The finer points of tea time

Travel Weekly executive editor Donna Tunney is by nature a tea drinker (though not a teetotaler). Agency clients looking to indulge in a fun British tradition might take advantage of these herbaceous recommendations:

LONDON -- There are few things as pleasant as sitting down to afternoon tea somewhere

in Britain -- at least in my book.

And there are all sorts of ways clients can do this.

They can dress up and head to the elegant Palm Court in London's Ritz Hotel -- with a reservation, please.

They can stop in at Fortnum and Mason, the department store on Piccadilly (get there by 2:45 p.m. to be assured of a table).

Tea time.Or, they can drop in at a cozy tea room in virtually any town during late afternoon and stand a good chance of getting a pleasant window seat overlooking High Street (Main Street to us Yanks).

For those unfamiliar with the routine, afternoon tea traditionally comes with a pot of tea, naturally; finger sandwiches of salmon, tuna or cucumbers and watercress with cheese; scones with clotted cream, and, sometimes, cookies. The tidbits are virtually always served on fine china, making afternoon tea an elegant repast even in rural tea shops.

I've got a short list of my favorite teatime places in London, which are listed here, along with a few additional recommendations culled from the British Tourist Authority's Web site, at www.visitbritain.com.

Prices are approximate and per person.

• Browns Hotel, Albermarle Street; (011) 44-207 493-6020. Two sittings are bookable at 3 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. $28.

• Claridge's, Brook Street, Mayfair; (011) 44-207 629-8860. Daily from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. $30.

• Harrods, Knightsbridge; (011) 44-207 730-1234. Monday to Saturday from 3:45 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. in the fourth floor Georgian Restaurant, with live music. $28.

• The Ritz, Piccadilly; (011) 44-207 493-8181. Daily from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sittings at 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. require bookings. Tea is served in the Palm Court with music from the resident pianist. $38.

• The Savoy Hotel, The Strand; (011) 44-207 836-4343. Daily from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the Thames Foyer, with a pianist. $29. On Sundays, a tea dance usually is offered from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. $42.

Outside the capital city, clients will find that tea rooms are abundant in small towns and villages. They lack five-star fanfare but often provide something that might be more important -- fellow tea drinkers are more likely to be locals than tourists.

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