Covent Garden is the place to be for an affordable afternoon tea in London.
There are few things I enjoy more than a traditional afternoon tea. All those pretty sandwiches and dainties are simply delightful. So as soon as I knew I was traveling to London, England, I began researching afternoon teas. And I found the most adorable Alice in Wonderland option at a high-class hotel. It came with a mighty hefty price tag, but I decided to treat myself and reserved a seat. Sadly, 24 hours before I was scheduled to fall down the rabbit hole with Alice, I received an email stating the tea had been canceled. So, I set out in search of an alternative.
As I walked along, I passed the B Afternoon Tea Bus Tour, a vintage, red double-decker bus that takes you past London’s best-known sights as you enjoy your tea. I also took note of the lovely spread Patisserie Valerie advertised in its windows adorned with scrumptious delights. Shop after shop, it seemed there dewas no end to the abundance of afternoon tea options. And while many caught my eye, none were quite right, so I kept walking.
Finally, I came upon one of my favorite places to visit when I’m in London, Covent Garden Market. It is comprised of a delightful mix of unique boutiques, kitschy kiosks, and fabulous foods. And many vendors offer a version of afternoon tea. But one adorable little bakery stood out to me, Sweetheart Cake and Bake Shop.
Located in a tiny shop tucked into a corner on the lower level of Covent Garden, this adorable little bakery is everything you hope a cupcake shop will be. From pastel-colored accents, dangling chandeliers, and froufrou wall art, I just about melted the minute I set eyes on this place. And for just £18, you can enjoy an afternoon tea that lives up to every expectation you might have. The best part is that no reservations are needed. Simply show up anytime between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. any day of the week, and they’ll be happy to serve you. Though the shop is just wee, there are a handful of seats inside, or you can choose to sit outdoors and enjoy the live entertainment from the Covent Garden buskers.
What to Expect
When you arrive, simply head straight to the counter, and tell the server you would like to have the afternoon tea. The server will ask where you plan to sit, as well as what type of tea you would like. You’ll also get to select a cupcake flavor from their robust selection of about a dozen different types.
A few minutes after you’re comfortably seated, the server will bring your pot of tea. Because this is a not a formal tea and everything is made to order, it will take a bit of time for the chef to prepare your spread. They make each and every sandwich fresh for you. And it’s well worth the wait. About 15 minutes after I was first seated, the server set a proper three-tiered china dainty stand on my table. It was filled with all sorts of delectable delights, and I could barely wait to dig in.
To be honest, there is enough food to share with another person. But I hadn’t eaten a thing all day in anticipation of this moment and was hungry enough to eat a horse. I started with the bottom tier, which contained a traditional cucumber and egg salad sandwich on whole wheat bread with the crusts cut off. Next up was a sweet brioche topped with a vegetarian spread. Lastly, there was a savory tart filled with a salmon cream and smoked salmon that was to die for.
Afternoon tea simply wouldn’t be complete without a traditional English scone. And that’s just what was awaiting me on the center tier of the tray. With a side of jam and clotted cream, it was everything I’d hoped it would be. And finally, the top tier with its sweet treats was the pièce de résistance. In addition to the cupcake of my choice—red velvet with cream cheese frosting—there was a tiny fruit tart filled with a creamy custard and three small homemade chocolates. My sweet tooth was completely sated by the time I took my last bite.
Each tier of my afternoon tea tray was a feast for the senses, and I got to listen to a beautiful string quartet play while I ate. It was a wonderful way to spend part of my afternoon. If you are looking for an affordable afternoon tea that you can visit on a whim and serves up scrumptious fare, this is an amazing option. And don’t worry if you can’t eat it all—your server will be more than happy to box it up for you.
Pro tip: Start with the foods that won’t keep as well, such as the clotted cream and salmon tart. That way, you don’t have to worry about any of your leftovers spoiling while you’re wandering about the rest of the market later in the day.
Do you have a favorite place to enjoy afternoon tea in London. Share your ideas with the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.