No trip to Harrogate would be complete without at least contemplating a visit to the famous Bettys Café Tea Rooms. I duly carried out my contemplation as I walked past in the morning, put off by the long queue snaking along the pavement. However, as I wandered past with an hour to kill in the evening before my train back to York, the lack of a queue led to a reappraisal and soon I was seated downstairs in Bettys, greedily surveying the heaving cake trolley.
Founded in 1919, Bettys sounds as Yorkshire as they come, but it was, in fact, the creation of a Swiss baker/confectioner, Frederick Belmont. Despite this, it’s quintessentially the British Tea Room and opinions about it vary considerably. I find my own ambivalence to Bettys both puzzling and informative.
On the one hand, having to queue for anything puts me off, plus it is, undoubtedly, a grand institution of the sort I am naturally suspicious off. On the other hand, were this Paris’ Angelina or Dublin’s Bewley’s, then I would (and have been) there like a shot. Perhaps it is just the familiarity of the British Tea Room that breeds contempt. Regardless, reach your own conclusions.
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
Bettys Café Tea Rooms on Harrogate’s Parliament Street is the original Bettys, a grand, sprawling structure that spreads over three levels down the hill along Montpellier Square. There are three parts to Bettys: to the right, as you come in, is a takeaway cake counter, while to your left, a café-bar. Through the café, down a flight of steps, is the third part, a full-service tea room, itself split over two levels, the second section down a further flight of stairs underneath the café. This lower section has no windows, but looks very cosy, the ideal destination for a cold, winter’s day. It’s also the most opulent of all the areas.
Ignoring naming conventions, which would suggest the café-bar and not the tea room, this is Bettys: the whole point of which is the indulgence factor. On that basis alone, I really can’t see the point of not going to the tea room, with its full, at-table service. For heaven’s sake, they even bring the cake (all of it!) to you. How civilized is that?
The only caveat is if you want to skip the queue. According to the locals, you can sometimes get a seat in the café-bar when there’s a queue for the tea rooms. In defence of the café-bar, it’s a lovely-looking space, bright and airy, with a fantastic-looking bar in the corner. Where it not for the attractions of the tea rooms, I’d have been perfectly happy there.
I ended up downstairs in the first (upper) of the two team-room spaces, tucked away on a table at the back, opposite the generous windows that line the left-hand wall. Bettys, in my head, is akin to Angelina or Bewley’s, but nowhere near as opulent. In reality, it has much more in common with the lovely, humble Anna’s Tea Rooms in Conwy.
The main focus at Bettys is the cake, although like Angelina, Bewley’s and Anna’s, it offers a full range of food. While I didn’t try them, the breakfast menu looked fabulous and the lunch and sandwich menus were pretty decent too. When it comes to cake, you can go for an à la carte approach or opt for an afternoon tea (scones, cakes, sandwiches) or a cream tea (just scones). As fabulous as these options looked (particularly the afternoon tea on the adjacent table, with its three-layer cake stand), the attraction of going à la carte is having the cake trolley wheeled over to you, with all its wonderful goodies on display.
The coffee selection includes two house-blends, espresso, latte/cappuccino and mocha, as well as eight speciality coffees by cafetiere. However, if the cafetiere of decaf that I had is anything to go by, the coffee’s not the main attraction. It was perfectly drinkable, but there’s far better to be had in Harrogate. I think I might risk cardiac arrest and have hot chocolate if I come again. For tea drinkers, by the way, there are three house blends and nine speciality teas, so, as with the coffee, there’s plenty of choice.
My cake, on the other hand, was excellent. I had the Engadine Torte, a Swiss-inspired, multi-layered concoction of hazelnut meringue & buttercream, topped with hazelnut Medicis. It was as awesome as it sounded and, while ridiculously sweet, not so much as to be sickly.
July 2014: I have just discovered that while grammatically correct, I’d been putting a spurious apostrophe in the name: it should have been Bettys all along (now corrected). Also, for some reason, I thought Frederick Belmont was Austrian, not, as everyone knows, Swiss. Ooops. Thanks to Dan Jeffrey of Bettys for pointing these two errors out to me.
It’s not clear why Bettys has no apostrophe. Apparently it did until the 1960s, when it mysteriously disappeared. Personally, I think it has something to do with the little-known world apostrophe shortage of 1963, when, for a brief time, apostrophes were rationed across the country. However, this doesn’t explain why the apostrophe wasn’t re-instated when rationing was lifted in early 1964. One of life’s little mysteries, I guess.
|1 PARLIAMENT STREET • HARROGATE • HG1 2QU|
|www.bettys.co.uk||+44 (0) 1423 814070|
|Monday||08:00 – 21:00||Seating||Tables|
|Tuesday||08:00 – 21:00||Food||Restaurant, Cake|
|Wednesday||08:00 – 21:00||Service||Table (Tea Rooms), Order at Counter (Café)|
|Thursday||08:00 – 21:00||Cards||Visa, Mastercard, Amex|
|Friday||08:00 – 21:00||Wifi||No|
|Saturday||08:00 – 21:00||Power||No|
|Sunday||08:00 – 21:00||Mobile||3G, Voice|
|Chain||Regional||Visits||23rd June 2014|
Note that the tea rooms do not open until 9 o’clock.
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