Monday, 15 March 2010

Bettys- you can come to my neighbourhood anytime

Betty’s Tea Rooms are a veritable institution in my homeland of Yorkshire. Even my southern or foreign friends have generally heard about Betty’s or at least its sister tea company, Taylors.

It all started when in 1907, Frederick Belmont, arrived in England from Switzerland, unable to speak a word of English. Although he had planned to settle in southern England, Belmont mistakenly boarded a train for Yorkshire. In the end he found work and love there, marrying his his landlady’s daughter, Clare, and they finally settled in Harrogate. He opened the first Betty’s cafe there in 1919, and now there are now six dotted around Yorkshire.

Its current chairman, Jonathan Wild takes a very non Starbucks approach, actively limiting geographic expansion. He argues that Betty’s strength lies in its strong team and hands-on, family culture.

Although I’m moving down south and thus out of commutable distance to Betty’s, I’m inclined to agree with Wild. We all sighed on the last episode of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ , but watching anything go on and on, makes us start to resent it. This is one of the reasons I avoid Starbucks at all cost (another is the awful mugs).

The only thing Betty’s has in common with Betty’s is its consistency. The staff are trained, retrained and then receive more training just in case. One source I know of had managed a pub of her own before falling on hard times. Moving on to work at Betty’s she at first resented being told how to place a fork on the table. After a few months, she realised therein lied Betty’s success.

On my last visit I went for the Frittata Rossa, an Italian-style omelette made with roast red peppers,
sun-dried tomatoes, topped with chives and Parmesan cheese. Belmont was known for favouring things dainty and the portion sizes are generally no exception, but this omelette was actually quite dense and filling.

Perhaps the only really non dainty option is the aptly named Fat Rascal. Served warmed with butter, it has a texture similar to a rock cake, full of citrus peel and vine fruits, decorated with a face of almonds and cherries. You’ll either love them or hate them. My mother scoffs at them, I just scoff them.

But onto the important bit, the tea. If you are feeling experimental, the China Rose Petal variety is deliciously light and delicate. However anyone really serious about tea will go for the Tea Room Blend. It is rich blend that requires a good dash of milk.

Arrive after 6pm and you can drink tea to the tinkling of a grand piano, but allow plenty of time, Betty’s is no secret and you will almost certainly have to queue at peak hours. If you’re in York, go to Little Betty’s on nearby Stonegate, which is generally less busy.

I know Betty’s wouldn’t be the same if it were all over the country. Nevertheless, moving down south I will be sad it will no longer be within commutable distance. I'm just hoping that Wild might board the wrong train and end up in my neighbourhood.

Quality of tea: 9/10
Service: 10/10
Ambiance: 8/10
Food: 7/10
Value: 7/10 (Afternoon tea for two costs £50)

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Fellow tea lover, thank you for letting me know what you think.