Afternoon tea has been an English tradition since Anna Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, made it fashionable to invite one's friends to an afternoon snack in the early 1800s. The concept spread like wildfire, and London's grand hotels soon began serving well-to-do matrons with tea, scones and cakes in gorgeously decorated salons. In the past decade Londoners have rediscovered afternoon tea, one of the city's trendiest culinary events. The Ritz Hotel alone has five daily afternoon tea sittings. Even so, expect a four to six-week wait before you can enjoy a #36 (HK$552) afternoon tea at this celebrated citadel of luxury. The Berkeley Hotel Wilton Place, Knightsbridge the-berkeley.com The glamorous Berkeley puts a modern spin on afternoon tea with its Pret-a-Portea, where cakes and pastries are inspired by the latest collections from leading fashion designers. The Berkeley's chic Caramel Room is perfect for celebrity-spotting. Stars of stage, screen and football stadiums such as Madonna, Sean Connery and the Beckhams have been known to join mere mortals in feasting on fashionista treats such as the Hermes vibrant orange and ginger Kelly bag, the Yves Saint Laurent smoking jacket chocolate sable, Christian Dior redcurrant mousse, Alexander McQueen silver spice boot biscuit and Nina Ricci lime cremeux with lemon mousse. You won't find any sandwiches at this afternoon spread. Instead, tea includes low-carb delights such as lobster canapes, shiitake mushroom and vegetable wraps, and asparagus and artichoke kebabs. The service at the Berkeley is second to none: an afternoon banquet at this high-class haven of the rich and famous is a London experience not to be missed. The Lanesborough Hotel Hyde Park Corner, Belgravia thelanesborough.co.uk Afternoon tea at the Lanesborough Hotel on Hyde Park corner is served in a fabulous oriental-themed conservatory festooned with potted palms. Stepping into the Conservatory Restaurant is like walking into an oasis: the hum of London traffic is replaced by the clink of tea cups and the tinkle of a piano. Before you know it, attentive waiters begin serving fragrant blends like Rose of the Orient from elegant silver pots. Then come the fancies, both savoury and sweet, served on three-tiered stands. Feeling like the royalty who frequent the Lanesborough, we feast on Stilton quiche, delicate sandwiches and smoked salmon and cream cheese brioche. We move on to strawberries and cream, an array of heavenly pastries, and scones with homemade lemon curd and raspberry jam. All the while the waiter regularly tops up our tea, as he does for the comedian Dawn French of Vicar of Dibley fame, sitting at the table next to us and clearly enjoying the Lanesborough spread as much as we are. Duke's Hotel 35 St James's Place, Mayfair slh.com/dukes Duke's Hotel is one of those hidden treasures tucked away amid London's ancient streets. You never know who you'll meet at Duke's, a handsome Georgian building a stone's throw from St James's Palace and Clarence House, London home of Charles and Camilla, William and Harry. A favourite with royalty, this genteel haven of tranquillity is owned by relatives of Queen Elizabeth. Just 16 people take tea in Duke's gracious 300-year-old drawing room or flower-filled conservatory (left). Feeling like a duchess myself settled into a wide wing chair, I order my tea - an aromatic Duke's Own Blend. Out comes a three-tiered plate brimming with traditional tea favourites: toasted crumpets, scones, jam and cream, thinly cut sandwiches, rich fruit cake and to-die-for pastries including citrus tarts and rich profiteroles. There's no piano music at Duke's - but who cares? It's just so elegant and peaceful. Legend has it that when the author Ian Fleming of James Bond fame stayed at Duke's he was so impressed with the hotel's martinis, served at its oak-panelled bar, that they became the inspiration for his 'shaken, not stirred' line. After tea, I opt for a Pimms at the bar. It arrives in a 200 year-old goblet, laden with sweet raspberries and strawberries. And like everything else at this charming hotel, it's superb.