I’m an exiled Yorkshire man and every so often I find myself in a pub with fellow exiles, after a few jars talk will inevitably return to The Homeland; from the changing fortunes of Leeds United to a walk through Wharfedale on a crisp winter day, where to find the best pint of Black Sheep Ale etc. During these drinking sessions I have witnessed grown men go misty eyed at the mention of Betty’s, a Proustian recollection of a Fat Rascal (like a rock cake but much better), a flush of lust for one of the pretty waitresses, even today trussed up like extra’s from Downton Abbey (in fact Ladies Snooty, Pouty and t’other one from Downton would definitely have gone to Betty’s – the first shop and tea room opened in Harrogate in 1919).
I went to Betty’s a couple of weeks ago, on a late Monday afternoon we sat in the main dining room, looking out on the Stray and the colours of mid-Autumn. It really is one of the great dining rooms in England.
Whenever I eat in the tea room I wonder whether Betty’s is really about the food or whether it’s the ambiance, the being there, the outlook because some of the dishes end up being a little confused – I had pumpkin ravioli in a sage butter with spinach and mushrooms, when I ordered the waitress asked whether I would like chips with it, gosh I know we are oooppp North but we don’t have to have chips with everything. The freshly made pasta was excellent and the filling perfect, the spinach and mushrooms were a little spurious to the dish and were over powered by the rich ravioli filling – I could quite easily have just had some more pasta! Also as my dish arrived the waitress asked whether I might like any chutney with it. Chutney? Really? Next time I think I will stick to Betty’s Yorkshire Rarebit which never fails to put a smile on my face.
The real craftsmanship and skill is on display in the bakery and shop where coming up to Christmas they have some of the most incredible looking festive food: exquisite cakes, pastries, biscuits, chocolates, Florentines, stolen, the list is endless! In short it is food porn.
Betty’s though now considered a Yorkshire institution was in fact started by a Swiss choclatier called Fredrick Belmont who arrived in Britain speaking almost no English – the company is still in the family today, run by the great nephew of Fredrick Belmont, Jonathan Wild and his wife Lesley. Long may it continue!