6 - 8 St. Helen’s Square,
The first Bettys tea room opened its doors ninety years ago. Since then a little family of Bettys tea rooms have sprung up around Yorkshire, and there they stay. Bettys are dedicated to keeping their brand “small and special”, and despite much call for them to expand, they remain exclusive to Yorkshire. Restaurants as popular as Bettys can afford to demand that the rest of the country go to them. There is always a queue outside the shop in York, whether it be tea time on a busy summer Saturday, or any gloomy mid-morning weekday. And it’s not just visitors from the rest of Britian who wait in line to be allowed a seat in Bettys. Tourists from all over the world flock to York just to go there and experience an unadulterated morsel of Georgian magnificence.
The flagship restaurant in Harrogate takes its aesthetic inspirations from the cosmopolitan café bars that Bettys’ founder, Frederick Belmont, experienced in Switzerland in the early twentieth century. Bettys of York (founded in 1936), however, mimics the majesty of a cruise ship from the inter-war years of decadence. Once you’ve done your time in the queue, you will be escorted to your seat by a besuited waiter, who, as he pulls out your chair to seat you, will affably offer his thoughts on what you might like to order. “May I recommend the Summer Berry Pancakes, a delicious accompaniment to one of our speciality teas.” And with that he’ll be gone, wishing you, as he strolls away, an enjoyable visit.
The astonishing thing about Bettys is that it’s not in the least bit contrived. The waitresses, in their high-necked shirts and long black skirts, are not acting the part of obliging 1920s hostesses, they are just all very well trained, polite and courteous. Betty’s is not some gimmicky eatery that affects the style of a bygone age: it is a relic of a bygone age that has retained all the traditional values it had when it opened.
On our trip to Bettys we had their famous afternoon tea (£15.95). The tea comes served on a tiered cake stand, with little crust-less sandwiches on the lowest plate, a scone on the middle tier, and a selection of miniature cakes from the patisserie at the top. All this comes with a pot of Bettys Tea Room Blend tea in a delightful silver teapot. While some restaurants might have let them selves go a bit after ninety years of fame, Bettys have used their ninety years to perfect, and re-perfect everything on their enormous menu.
Bettys fuse the culinary traditions of Switzerland and Yorkshire. The result combines the highest quality Alpine chocolate and Yorkshire cream; continental coffees and English teas; old Swiss recipes made with locally sourced Yorkshire ingredients. Bettys was a fusion restaurant before fusion restaurants had even been invented. Everything they serve they have made themselves. The sandwiches are made with Bettys own handmade bread, which, the menu explains, is made freshly everyday by the Bettys bakers. The jam is Bettys’ jam. The cakes are made from their own special Swiss recipes. Everything is simply perfect at Bettys.
There are Bettys branches in Harrogate, Harlow Carr, Ilkley, Northallerton, and of course York (where as well as the Bettys we visited, there is a bite-sized version, called Little Bettys). Whether you want the traditional afternoon tea, or a bite to eat at any other time of day, Bettys will graciously accommodate you. Each of the Bettys restaurants has its own shop attached, where breads, jams and patisserie items can be bought. If you’re going up to that part of the country, it's worth making the time to go to Bettys. If you’re not headed that way any time soon, tea at Bettys may well be a tempting enough reason to plan a trip.
**Written by: **Emily Boyd