14 of the city's best spots to grab a decadent treat
Afternoon tea was apparently invented in the 1840s by peckish English aristocrat the Duchess of Bedford. She started secretly asking for tea and cakes to be sent up to her room mid-afternoon, instead of waiting for dinner, which was usually served at 8pm or 9pm. Rather than being ridiculed (as she suspected), the custom soon caught on, becoming the most fashionable of afternoon activities. The meal has since spawned several variations, including ‘elevenses’ (an equivalent meal eaten as a snack before lunch), and ‘high tea’ (where ‘high’ signifies a later meal, usually from 5pm, typically involving a hot dish). As English as its origins may be, the elegance and decadence of a mid-afternoon meal of cakes and sandwiches perfectly encapsulates Dubai’s penchant for luxury and frivolity. We tested 20 of the city’s most popular spots for afternoon tea, with options across the price spectrum, then selected our 14 favourite venues to bring you this best-of guide.
Under Dhs100 Hilton Dubai Deira Creek Setting: The hotel’s Carbon Lounge is ultra-modern, with a winding, futuristic glass staircase and a colour scheme of silver, black and dark wood. From the terrace outside, you can just catch a glimpse of the creek beyond.
Presentation: Tea is served in a modern glass pot accompanied by a miniature lava lamp-style glass egg timer, filled with blue liquid, to time the three minutes required to brew the tea. The bite-sized sandwiches and cakes are presented on a traditional three-tiered silver stand.
Food: We’d recommend eating the small square sandwiches first as they dry out quickly. All the cakes are a delight – our particular favourites were the chocolate éclairs, and the Omani date cake with its treacle-like texture.
Tea: An extensive selection, with several classic and fruit options.
Service: The waiters refill your teapot and ensure you’re stocked with all you favourites.
Rating: 3.5/5 Dhs95 for two. Daily 3pm-6pm. Hilton Dubai Deira Creek, Baniyas Street (04 227 1111).
One&Only Royal Mirage Setting: Located in the traditional-style Arabian Court, the ambience in Samovar Lounge is one of hushed elegance – all velvet drapes and sumptuous sofas. There’s also a terrace that overlooks the hotel gardens and out towards the Gulf, perfect for when the weather is cooler.
Presentation: Portions are generous, and presentation is great: the fancy-looking open sandwiches and traditional finger options certainly look as good as they taste.
Food: Sandwiches are large and generously filled, the scones are light and fluffy and the chewy almond tuiles are a particular highlight. They’ll sometimes give you an extra cream cake if you ask nicely.
Tea: Made fresh from leaf, the tea menu is large, with plenty to suit all tastes.
Service: Sometimes slow, but always polite and unobtrusive.
Park Hyatt Dubai Setting: The bright, airy, Arabic-themed lounge features a garden courtyard, comfy armchairs and views out onto the creek, making a pleasant, relaxed environment.
Presentation: Think spotless white linen, sparkling silver cutlery and elegant crockery, and a traditional three-tiered cake stand.
Food: The bite-sized sandwiches (air-dried bresaola with mustard, smoked salmon, cucumber with cream cheese, and mozzarella with tomato) are all light yet flavoursome. The mini scones are fluffy and moreish, and the cakes and sweets are rich and immaculately presented.
Tea: There’s plenty to choose from, with a choice of black, fruit and herbal teas, as well as coffees.
Service: The staff here are courteous, swift and professional.
Rating: 4/5 Dhs140 for two, Dhs220 for two with glass of bubbly. Daily 2pm-6pm. Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira (04 602 1234).
The Address Montgomerie Dubai Setting: Modern venue Nineteen is a little at odds with the traditional concept of afternoon tea, but the chic atmosphere ensures it’s a classy affair. The outdoor terrace boasts fantastic views over the lush golf course.
Presentation: Sandwiches are small but perfectly formed, while the scones, accompanied by Devonshire cream, wouldn’t look out of place in a traditional British tea shop.
Food: The quality of the freshly made pastries and scones is excellent. We’d recommend forking out for the full tea deal, which also features finger sandwiches.
Tea: The selection isn’t particularly wide, but you can choose from a number of black and green teas, plus chamomile and mint.
Service: The restaurant is usually fairly quiet after lunch, and service is impeccable.
Rating: 4/5 Dhs60 per person for cream tea (with scones), Dhs95 for light tea (with scones and pastries), Dhs155 for full tea (with scones, pastries and finger sandwiches). Sun-Thu 1pm-5.30pm. The Address Montgomerie Dubai, Emirates Hills, www.theaddress.com (04 390 5600).
Dhs100-199 Al Qasr Setting: Al Fayrooz lounge is popular on a Friday afternoon – we had a rowdy wedding party to our right, a 20-strong baby shower to our left and every table filled all afternoon.
Presentation: Snacks are stacked on the cake stand, and guests can also choose one of the beautiful pastries from the dessert trolley.
Food: The crustless sandwiches are simple but tasty. The traditional British cakes (fruit cake, banana loaf and mini Victoria sponge), toasted tea cakes and scones are also good.
Tea: There are fruit and herbal variations, as well as coffee for non-tea drinkers.
Service: Staff are very attentive – they even customised the tea for our vegetarian friend.
Rating: 4/5 Dhs180 per person, Dhs220 with a glass of bubbly. Daily 3pm-6.30pm. Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730).
Atlantis The Palm Setting: Small but cosy tea lounge Plato’s sits off Atlantis’s main lobby, so any sense of tranquillity is undermined by the steady hustle and bustle of passing guests. However, grab one of the three window tables for pleasant views of the private gardens.
Presentation: The tiered tray features plenty of dainty sandwiches, with hot drinks served in elegant pots.
Food: The sandwiches are made from good ingredients and the cakes and scones are fresh and fruity, although the solitary donut is a bit of a letdown.
Tea: There are a good selection of brews, including a wide range of honey-flavoured teas, and decent coffee.
Service: Service certainly comes with a well-meaning smile, but can be let down by mammoth waiting times.
Rating: 3/5 Honey tea Dhs135 per person, Dhs200 with a glass of bubbly, standard tea Dhs125 for two. Daily 2pm-5.30pm (honey tea on Friday only). Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 1454).
Bateaux Dubai Setting: From its mooring on the Bur Dubai side of the creek, tea aboard this floating restaurant involves a 45-minute leisurely cruise on the water.
Presentation: Flawless, with the different courses arranged elegantly over the three-tier cake stand.
Food: The assortment is impressive, with high-quality sandwiches, pastries and warm scones with home-made jam and clotted cream.
Tea: There are a number of different tea options on offer. We’d recommend the English breakfast tea, which boasts a more sophisticated taste experience than your average cuppa.
Service: Staff are attentive and friendly.
Rating: 4.5/5 Dhs150 per person, Dhs195 with a glass of bubbly. Daily 3.30pm-4.15pm. Dubai Creek, opp. British Embassy, Bur Dubai (04 399 4994).
Grosvenor House Setting: We mistakenly expected the Rhodes in Residence tea to be served in Rhodes Mezzanine, rather than in the Grosvenor House lobby. However, as lobbies go, it’s pleasant, with a great pianist.
Presentation: Three-tiered stands for the food; white china for the tea (with a glass teapot for the herbal tea options).
Food: A higher class of eats, including quail’s egg and mayonnaise sandwiches, duck and cranberry pasties but, of course, home-made scones with clotted cream.
Tea: There are an impressive eight categories, some even with sub-categories. We were dismayed that the curious-sounding 1990s Raw Puerh Tea, made with sweet-cured tobacco leaf, was unavailable on our visit. Service: Fantastic. The charismatic manager makes the tea feel very special (even presenting each lady with a white rose).
Rating: 4/5 Dhs150 per person, Dhs250-275 with a glass of bubbly. Daily 3pm-6pm. Grosvenor House, Tower Two, Dubai Marina (04 399 8888).
Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Setting: Sultan’s Lounge turns out to be another phrase for ‘hotel lobby’, though it would be churlish to complain – the Zabeel Saray’s lobby is more opulent than most suites. Take a turquoise and gold throne by the window, or head out onto the terrace in cooler weather.
Presentation: Food is served on a three-tier tray adorned with savouries, sweet treats, scones and cake.
Food: The sandwiches are freshly made and the scones are served warm, but the clotted cream is a touch too dry.
Tea: It offers 16 varieties of tea. Service: The staff sometimes take their time to deliver the tea, but are otherwise very accommodating.
Rating: 4/5 English tea Dhs105 per person, Dhs185 with a glass of bubbly. Ottoman tea Dhs120 per person. Sun-Thu 3pm-6pm. Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, The Palm Jumeirah (04 453 0444).
Sofitel Jumeirah Beach Setting: Tea is served in Plantation, a secret gem with a colonial ‘conservatory’ feel, plus a view over the beach from outside.
Presentation: Impressive. Tea arrives in Japanese-style heavy black crockery and huge square mugs, and food is arranged neatly on large rectangular plates, rather than on a traditional tiered cake stand.
Food: The finger-sandwich fillings, such as lobster in the French option or egg in the Classic, work well. The scones, served with cream, jam and lemon curd, won our hearts.
Tea: Green, white, oolong or flowering: we recommend the green.
Service: Staff are very polite and quite formal. Overall, we felt thoroughly spoiled.
Rating: 4.5/5 Dhs130 per person, Dhs295 with a glass of bubbly. Sun-Sat, 3pm-5pm. Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach, JBR (04 448 4873).
The Palace Setting: Arabian-themed lounge Al Bayt is light, airy and comfortable, with huge squishy chairs, while the al-fresco terrace offers spectacular views of the Burj Khalifa.
Presentation: The food is beautifully arranged on the tiered cake stand. Tea is served in traditional white-china pots with petite cups and saucers.
Food: Perfectly fresh and wonderfully tasty. The inside-out sandwiches and mini pastries are elegant and nicely crafted, and the scones are better than most we’ve eaten in the UK.
Tea: Blends include chamomile, Moroccan, mint and peppermint, while the Chinese tea list features green, white, black and yellow.
Service: Polite, although the language barrier means requests have to be repeated.
Rating: 4/5 Dhs120 per person, Dhs240 with a glass of bubbly. Daily 2pm-5pm. The Palace, The Old Town, Downtown Dubai (04 428 7888).
The Westin Setting: In the vast Atrium Lounge you can hide away in a corner on a large sofa, or plop yourself down in the middle, where the best people-watching can be done.
Presentation: There was a 20-minute wait for tea on our visit, but once it arrived it was like a tiered Christmas tree, groaning under the weight of cakes, scones and sandwiches.
Food: The cakes are exquisitely decorated. The jam (one berry, one pineapple) for the scones tastes home-made, and the sandwiches are nicely moist, if a little heavy on the mayonnaise.
Tea: There are 11 different types of Jing tea, from the unusual Jasmine peach flowering to more traditional Earl Grey.
Service: Polite and helpful – staff are more than willing to pack leftovers into boxes to take away.
Rating: 4/5 Dhs140 per person. The Westin Dubai, Al Sufouh Road (04 399 4141).
Dhs200-299 At.mosphere at the Burj Khalifa Setting: There’s that ‘wow’ factor of being 123 floors up inside the world’s tallest building, but the dark wood panelling and tacky carpet detract from the view.
Presentation: Sandwiches and sweets are served on a three-level cake stand made for two, with the arrangement of the items mirrored on each side.
Food: The teeny open sandwiches are tasty, made with luxurious ingredients such as truffle and quails’ eggs or salmon and caviar, but the scones are too sweet and crumbly.
Tea: Juices (which err on the side of sickly-sweet) are served first, and we had to ask the waitress for tea when the scones arrived.
Service: Pretty good, but by the end they’d forgotten about us.
Rating: 3/5 Dhs290 per person, Dhs350 with a glass of sparkling grape. Daily 3pm-5pm. 122nd floor, Burj Khalifa (04 888 3828).
Dhs300+ Burj Al Arab Setting: The lobby-like setting of Sahn Eddar inspires mixed reactions: it’s like eating in an upmarket mall, but the beautiful views of the beach still make this a very special spot. And you’re in the Burj!
Presentation: Each of the seven courses looks simple and classic.
Food: While the sandwiches are quite disappointing (the fillings are a little basic), the scones are soft, warm and fresh, and the carvery course – roast beef and a smidgen of truffle mash – is an unexpected surprise.
Tea: There are plenty of unusual and premium options. We particularly liked the chocolate black leaf tea and masala chai.
Service: Swift and accommodating yet still friendly, we felt like honoured guests.
Rating: 4/5 Dhs350 per person, Dhs395 with a glass of bubbly. Daily 1pm, 3pm, 5pm. Burj Al Arab (04 301 7600).