Have you ever walked past Bettys and Taylors in Harrogate and wondered why there always seems to be a queue to visit the tea rooms? I must admit I have been quite inquisitive over the years – so to satisfy my curiosity I decided to visit and experience the delights of afternoon tea in the exquisite Imperial Room.
In the past my only interaction with the famous Yorkshire emporium was to buy one of their famous ‘Fat Rascal’ scones from the shop, which thankfully only ever has had a short queue when visiting. So, to enjoy the full experience was something I was looking forward to.
Bettys and Taylors in Harrogate
Naturally, there is a story behind the current premises of Bettys in Harrogate. In 1962, a group of business owners were discussing the sale of C E Taylors and Co – a Yorkshire-based café chain. The manager of C E Taylors and Co overheard the conversation and told Victor Wild, the nephew of Betty’s founder Frederick Belmont. Wild offered the asking price and in a short space of time, Bettys became Bettys and Taylor. With the sale, Bettys acquired Café Imperial in Harrogate, which became the current location of the famous café on Parliament Street.
The first Bettys to open was in Harrogate, based at 9 Cambridge Crescent. Others opened in Bradford (1922) and Leeds (1930) though both closed in 1974 as Bettys decided to move out of city centre locations and concentrate on the original Harrogate shop along with the York (opened 1937) and Northallerton (opened 1971) and the Ilkley branch (opened in 1964).
Afternoon tea at Bettys
As we climbed a short set of stairs to the first floor Imperial Room, I could hear a piano being played – I feared it might be piped music as I had heard that any live music had now stopped at the Harrogate restaurant. But as we entered the room, low and behold there she was – a live pianist – playing a melody of Abba songs! The fact that she was playing Money, Money, Money as we were guided to our table felt like it could either be a nod to the cost of the final bill or our luck was in, and I was going to win the lottery that night.
With the servers wearing traditional uniform, white tablecloths, and a genteel atmosphere prevailing, it all felt like you had stepped into a bygone age where service, quality and good manners were the order of the day – almost unique in today’s fast paced world.
Afternoon tea starts at £39.95. The addition of Collet Rose champagne with the ‘pink champagne afternoon tea’ costs £47.95, or if served with a glass pf Prosecco the cost is £44.95. You might think this a bit steep for afternoon tea, though that did not seem to stop the steady flow of customers – for a special treat or anniversary the experience would be an excellent choice.
A delightful experience
Presented on a three-tier tray commonly called a curate, we were served a sandwich selection on the bottom level, scones with Yorkshire rhubarb and strawberry preserve and clotted cream on the second, and a miniature cake selection of caramel and chocolate pillow, gooseberry macron and raspberry tart on the third.
“I’m not too keen on egg mayonnaise, caramelised shallot and micro red sorrel”, said my partner to our server. “No problem” came the reply “we can offer you some ham and cheese sandwiches instead”. Smooth and professional.
Alas there were no Fat Rascals to be seen! Perhaps they might consider including a mini version in the afternoon tea selection of delicacies? Or they prefer these treats to be reserved solely for shop customers.
Like everything else at Bettys everything seemed to run so smoothly.
With a selection of over 13 different teas to try there is plenty of choice. We both decided on the Ceylon Blue Sapphire – smooth black tea, with blue cornflower petals reminiscent of Sri Lanka’s famous sapphires. But you can try as many teas as you want, which is excellent if you are a tea drinker.
By now the pianist was playing a selection of classical pieces, though I did wonder if she might accept requests. I had in mind one or two songs such as American Pie by Don McClean (maybe a choice for a later visit).
Our visit to Bettys in Harrogate was one of the best afternoon teas we have sampled – including the one at a 5-star hotel in London where the waiter stated that their scones were the best in the country – they weren’t. He needs to go to Bettys, and I would recommend it to you too.
Sadly, I did not win the lottery that Saturday evening, though we still felt we were on a winning curve having visited this legendary Yorkshire venue in Harrogate. It more than lived up to its reputation.
A loveable rascal indeed.