Top 10 afternoon tea experiences in Dubai

Afternoon tea at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray

Afternoon tea at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Ottoman style

Dubai; There’s something pretty special about an afternoon or high tea experience as it’s often referred to. Whenever I travel to cities with a colonial history I always find myself searching out afternoon tea. Must be the Brit half of me. My favourite to date has to be The Peninsula in Hong Kong where I queued for two hours on my birthday a few years ago (only walk-ins were allowed), which happened to coincide with Easter Sunday. I never queue, don’t believe in it – that’s the Cypriot and I guess diva half of moi. And all, just so I could partake in my obsession with this decadent tea feast. By the time I was seated at around 6ish, it was only fair that Mr Laurent Perrier should also join me. A close second is the Mount Nelson in Cape Town with its intimate buffet spread of sweet and savoury delights and quaint garden seating. To quote Henry James, an American-born writer and Anglophile from the 19th century, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” 

Scones galore at Park Hyatt Dubai

Scones galore at Park Hyatt Dubai

The concept of afternoon tea dates back to Great Britain in the 1830’s, widely credited to one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, Anna Maria Stanhope 7th, the Duchess of Bedford, to appease her mid-afternoon hunger pans at around 5pm. Naturally London knows how to lay out an afternoon tea spread – some recent FooDiva recommendations here. The sweet and savoury delicacies vary from establishment to establishment but it’s usually a three-tiered stand affair and fluffy, crumbly scones always feature – if not then it ain’t the real deal! Here’s an interesting post from My Custard Pie on what makes a perfect scone with some UK recommendations.

How do you like your scones?

How do you like your scones?

On that subject, there’s a long-standing argument on the etiquette of scone assembly – once the scone is sliced just on that perfectly formed crack, what goes next? Clotted cream (in Dubai it’s mostly locally made cream) or jam, usually strawberry or raspberry. Well if you follow the Devonshire way it’s clotted cream first followed by jam, and in Cornwall the opposite. I guess am a Devonshire kind of gal-cum-diva. What are you?

On our Dubai doorstep, we’re spoilt for choice with pretty much every hotel and cafe knocking up afternoon tea – a great way to entertain visiting friends. So here’s FooDiva’s round-up of Dubai’s top ten afternoon tea experiences in alphabetical order. By no means is this list conclusive but I had to draw the line somewhere.

  1. Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah, Al Fayrooz – the beauty of this spot is the al fresco balcony setting, in cooler climes of course. Grab a wicker armchair and gaze out to sea whilst indulging in a tiered afternoon tea stand. Or if you’re indoors, a classical pianist entertains. A differentiator here is the unlimited refills of open and closed sandwiches. AED 165 or AED 250 with a glass of champagne. The Entertainer guide has two for the price of one vouchers.
  2. Burj Khalifa, Atmosphere Lounge – rather than fork out the fee to the observatory tower, I always recommend visitors have a spot of high tea instead and this one’s literally sky high in the world’s tallest tower (for now) – to the tune of a harpist. AED 320 or AED 380 with a glass of champagne. A pricey option.
  3. Desert Palm Dubai  – a spot of polo with your tea? With the new polo season set to begin early next month, a high tea in this desert retreat makes for an entertaining day out. If you book the experience through Lime & Tonic, AED 140 will also get you a guided tour of the stables, or AED 235 with a glass of champagne, Taittinger I believe. If you’ve not yet registered with Lime & Tonic, this link will give you an AED 50 credit.
  4. Grosvenor House Tower 2, Rhodes in Residence – afternoon tea a la Gary Rhodes. Well he lives in the same tower so you could easily bump into him. FooDiva’s review here. Three tiered afternoon tea stand with a choice of tea or coffee (AED 150), or upgrade to a glass of champers with Gosset (AED 250) and Taittinger Rosé (AED 275).
  5. Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, Sultan Lounge – an Ottoman inspired afternoon tea that culminates with an orange blossom financier and a spray of ‘edible’ cardamom perfume from London-based French celeb patissier Eric Lanlard. Aside from plain scones, a Turkish coffee with date infused scone is also served, along with a choice of cinnamon cream, lemon and rose petal jam, and locally made cream. AED 155 for a three-tiered stand with tea and coffee and AED 255 with a glass of champagne. A traditional English tea is also available for the same price.

    One & Only Royal Mirage, Arabian Court, Samovar Lounge

    One & Only Royal Mirage, Arabian Court, Samovar Lounge

  6. One & Only Royal Mirage, Arabian Court, Samovar Lounge – this spot has to be one of the most gorgeous and inviting tea rooms in Dubai, plus a three tiered high tea stand will only set you back AED 95, but with a glass of champagne it jumps to AED 245 per person. The tea served here is from the historic German tea house Ronnefeldt who has coincidentally just introduced a collection of eleven new ‘Couture’ teas.
  7. Park Hyatt Dubai, The Lounge – here high tea is served in the lounge overlooking the creek and many a yacht in the marina. A three tiered stand that serves two peeps is priced at AED 180 – damn good value for one of Dubai’s most luxurious (yet under-stated) resorts. AED 260 for two if you’d like a glass of sparkling wine thrown in. If you happen to have a Time Out voucher from an issue earlier this year, you’ll get two stands for the price of one.
  8. The Palace Downtown, Al Bayt – with full views of Burj Khalifa and the magical fountains, aside from the traditional English afternoon tea (AED 120), an Arabian option (AED 150) is also served with ataif (velvet pancakes) with chocolate, rose petal cheesecake, basbousa (semolina cake), mammoul cookies, camel milk pistachio crème brulee, cardamom scones with local ‘clotted’ cream along with date and apricot jams, plus date cake and lemon cake. A violinist and a harpist provide a musical interlude.
  9. TWG Tea – the dedicated tea salon and boutique in Dubai Mall with a staggering 450 teas offers three afternoon tea options, all with scones, from a very reasonable AED 42 up to AED 80. Here’s an earlier review.
  10. Al Maha Desert Resort & Spa – strictly speaking the last venue is Al Ain, but it’s only a 45 minute drive or so from Dubai. Buffet style with open-faced sandwiches, scones and teeny sweet pastries. Grab a pew outside and spot the odd oryx and gazelle as you gaze across the desert. If you mention FooDiva, you’ll get a special price of AED 120 per head (normally AED 160). You do have to book ahead so the security gate can let you in.
Park Hyatt afternoon tea

Park Hyatt afternoon tea

Plus here are a few other favourites from FooDiva’s Facebook and Twitter interaction – Bloomsbury’s at Dubai Mall, Burj Al Arab, Raffles and The Ritz-Carlton Dubai JBR. Oh and Rivington Grill at Madinat Jumeirah will start serving a traditional Devonshire tea on its terrace once the weather cools down.

Are you as obsessed as I am with afternoon tea? Any other firm favourites? And pray tell, how do you prefer your scones?

A bientôt.

FooDiva. x

P.S – whilst on the subject of all things sweet, is the cupcake fad finally over? You may be interested in my interview for The National with the chief baking officer of cupcake champion Magnolia Bakery about their foray into savoury.

P.P.S – on a slightly different note, I tried and tasted Fairmont Dubai’s new dine in the dark concept, Noire – here are FooDiva’s impressions.

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33 Responses to “Top 10 afternoon tea experiences in Dubai”

  1. GA September 11, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Fantastic review of afternoon teas, I was going to do one myself but you have saved me the bother. My favourite is Al Maha followed by the Ritz Carlton and Palm Court. Jam then cream all the way 🙂

    • FooDiva September 11, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      Ooh you Cornish gal 😉 Will have to try Palm Court at some point. Thanks for dropping by with a comment 🙂 x

  2. dave reeder September 11, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Clotted cream and scones? The only way is Cornish – why cover up that cream as they do in Devon?

    • FooDiva September 11, 2013 at 3:40 pm

      Well I guess here in Dubai in most cases it’s not proper clotted cream so I don’t mind covering it up 🙂

  3. Sally - My Custard Pie September 11, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    Thanks for the shout out – went for more teas this summer in UK and you’ve prompted me to get a move on and share my experiences!
    This review has made me want to go out for tea in Dubai more often.

    • FooDiva September 11, 2013 at 3:43 pm

      Thanks Sally. Lucky you – your post did make me drool…again! That’s why I decided to go ahead with this round-up. Afternoon tea is often forgotten here and it’s a relaxed and decadent way to wile away a weekend…plus you can skip lunch and dinner!

      • Zainab February 14, 2016 at 7:30 am

        Hello Foodiva, I liked the way you described the afternoon tea. i googled for best places to have the afternoon tea, and i’m happy to get to your website.

        i really enjoyed two afternoon teas so far one in Al Fayrooz and the other at al Samar in Mina Asalam. i will sure make a list to the other places you’ve mentioned and enjoy the relaxing afternoon tea.

  4. Nina September 11, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    I lurve lurve lurve The Peninsula Hong Kong! We purposedly went to Hong Kong for a vacay because of Sophie Grigson’s coverage of their High Tea. It was lovely. Traditional. Silverware. Prim and proper crowd. Hush hush discussion. The Peninsula Strings serenading us while enjoying glorious and gorgeous finger food and tea selections. Will visit again hopefully soon! 🙂

    • FooDiva September 11, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      Oh wow Nina so glad to find someone else who has experienced it! Too right, I would fly to HK just for that tea in that gorgeous setting 🙂

      • colin January 16, 2014 at 5:18 pm

        Funny to stumble upon this. I thought the peninsula was by far the worst tea ive had. Hugely overrated and all the expats agree. The venue is perfect but the food service price and waiting time are not worth it by a long shot.

  5. Sophia September 11, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    I love the Park Hyatt if you want a quiet afternoon however the Al Maha has to be the best experience …. given me an idea to do with my Mum when I m back in town next week. With love from

    • FooDiva September 11, 2013 at 3:49 pm

      It’s great that Al Maha now accepts day visitors…enjoy tea with mama. Thanks for dropping by with a comment Sophia 🙂

  6. Malin September 11, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Fantastic article, cannot wait to try some of your recommendations out next time I am in Dubai. Agree that the Peninsula in Hong Kong is magical!! Another favourite of mine is Hotel Adlon in Berlin, lovely cucumber sandwiches and tea however the sweets are a bit too heavy and dense for my taste.

    • FooDiva September 11, 2013 at 3:52 pm

      Thanks so much Malin. I so need to return to Berlin (the last time was a couple of months after the wall came rippling down!). I hear it’s buzzing and very cool and funky. I must admit when it comes to high tea, I go for the sandwiches and the scones which aren’t too sweet. I skip all the desserts and pastries as I don’t have much of a sweet tooth.

  7. MrsBubbly September 11, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Let’s put a tea into my to-eat list for November. Cant quite decide though between madinat (outside), zabeel saray and al maha. Would love to have ur ranking. Oh and devonshire way all the way!

  8. Johann Z September 12, 2013 at 2:40 am

    Cornish is definitely the right way for the scones…….

    When you get to Italy you must visit Peter’s Tea House – they have 27 outlets throughout the country – when you enter, the smell is incredible making you want to drink tea immediately and you could drink a different one on every day of the year as they have so many varieties and different blends.

    • FooDiva September 12, 2013 at 8:38 am

      Gosh sounds like my second home Johann. We do have a couple of dedicated tea shops here – mainly TWG Tea and Ronnefeldt but we could do with more independent brands.

  9. Francine Spiering September 12, 2013 at 4:27 am

    Something to come back for… as always, fabulous post! And a regret: I simply passed by the Peninsula. Should’ve known better! x F

    • FooDiva September 12, 2013 at 8:40 am

      Thanks Francine. Can’t quite believe you will no longer be here to experience all these ;( Hope you are settling well into Houston life – at least there’s wine on every doorstep 🙂

  10. Krysia September 12, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Love the round up of these 🙂 Have been to quite a few and agree with your choices. Only slight quibble is the interchangable use of ‘afternoon tea’ and ‘high tea’ these are all Afternoon Tea, not high tea which is a hot meal around 5 or 6 o clock.

    • FooDiva September 12, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      Thanks Krysia – there are so many tea experiences here it was hard to keep it to ten! In the past you are right, high tea was served much later and usually consisted of more savoury dishes but nowadays the term is interchangeable with afternoon tea.
      The instances where I have referenced high tea are where the hotels have used that term. Thanks very much for dropping in with feedback 🙂

  11. David Miras September 14, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    I’d like to mention that we are one of the very few resort in the U.A.E. serving proper Cornish Clotted Cream, having lived on the Scilly isles myself for 4 wonderful years I wouldn’t have it any other way!

    Here’s a picture

    Thank you Samantha for yet another sterling feature and recommendations, I too wish I went to the HK Peninsula last July to experience this treat.

    Anyone opting to come and try our Afternoon Tea in Al Maha i’m only a tweet away @ChefDavidMiras

    • FooDiva September 19, 2013 at 10:38 am

      Thanks David for setting the record straight 🙂 I will bring my sister to you in November – she’s an even bigger fan of afternoon tea than me, if that’s at all possible 😉

  12. Natasha Button September 18, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    It’s been almost seven years since my then boyfriend proposed at The Mount Nelson Hotel Cape Town. I remember clearly the panic rising when he suggested we go off looking at rings and knowing that we could potentially miss Afternoon Tea.
    Needless to say we made it to tea and how decadent was it!
    We picked up the ring designing the following day – you have to prioritise!

    • FooDiva September 19, 2013 at 9:19 am

      What a beautiful and quite funny story Natasha thanks so much for sharing :). I must admit I was at the heights of love over that tea too, but sadly mine didn’t work out as well as yours did!

  13. Sara October 5, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Love the article! thanks for the round up.

    Here is an interesting solution to the cream vs. jam debate developed by a mathematician to create the “perfect scone”:

    • FooDiva October 5, 2013 at 10:33 pm

      Thanks Sara hope you get to try some of these. Love the mathematician’s rationale – if in doubt revert to science 😉

  14. Yasmine September 23, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Hello! Another newly opened afternoon tea option is at Fortnum and Masons at Dubai Mall! This would definitely make it into the top 10!
    Check out my review here

  15. Carmel Williams April 8, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    Thanks to Ambrose, our Birthday Afternoon Tea was especially memorable with his birthday serenade, supported by a wonderful Harpist.

    • FooDiva April 11, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      Which one did you try Carmel?

  16. Alka April 11, 2015 at 2:37 am

    Thanks for the suggestions. We went to Al Maha last week for afternoon tea, it was a wonderful experience.
    But didn’t get any discounts on mentioning Foodiva. They charged the full price of 160/

    We will try other places too in future.

    Thanks once again.

    • FooDiva April 11, 2015 at 4:54 pm

      Glad to hear Alka. This post is 18 months old so sadly that FooDiva offer has expired 😉

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