Photograph courtesy Flickr/*saxon*
On the surface, Los Angeles wouldn’t seem the most hospitable location for upholding English customs—our weather is too pleasant, our teeth are too impeccable. But import we do—from Charlie Chaplin to Bentleys, polo grounds to soccer pubs. Even the Playboy Mansion is mock Tudor. It may have been Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting who initiated the ritual, but here ladies who lunch, agents who deal, and plain old dawdlers find common ground over Darjeeling and scones. We sipped and snacked at a dozen places before settling on the city’s most enlightened interpretations of the repast.
At the Montage Beverly Hills, no detail is overlooked—from the hand-painted china (by Lissi Kaplan, who also lends her artistry to the Peninsula’s tea service) to the complex flavors of the dainties on the three-tiered caddy (the menu changes seasonally). The hotel’s lush Lobby Lounge, where tea is laid out, is awash in shades of gold and packed with nattily dressed patrons, but there isn’t a hint of stiff upper lip. The jam is homemade, the harpist Disney Hall ready, and the tea selection seven pages long. We love the Montage blend: a subtle mix of golden pomegranate, rose, rooibos, orange peel, and lemon myrtle that doesn’t require a cube of sugar or a drop of milk. » 225 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, 310-860-7800. Daily; $28.
A gallery and playful homage to the eccentricities of Tokyo’s “maid cafés,” Royal/T is also home to the most unconventional afternoon tea in town. Waitresses in chocolate brown maid uniforms serve quiche and miso-marinated chicken sandwiches to a young crowd who nibble while gazing at art by the likes of Takashi Murakami and Carol Dunham. Tea stays piping hot in clear plastic double-walled teapots; it’s also good iced and with a shot of peach syrup. The in-house shop carries several flavors of specially blended loose teas, including the Royal/T (an unusual fusion of black tea with rose petals, fruit, and vanilla meant to be brewed in soy milk), along with a range of sleek Bodum equipment. » 8910 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 310-559-6300. Tue.-Sun.; $19.50.
The service is attentive at Scarlet Tea Room, where owner Karen Mikaelian kibitzes with customers amid colorful chandeliers and beige fabric-covered walls. Her “Five-Course Tea” begins with seed-flecked strawberry sorbet and continues with exotic sandwiches (chopped mushroom and citrus, fig and goat cheese). Lemon curd and preserves accompany the scones, and don’t pass on the Scarlet cream—it’s the best of the lot. » 18 W. Green St., Pasadena, 626-577-0051. Tue.-Sun.; $32.
The Alice-in-Wonderland-meets-disco-meets-hunting-lodge decor of the Patisserie at the SLS Hotel is a fitting backdrop for chef José Andrés and pastry chef Michael Gillet’s creations. Cones of salmon roe are suspended in Plexiglas, and foie gras sandwiches and beet meringues filled with whipped goat cheese are presented on black slate with other dollhouse-size marvels. The woman next to us squealed over every course, then captured each on her iPhone camera (celebrities tend to keep a lower profile). » The Bazaar, 465 S. La Cienega Blvd., L.A., 310-246-5555. Fri.-Sun.; $26.
The pebble fountain flanked by succulents that gurgles in the courtyard; the piped-in New Age music that blocks out traffic on Abbot Kinney: We always achieve a Zen-like state when entering Jin Patisserie. Proprietor Kristy Choo’s afternoon tea showcases her pastry shop’s homemade chocolates and exquisite desserts (mascarpone, passion fruit, and fresh mango—and that’s just in one little cake), arranged on chic white square plates. Teas from the French teahouse Theodor are listed in a booklet that contains more than you’d ever want to know about the beverage’s aroma (ask the staff what’s popular with patrons). Locals crowd the place on weekends, and they don’t dress up. » 1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, 310-399-8801. Tue.-Sun.; $19.