Tea at the Ritz – London, England

A Civilized Ritual Steeped in Tradition

Ante of kings and commoners alike, tea is taken in every little hamlet across the British Isles. But nowhere is it served with more reverence or flair than at the Ritz, the grand old-world icon that sets the standard for Britain’s most sacrosanct tradition. The quintessentially British rite can be traced back more than 150 years, to Anna, Seventh Duchess of Bedford, who would suffer from fainting spells from late-afternoon “pangs of hunger,” and—well, the rest is history. Purists swear by the Ritz, whose dazzling Versailles-inspired setting (and queues) provide an unforgettable glimpse of life at the top. (Brown’s and Claridge’s run neck- and-neck for second place.)

Promising as much pomp and circumstance as the changing of the guard, the etiquette and rules of afternoon tea appear at their stylized best in the Ritz’s rococo Palm Court: tables are draped in crisp linen tablecloths and covered with fine bone china and a silver triple-tier stand of goodies. Dainty finger sandwiches complement warm scones, homemade strawberry jam, and clotted cream, as well as an array of bite-size tea cakes and fancy sweets that permit the pastry chefs to show off their talents. Finish it all and you’ll understand why the thought of dinner is enticing—only if it’s tomorrow’s.

Since its creation by the great impresario Cesar Ritz in 1906, stepping into the Palm Court is like stepping back into Edwardian England—especially following renovations that have freshened up the grande dame’s over-the-top gilt-and-mirrors glamour. They’re not exaggerating when they suggest booking one month in advance for a Saturday afternoon table, and men dare not show up without jacket and tie—the Ritz still puts on the ritz.

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