Around Knightsbridge/Sloane Street:
The Capital, in Basil Street, is a hop, skip and jump from Harrods but it’s a haven of tranquillity away from the crowds. Its afternoon tea is pretty and delicious – check out the themed cakes - and at £29.50, something of a bargain for this bit of town. It’s served from 2-5.30pm and on Sundays in December, you can bring along a granny or child for free with every two people taking the full afternoon tea.
The Capital Hotel, 22-24 Basil Street, SW3, capitalhotel.co.uk
The Cadogan Hotel
The Cadogan Hotel, midway down Sloane Street, is a miracle: a quiet place to meet in the middle of Knightsbridge. It’s got historic kudos too: this is where Oscar Wilde was arrested. There’s full afternoon tea for £33, or a cream tea for £17, sans sandwiches and pastries but with scones. Both versions come with Chelsea Bun, and you’d be surprised how hard it is to get Chelsea buns in Chelsea.
The Cadogan Hotel, 75 Sloane Street, cadogan.com
If it’s a hot chocolate you’re after, then Rococo, in Belgravia’s Motcomb Street, a few minutes away from Sloane Street, is the place to go. The beverage is rich and delicious; and the tiny café is normally fairly quiet. £3.50 for a hot chocolate.
Rococo, 5 Motcomb Street, SW1, rococochocolates.com
Cuisine de Bar
I wouldn’t suggest that Cuisine de Bar, the café outpost of the famous French bakery, is exactly a secret; half the mothers in Chelsea seem to hang out in this clattery outpost of Poilane in Elizabeth Street. But there’s a reason: it’s just round the corner from Peter Jones and the menu has exactly the kind of light and easy eating you need to keep you going. Basically it’s open sandwiches, salads, cakes or croissant, but this is Poilane, so it’s not any old bread but the best sourdough loaf anywhere.
Cuisine de Bar, 39 Cadogan Street. SW3, cuisinedebar.com
Off and around Regent Street and Oxford Street:
HR Higgins, Coffee Merchant
HR Higgins has a good claim to be the best coffee and tea emporium in London; the tiny winding stairs in the shop leads you down to a simple little café where you can try the excellent teas and coffees and have a cake with it. Simple, but so very good. And five minutes from the worst of Oxford Street.
H.R. Higgins, 79 Duke Street, W1, hrhiggins.co.uk
Fernandez and Wells
If you’re shopping in Regent Street, you don’t have to eat there. Five minutes away, in Soho, off Beak Street, there’s Fernandez and Wells. Go for the coffee shop in Beak Street itself, where you can have a civilised coffee and croissants, or go round the corner to Lexington Street for a really fine glass of sherry and a plate of pequilo peppers or some Iberico ham. So very, very civilised.
Fernandez and Wells, 73 Beak Street, fernandezandwells.com
La Maison du Chocolat
La Maison du Chocolat is possibly my favourite chocolatier in London – the macrons are out of this world. But it also does two fabulous kinds of hot chocolate, one dark and intense, one lighter and vanilla-ey. Both heavenly. Over Christmas you can’t drink it in store at the Piccadilly shop, but you can take it away to sip in, say, the courtyard of the Royal Academy. And if you manage to leave without taking some chocolate with you, you’re made of stronger stuff than me. Hot chocolate, £4.30.
La Maison du Chocolat, 46 Piccadilly, W1, lamaisonduchocolat.co.uk
Look, this isn’t any old stop en route between one shop and another; it’s a destination in itself, a Christmas treat. Possibly London’s finest afternoon tea, to my mind the most atmospheric. This is the quintessence of the Afternon Tea experience, from delicious little sandwiches all the way to the Christmas cake. And the piano in the background just makes you want to stay and stay. £41.50 per person.
Brown’s Hotel, Albemarle Street, W1, brownshotel.com