High Tea is a light meal in the late afternoon. This custom, which began in the UK in the mid-1800s, soon spread to Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand and other countries that were once under British Rule.
When we ventured 200 miles north of London a few weeks ago by train, we chose Betty’s Café Tea Room in York for a spot of High Tea. It was the perfect escape from the bitterly cold weather in this ancient, walled town. There’s a second venue in York, Little Betty’s, about a block away. Both often have long lines of patrons anxious for a seat or to buy a pastry or other treat to go.
We’ve enjoyed High Tea in Victoria, BC and San Francisco. But Betty’s was better. It’s an easy choice to order Betty’s Traditional Afternoon Tea, including a pot of Tea Room Blend Tea; finger sandwiches with a choice of two of the following fillings: Smoked Salmon, Roast Ham, Roast Chicken or Egg Mayonnaise; a Sultana Scone, strawberry preserve and Yorkshire clotted cream; and a selection of miniature cakes for a very reasonably priced £14.95. This is served in a tiered stand for maximum appetite appeal and minimum table space.
Or you can peruse the eight-page menu and wrestle over what to choose: English Breakfast, Swiss Rosti (grated potato, Swiss Gruyere Cheese and Cream, then fried until golden), Continental Specialties, Sandwiches, Pastries, Salads, Desserts, Milk Shakes, Teas, Coffees, Wines, Aperitifs, Beers, and much more. We saw a group of Japanese tourists drinking Milk Shakes and Sandwiches.
Betty’s first opened the doors of its first restaurant in 1919. Swiss founder, Frederick Belmont, had sailed on the Queen Mary and was so stricken with the tradition of High Tea, that he visualised customers greeted with a mouth-watering array of delicious Yorkshire and Continental confections in a bakery/restaurant, adjoined by an elegant Café Tea Room offering teas and meals.
Today, 80 years later, Betty’s is so popular that it welcomes more than 1 million visitors annually to its six locations scattered throughout the British countryside, from York (two locations), two in the nearby spa town of Harrogate, plus one each in Northallerton and Ilkley. We were told that even the owners have to wait in line. We did, and it moved quite quickly so we were seated within five minutes, even in the dead of winter.
If you’re anywhere near a Betty’s, make a booking for High Tea. Otherwise, order some of their specialties online.
Betty’s Café Tea Room
A: 6-8 St. Helen’s Square, York, YO1 8QP