When I was a little girl my aunt used to take my sisters and I out for treats. One of her treats was to take us to a Lyons Tea Room for, yes you’ve guessed, tea! But this was no ordinary tea, no, this was a truly amazing tea experience for we three girls (there were three of us then).
The tea rooms were very elegant with smartly dressed waitresses and the most amazing cakes you could ever wish to see, let alone eat. I could go on to talk about the history behind the Tea Rooms and mourn their loss when they were closed down in 1977 after 67 years of serving teas. But, this article is not about the Lyons Tea Rooms, it is about Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms! The reason for my little trip down memory lane is because, until I moved to the North East of England, I didn’t realise Tea Rooms still existed. And, to my great joy, I found that not only did they still exist, they were actively thriving in North Yorkshire.
The story behind Betty’s is quite romantic. The tea rooms were founded by a young Swiss immigrant called Frederick Belmont. Frederick was an orphan and in his teens he had various apprenticeships with bakers and confectioners across Europe. It was there that he learnt his craft and love of baking.
Frederick emigrated to England and it was a happy accident for the North that he ended up there. On arriving in London he lost the address of where he was supposed to be going. He chose the place that sounded like where he wanted to go ended up in Bradford. Frederick liked the area so much that he decided to stay. He opened his first tea room in 1919 (10 years after the first Lyons Tea Room was opened) and Betty’s was born. The strange thing is that no-one knows who Betty was.
If you haven’t heard of Betty’s then your education is sadly lacking (as was mine) and if you have never been to Betty’s then you need to get a visit on your “to do” list immediately. As I said, I had never heard of Betty’s and it wasn’t until my husband and I went on a visit to York that I did find out about this amazing tea room.
It was as we wandered around York admiring the architecture and popping in and out of the shops, that my husband started insisting that we must go to Betty’s. “Betty’s what?” I asked, the only Betty I knew was my aunt in Eastbourne. “Tea room!” he exclaimed. I thought he was barmy because it was lunch time but, I’m game to try anything once. So, off we went to find this famous tea room that was, I was reliably informed, also famous for it’s Fat Rascals! Yes, I know! What is a Fat Rascal? The only way I can describe it is that it is a sort of bun with mixed fruit and peel topped off with almonds and cherries and the only place you can get them is from Betty’s.
When we arrived at the tea room there was quite a queue but, my husband insisted that it was worth waiting for. And, as usual, he was absolutely right. As we were led to our table I had a sense of deja vu. It was just like stepping back into my childhood. The waitresses were all smartly dressed in long black skirts, crisp white blouses, long apron with the whole ensemble beautifully finished off with a black brooch that a letter B inscribed in gold on it. The décor was impressive and whilst the room was packed with people we did not feel intruded upon by the next table, because of the way the tables were laid out.
We had a delicious lunch there. I had the breakfast rosti and my husband had macaroni cheese both meals were impeccably served to us by our immaculately turned out waitress. We were also offered a selection of Betty’s chutneys to go with our meal. I was never really a chutney person until that day. I have since gone on to create chutneys of my own that were inspired by my first taste of Betty’s. We have since returned to Betty’s in York and discovered Betty’s in Harrogate. Every time we visit we are never been disappointed.
Strangely, the one thing we have not eaten at Betty’s is Afternoon Tea. When I decided I wanted to tell you about this amazing Tea Room we both decided that we really needed to remedy this oversight. Oh, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it. Last Monday we were both free and so we seized the day and set off to visit Betty’s in Northallerton. There were three reasons for choosing Northallerton:-
It was the nearest Betty’s to us.
I’d never been to Northallerton. (I now want to live there!)
And, (drum roll…) Betty’s Tea Room at Northallerton had won The Tea Guild’s Award for Top Tea Place in the UK 2012!
So you see, we had no choice but to visit and to try out their afternoon tea.
Northallerton is a beautiful market town in Yorkshire and Betty’s is set right on the high street. You can’t miss it. The tea room is housed in a double fronted Grade II listed Georgian building with Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms proudly written across the top.
We went in through the front door and found ourselves in the Betty’s shop. The shelves were stacked with goodies from Fat Rascals to tea and coffee. You could even buy a Betty’s tea service. I knew what I would be doing before I left. But, first things first, we both needed our tea (we’d skipped lunch especially).
We waited to be attended to and right beside where we were waiting, safely ensconced in a glass cabinet, was the aforementioned prestigious award along with a huge cake that was decorated to match. While we were admiring both the cake and the award, the Deputy Manager, Marion Smith, came up to advise us that a table would be ready in a few minutes. I took this opportunity to quiz her a bit about the Northallerton branch and what made it so special. Marion told me “Betty’s is a wonderful company to work for and the Northallerton branch is a wonderful environment to work in.”
I later found out that the Northallerton branch had won the award once before in 1987 and that Marion had been working there then. Is she the secret ingredient to Betty’s of Northallerton’s success. I wonder? She certainly was very welcoming and friendly, although it has to said, so were all the staff.
Marion took us through to the Tea Room. The décor was subtle and had the look of a 1920′s hotel lobby. At the end there was a wonderful light and airy room with a magnificent skylight complete with palm tree, it was like stepping into an Agatha Christie novel. I could just imagine Miss Marple sipping her tea and nibbling on a sandwich whilst watching everything and everyone with her eagle eyes. Yes, you really do feel as though you are stepping back into the past, when life was lived at a more refined, sedate pace.
We were served by Lizzie who happily informed us that she had worked for Betty’s since she was 16 and that her brother and sister had worked there before her. We placed our order with her and it wasn’t long before she returned with our tea.
The sandwiches and cakes were laid out on a three tier cake stand. We had a Egg and Cress (I haven’t had egg and cress sandwiches since I was a little girl), Salmon and Rocket, Chicken and Tarragon and Ham sandwiches. We were offered (and we accepted) some chutney to go with them. Well, it would have been churlish to refuse. I don’t know whether it was the surroundings, the service or both that gave this simple repast a sense of occasion and I don’t really think it matters as long as you are enjoying yourself and we most certainly were. The sandwiches were positively delicious with or without the chutney.
Whilst we enjoyed our sandwiches I was “mother” and went to pour us a cup of tea. Oops! All I can say it has been a while since I needed to use a tea strainer. Their Tea Room Blend was deliciously smooth and complemented the savoury and sweet perfectly.
After our sandwiches we moved onto the second tier. Sultana Scones with Clotted Cream and Strawberry Jam. Perfect! We slowly savoured the scones and cream before moving up to the final tier that proudly displayed an assortment of cakes. There were two macaroons, one chocolate and one lemon. A lemon slice each and the piece de resistance, Betty’s Opera Cake, complete with a chocolate cartouche that had Betty’s inscribed in gold lettering on it.
We were in heaven! We had half a macaroon each (it was the best way to stop an argument) and then I dived into the Opera Cake while my husband had the lemon slice. By this time I have to admit I was feeling pretty full and as my husband ate his Opera Cake I decided that there was just no way I could fit the lemon slice in. So, it is confession time, I wrapped it in my napkin and popped in my bag for later. Well, it would only have been thrown away! I can tell you that it was as delicious as all the other delicacies that we had enjoyed with our afternoon tea.
It was nearly time to wend our way home. But there was one last thing we needed to do before we left. As I have already mentioned as you enter Betty’s there is a shop selling a variety of tasty things and of course I could not leave without purchasing a few things to enjoy at home. I bought some coffee beans and some of their caramalised onion chutney which I want to have a go at making it some time.
I do hope my little article has inspired you to want to treat yourself to a Betty’s treat sometime. Next time you feel like a trip out I would highly recommend you taking in the sites of York, Harrogate, Northallerton, Ilkley or even the RHS gardens at Harlow Carr, and then seek out the nearest Betty’s and pop in. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.
You may be feeling a little peckish after reading about our Betty’s adventures and I wouldn’t blame you. So, if you are not able to physically visit Betty’s, you can always take a peek in their on-line shop at www.bettys.co.uk where you will find a variety of different goodies to choose from. I once bought a hamper for my Mum and Dad one Christmas along with a book that tells you the whole Betty’s story. They were thrilled with their presents.
Now we only have two Betty’s left to visit, Ilkley and Harlow Carr. I don’t think it will be long before we do…