong, and jasmine dragon pearl are among the selections), a Mar-Tea-Ni refill costs an additional $18.
Another themed, colorful, cocktails-optional tea is “Prêt-à-Portea” at The Berkeley (Wilton Place, Knightsbrige, London. Tel: +44-20-7235-6000. www.the-berkeley.co.uk), featuring pastries that recreate the latest runway offerings ($69pp plus 12.5% service charge, from 1-5:30 P.M.). The Summer 2014 collection (yes, the menu changes seasonally) includes an edible Miu Miu tote bag and Louboutin Pigalle Spike Heel cookie, and for $29 more you can add a cocktail. Bonus: you can take home leftovers in a cardboard handbag!
Tea gets a foodie-geared and reasonably priced ($32pp) reinvention at the Clerkenwell neighborhood’s Modern Pantry (47-48 St John’s Square, London. Tel: +44-20-7553-9210. www.themodernpantry.co.uk), whose chef, Anna Hansen, and patissier, Jennifer Moseley, whip up inventive, non-traditional, truly delicious items like an open-Chia and mixed-seed bread sandwich with quail egg, miso, and wasabi cream cheese, and macadamia dukkah, and Urfa chili and liquorice chocolate mousse cake from 12-3P.M. This isn’t your ancestors’ 1800’s afternoon tea.
Neither is what you’ll find at NYC’s famed Russian Tea Room (150 W. 57th Street, New York City. Tel: 212-581-7100. www.russiantearoomnyc.com), unless your ancestor was, say, Leo Tolstoy. The resplendent 87-year-old institution, which underwent a $30 million renovation replete with gold-leaf ceilings and red leather booths in 1999, includes caviar and sour cream-topped, perfectly spongy blinis with its afternoon tea trays from 2-4:30 P.M. Two American caviars come with the $50 Afternoon Tea, while the $85 Royal Afternoon Tea gets you Siberian Osetra, Russian Osetra, Hackleback and Paddlefish. The surroundings are thoroughly opulent, and you receive two three-tiered trays: one savory, one sweet. Of course, being a tearoom, the leaf selection is excellent with several signature blends.
The enormous, scrumptious scone at NYC’s Ritz-Carlton (50 Central Park South, NYC. Tel: 212-521-6125. www.ritzcarlton.com) is reason enough to visit its discreet, stately British-style Star Lounge. Sporting an almost candied surface, this wondrous pastry is packed with equally oversized golden raisins. Hands-down, it’s the best scone I’ve ever scarfed. As with Russian Tea Room, food is served on two separate, spaced-out trays, savory and sweet, while the tea menu ranks its offerings from highest to lowest in caffeine (my choice, lemon verbena, is caffeine-free). Served at either 2:30 P.M. or 3 P.M. daily, at $55 per head, reservations are required.
If see-and-be-seen and cinematic grandeur is your cup of tea, The Palm Court at the Plaza (Fifth Ave. at Central Park South, NYC. Tel: 212-546-5300. www.theplazany.com), also located off Central Park, is a must. Featured in numerous movies including The Great Gatsby, Palm Court is impeccable in its service standard and mind-blowing, delectable, unique menus. Currently, there are four options: the traditional Fitzgerald Tea For The Ages ($55pp); The New Yorker ($65pp), featuring miniature takes on quintessential local staples including a bagel and lox and black and white cookie; an all-sweet Chocolate Tea ($60pp) replete with pot of hot chocolate fondue; and child-friendly Eloise Tea ($35 per child 12 and under, $50 per adult) with organic peanut butter and jelly and grilled cheese sandwiches all served from 2-5P.M..
Opened in September 2013 within Architect Ludwig Meis van der Rohe’s 52-story black, monolith-esque skyscraper, The Langham Chicago (330 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago, IL. Tel: 312-923-9988. www.chicago.langhamhotels.com) is thoroughly contemporary, and it’s stunningly designed Pavilion is setting for the daily Tiffin afternoon tea ($40). That’s served at 3, 4, and 5 P.M. (Incidentally, Palm Court at Langham’s 149-year-old flagship London property is regarded as the birthplace for hotel afternoon teas.) Food items lean toward fusion, while the scones, Jasmine raisin and traditional, are served warm and best eaten right away. From Friday to Sunday, a live piano player cranks out classical arrangements of pop hits like (during my visit, A-Ha’s “Take on Me”).
In Hong Kong, a city once ruled by Great Britain although handed back to China in 1997, many UK traditions continue, including afternoon tea. Tea at The Peninsula (Salisbury Rd., TST, Kowloon. Tel: 2920-2888. www.peninsula.com), a stunning grand dame property, is one of its most clamored-for and elegant experiences ($48 for one person, $84 for two), with live music playing from the balcony. Two seatings are at 2:30 and 4:30 P.M.
Hong Kong Island’s equally iconic Mandarin Oriental (5 Connaught Rd. Central, HK. Tel: 2820-4202. www.mandarinoriental.com) sees a daily tea crowd in its Clipper Lounge ($40 for one person, $68 for two), some of whom are here exclusively for the chance to savor a scone smeared with their succulent rose petal jam (you can buy a take-home jar in the bakery, daily from 3-6:00P.M.). Further embracing British heritage, Mandarin’s Chinnery Bar, named after Artist George Chinnery, offers a Power Afternoon Tea ($42pp) featuring mini Yorkshire pudding, Welsh rarebit, and truffle croquet-monsieur (I could eat 20 of these), a mousse-filled chocolate cigar, and a silver tankard of beer. Ta-ta…and pinky out, please!