There are few British traditions more time-honored than the afternoon tea. As the legend goes, the custom originated in the mid-17th century with Anna Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, who used to experience hunger pangs in the late afternoon hours, and requested that a tray of tea, bread, and cakes be brought to her bedroom. Eventually, she would invite friends to join in on her snacking, and soon enough, society women followed suit, donning their Sunday best to indulge in newly erected tea rooms across the country.
The centuries-old ritual gets a modern update at Sketch, a quirky brasserie nestled in a converted 18th-century townhouse in London's Mayfair neighborhood. Upon entering, you're invited to leap through a hopscotch court en route to the majestic tea room, bathed in pink and furnished with scalloped chairs and curvy banquettes upholstered in velvet. Each table is set with mismatched ceramics, emblazoned with cheeky sayings like "Forget About It" and "It's Not Okay." Over 200 illustrations line every wall, except the bar, which has a back panel made of shiny rose gold metal.
The menu is also a testament to the venue's eccentricity. If you choose the "rich" option, your tea commences with a glass of Veuve Clicquot champagne, meticulously filtered through Earl Grey tea leaves. Then, you're served an assortment of finger sandwiches (we're fans of the curried chicken and smoked salmon and tarragon cream) and pastries on an elegant three-tier cake stand, which can be replenished at your request by the waitresses, who don bespoke pink ombré dresses by London-based designer Isa Arfen.
But be wary of the free refills: Two more servings follow, including your choice of raisin or plain scone served with cream, fig, and strawberry jam, and cakes (poppy and redcurrant éclair or raspberry hibiscus flower and chocolate). And lest we forget about the main event: the tea itself. You can pick from seven varieties, but we recommend the Assam Breakfast, which is perfectly malty and sweet. And the copious drinking makes it easy, but make sure to hit the bathroom before you leave—its spaceship-esque pod toilets and attendants dressed as French maids are a sight in and of itself.