Adrian Mourby

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In the opening to his novel The Portrait of a Lady, American author Henry James declared, “under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea”. James then went on to set his perfect scene with tea being taken “upon the lawn of an old English country-house, in what I should call the perfect middle of a splendid summer afternoon”. Once the preserve of gossiping Victorian matrons - and old women like Henry James himself – the English institution of afternoon tea has enjoyed a huge revival over the last few decades, helped no doubt by the invention of the Champagne Tea which has made it acceptable to be seen sipping fizz in the middle of the afternoon. Once upon a time afternoon tea was served in tea rooms and private homes, but it's recently become a mainstay of many British hotels. Tea is a prolonged snack that fits in neatly between lunch and dinner and doesn't place too much stress on the kitchen staff. Moreover it's a good way for a hotel to show off its wares. Customers sipping their tea and munching on scones in the drawing room may well decide they want to come back and stay. These days so many hotels offer afternoon tea – and so many kinds of afternoon tea – that it's hard to know which to choose, so here is my selection of ten of the best across Britain. Remember you may well have to book ahead at some of these hotels, and remember too that there are at least four kinds of afternoon tea now: Tea, Cream Tea, Full Afternoon Tea (sometimes called Nursery Tea), and Champagne Afternoon Tea. Finally, you should also bear in mind that while “tea” as a meal with sandwiches would only be served between 4 and 5pm in Henry James' day, it's now usually served between 3pm and 6pm – but check that too. Hotels differ.
Luton Hoo Hotel, Golf & Spa

In a radical departure from many British hotels Luton Hoo serves its afternoon teas from 2.30 pm but the heavy silver cutlery, crisp white linen and fine bone china tea cups are wholly traditional. Luton Hoo is a Grade 1 listed Georgian mansion with grounds designed by Capability Brown and an Edwardian extension built by the architects of the London Ritz. In a stylish modern flourish it uses London black cabs to ferry guests round its 1,000 acres of parkland, meadows and lakes. Afternoon teas at Luton Hoo are taken under gleaming chandeliers in the various drawing rooms on the ground floor of the main house. The range of finger sandwiches is very traditional - smoked salmon, egg mayonnaise, cucumber on tomato and roast ham, while the scones come with clotted cream and strawberry preserve. You really could not get more English, except that the champagne tea serves Canard Duchene Brut Leonie. However Pimms – another English tradition – is offered as a good British alternative.

Lakeside Hotel on Lake Windermere

One of the biggest afternoon teas you'll ever encounter is at Windermere's Lakeside Hotel . It's not cheap at £83 for two, but for this you pretty much get a three course meal plus half a bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne. This extravagant treat starts with soup, followed by three kinds of sandwich and ten kinds of cake including lime, coconut and mango torte, tonka bean mousse, and matcha green tea and yuzu sponge. The hotel offers the kind of spectacular views you'd expect given its name, and these can be enjoyed during afternoon tea, which is served in the conservatory or on the hotel terrace in good weather. It also has a very well-reviewed restaurant, the John Ruskin Brasserie which is named after the celebrated Victorian art critic who stayed on the shores of Lake Windermere in 1826.

Bailbrook House

In April and May this year Bailbrook House created a series of Mad Hatter's Tea Parties, an eccentric, very English event with tea supplemented by a menu of sweet treats inspired by characters found in Alice's adventures: a red velvet ladybird cake, a White Rabbit white macaroon, and the Queen of Hearts' Oreo cookie soldiers. Timed to coincide with the release of Alice through the Looking Glass, the tea also raised money for Business Against Poverty. Bailbrook House stands just outside Bath in 20 acres on a hill above the London Road. Work on building this seat for Mr Eveleigh, a wealthy lawyer, was begun in the 1790s but was interrupted by the Napoleonic Wars. The mansion had a varied career in the nineteenth century. For a while it was the home of Lady Isabella King who devoted herself to saving street beggars “from the dangers attendant on idleness and poverty”. In 1817 Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, visited Bailbrook to commend Lady Isabella on her work, bringing the future king, William IV with her. In the twentieth century the house became a training college for the General Post Office but in 2013 it emerged from scaffolding to become one of only two Grade II listed hotels in Bath.

The Arden Hotel

Situated just opposite the Royal Shakespeare Company's main theatre in Stratford, the Arden is an ideal hotel if you're visiting for a night of drama. This 45-bedroom hotel consists of two old Stratford buildings, one of which dates back to the seventeenth century and was owned by Flowers Brewery before becoming part of the RSC's estate. The hotel's club bar displays photos of various actors who have appeared at Stratford over the years including Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Helen Mirren and David Tennant, but it's the lounge area where afternoon tea is served. Here you'll find tea trays with traditional pink rose-patterned china laid out between leather sofas either side of the fireplace. The hotel offers the usual range of afternoon teas, including full afternoon tea with cake and sandwiches, cream teas with scones, jam and diet-busting clotted cream, and of course “Sparkling Afternoon Tea” with a glass of something fizzy. If you're planning to go to the theatre and eat dinner afterwards, then Afternoon Tea at the Arden is a great way to prepare for the evening ahead. It's also just a delightful way to pass the time in this comfortable, wonderfully located old hotel close to the River Avon.

Airds Hotel & Restaurant

Situated in a tranquil spot on the west coast of Scotland, Airds lies at the end of a long, narrow road and enjoys lovely views over Loch Linnhe. Breakfasts at Airds are a delight with a generous portion of whisky in your porridge (on request). Dinner too is a treat with drinks before an open fire while you're perusing the menu. It's not surprising therefore that afternoon tea is a similarly foodie affair. All teas include warm scones with home-made jams and clotted cream, the hotel's renowned fruit cake and lovely homemade shortbread biscuits. The tea selection includes Darjeeling, Assam, peppermint, lemon tea, Lapsang Souchong , and camomile. If you order the Champagne Tea you get a glass of Maillart, Premier Cru. Port Appin is one of those places where people go to relax and forget about the stresses of modern life. You'd never guess that in 1752 it was the scene of the Appin Murder, a notorious event that partly inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped.