Constance M, A Well-Read Wanderer
London's Best Afternoon Tea for book lovers: The Library
Afternoon tea is a quintessentially British tradition and one you can’t leave the UK without experiencing for yourself.
I’ve never reviewed an afternoon tea on this blog before, but after going to afternoon tea at The Library in London, I couldn’t help myself! Afternoon tea at the Library at County Hall combines so many of my favorite things: tea, great food, a beautiful library, and one of the best views of London, which is one of my favorite cities.
If you are a reader who loves libraries and tea, I honestly think this is the best afternoon tea in London you can find.
By the way, if you’re searching for somewhere to have high tea in London thinking that’s the fancier option, that’s a very common mixup! The main difference between afternoon tea and high tea is what time it’s typically served. Afternoon tea is usually served mid-afternoon, whereas a high tea would be served closer to 5 pm and include heartier food.
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The Library London Atmosphere
Afternoon tea at the Library is located in the former London County Hall building, a short walk down from the famous London Eye on the South Bank.
The restaurant and afternoon tea venue is located in the room that formerly housed the London City Council but was recently renovated to what it is today.
Luckily for us, they kept the original dark oak bookcases filled with antiquarian books that make this room what it is: a book lover’s delight!
The bookshelves are space in such a way to afford diners a bit of privacy from other tables, creating a cozy and intimate setting. Arguably best of all, out of every window you can gaze upon one of the best sights in London: a stunning view of the Thames River, the Houses of Parliament, and the iconic Elizabeth Tower, most commonly referred to as Big Ben (which is actually the name of one of the bells inside).
When I went around New Year’s, the Library was decked out in tasteful but festive Christmas decor, which was a really nice touch.
The Library Afternoon Tea: the food & drink
The menu for the Signature afternoon tea at the Library changes occasionally, but stays the same in its essentials. For one price, you get a pot of high quality loose leaf tea of your choosing, a selection of finger sandwiches, two scones with jam and clotted cream, and three desserts. You also have the option to add a glass of sparkling wine.
Before choosing your tea, a server brings out samples of the tea selection, allowing and encouraging you to see and smell the teas for yourself before deciding. There’s a good combination of black, herbal, green, and rooibos teas from which to select. I found this to be a really nice touch; so often when going to afternoon tea you have to blindly choose a tea based on a vague menu description or a server’s recommendation. I really enjoyed taking my time to appreciate the high quality tea selection and make a good choice on my tea.
The tea I chose was incredibly delicious, and I highly recommend it. It is the County Hall tea, made specifically for The Library. It was so delicious I drank two pots by myself and ended up buying a canister of it so I can enjoy it at home.
Side note: When I love a tea I’ve had somewhere, it becomes one of my favorite souvenirs from that place, as every time I enjoy that tea it takes me right back to those memories. For example, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the Tea for Ruby I tried and purchased while visiting Savannah, Georgia.
The china used to serve your afternoon tea is a custom design for The Library, and it’s simple but dignified. It’s stately, much like the room you’re sitting in.
Now, on to one of the most important parts: the food!
I’ve had afternoon teas that were all about presentation but sadly lacking in flavor. This was not the case at the Library London afternoon tea!
The selection of finger sandwiches was adequate and filling, though nothing spectacular. However, the scones were just what scones should be -- flavorful without being overwhelming, served warm, and not too dense.
The dessert presentation was on point, and each one tasted like heaven.
The three desserts were themed rather appropriately on the newly renovated Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben, featuring:
an Elizabeth tower inside out double chocolate mousse cake, which was every bit as divine as it sounds. The mousse manages to be light and rich yet is still able to hold the shape of the clock tower
a Big Ben bell-shaped lemon curd, raspberry, and butter shortbread, a nice balance of sharp and sweet
a Clockface panna cotta, rhubarb, almond, and crispy white chocolate, which managed to delight even this non-white-chocolate-lover.
Is afternoon tea at the Library London worth it?
So, in case you couldn’t tell by my immoderate praise, the answer is a resounding yes! The Library is to date my favorite afternoon tea experience in London or anywhere, for that matter. A great combination of quality, style, and ambience and worth every penny.
Things to know about afternoon tea at the Library:
As with any afternoon tea in London, be sure to reserve well in advance of your travel dates, as they get booked up frequently weeks in advance.
Conveniently, they do offer a Vegan afternoon tea for those looking for a plant-based afternoon tea in London.
The entrance to the Library is not immediately obvious from the South Bank. It is inside the London Marriott County Hotel, which must be entered from Westminster Bridge Road. Go through the main hotel entrance and then take the hallway to the left. There will be porters around who are happy to give directions.
London County Hall, Westminster Bridge Rd
London, United Kingdom SE1 7PB
Mon - Sun 12PM - 5PM
Afternoon tea first began as a snack to get one through that 3 o’clock slump between lunch and dinner, but the menu is usually so extensive these days when you go to afternoon tea that it’s really a meal unto itself! For me, an afternoon tea such as this is a substitute for lunch, and I don’t think I’ve ever been able to finish all of my food, no matter how delicious.
I hope this helps you decide to visit The Library if you're looking for the best London afternoon tea for book lovers.
Don't forget to pin this post, and make sure to let me know if you end up going!