Best of British: 60 things that make Britain great

Imagine you're cut off in a far-off land. What longings would be uppermost in your mind? Here we celebrate those aspects of life that make our islands distinct and beguiling.

53. Tea at The Ritz

Europe, Great Britain, England, London, The Palm Court in the Ritz Hotel

Ever since Anna Russell, 7th Duchess of Bedford, purportedly complained of ‘having that sinking feeling’ when waiting for her fashionably late dinner, afternoon tea has occupied a sweet space in British hearts. Hymned in song lyrics (The Kinks’ 1967 Afternoon Tea) and preserved by tearooms and hotels across the country, nowhere does it better than The Ritz, a name synonymous with afternoon tea; it’s been served at the hotel since its opening in 1906, a feat surpassed only by Claridge’s. The classic combination of finger sandwiches and sweet pastries served with loose teas has undergone a renaissance: paired with Champagne, accompanied by live music and transformed for all celebratory occasions. The only problem that remains now is what to spread on your scone first—cream or jam?

‘Wouldn’t it be dreadful to live in a country where they didn’t have tea?’
(Noël Coward)

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