Last week Mum and I went on a little mini-break up to York. I honestly can’t believe I’ve reached the age of 29 without ever visiting this beautiful city, and I’m so glad I finally managed to arrange a trip to explore it.
It is such a picturesque location, with a really lovely mix of city life combined with traditional English shops, historic architecture and an almost homely feel. A touristic hotspot in the north of England, one of the main attractions for locals and visitors alike is the famous eatery, Bettys Tea Rooms.
There are six Bettys in the nearby surroundings, notably Harrogate, Harlow Carr, Stonegate, Northallerton, Ilkley and, of course, York. I’m a real lover of afternoon tea, and always have been, even as a child. Although vegan afternoon tea requires a little more creativity and alternative ingredients than a traditional version, I’m thrilled to say that more and more places are offering plant-based options for those looking to indulge in an afternoon of decadence.
There’s also a lovely shop where you can buy tea, coffee and souvenirs – all beautifully packaged and presented.
I reached out to Bettys as I had heard they could put together vegan options on request, and I was very excited when I was kindly invited to try out their vegan afternoon tea. Oh, and before you ask, no I haven’t forgotten my grammar. The Bettys brand actually hasn’t used the possessive apostrophe for about 50 years, it is thought because it looked better without one – “more distinctive and less messy”.
Whatever your dietary choices, there is no doubt that Bettys is quite simply an enchanting and characterful place to spend an afternoon. It will come as no surprise that there is often heavy queuing outside, running the length of the building, full of hungry customers, patiently waiting to enjoy their own Bettys experience.
Situated in the centre of York, in the very pretty area of St Helen’s Square, Mum and I arrived to find a fairly quick-moving queue. I believe we only had to wait for about 10-15 minutes until we were seated, so we were very lucky, especially as we arrived just after 1pm.
We were greeted at the entrance of the Café Tea Rooms, and were told that they were expecting us for the vegan afternoon tea and we would be seated as soon as possible. I loved this. Even now, I’m always a little nervous when dining somewhere new and non-vegan in case they weren’t ready for me, not quite sure about vegan-friendly food, or that I have to awkwardly explain that I’m vegan and what I eat and don’t eat. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, so it’s great to have peace of mind knowing that everything is taken care of.
My first impressions of the interior of Bettys, was that it was like stepping back in time, in an authentic way, with a very traditional feel. With an Art Deco interior inspired by the Queen Mary ocean liner, Bettys York has been serving up old fashioned elegance since 1936, and the inside is a testament to its history.
You can sit upstairs, with a view out onto the square, or downstairs in a cosy, softly lit dining room of fair size. We headed to our table downstairs, and were welcomed by our waitress for the afternoon, who was wonderfully friendly, and assured me that they were aware that I was going to be having a vegan afternoon tea before I had chance to say so myself! Again, it was much appreciated, and ensured that a relaxing hour lay ahead.
The afternoon tea comes with a pot of Bettys house blend tea. You may choose to have a different variety (there are lots of teas to pick from!), and whilst I was tempted to opt for the jasmine tea (always my favourite) I wanted to try out the recommended accompaniment, so decided to stick with the house blend.
I was offered a choice of soya milk or lemon to go with my tea, and I plumped for lemon. Recently I’ve really been enjoying (English) tea with a slice or two of lemon, ever since my Eurostar Premier experience (which you can read about here).
As there is not a standard vegan option for afternoon tea on the menu, I was really impressed with the effort that went into accommodating me. I understand that with vegan, plant-based and flexitarian eating becoming more and more popular, there is a real push for restaurants and eateries to cater to those with non-standard requirements. And whilst there may be other places that offer a dedicated and structured vegan menu, the fact that such a traditional and famous place will happily put together a vegan option upon request is fantastic. Especially as it allows visitors to enjoy the experience and soak up the atmosphere, whatever their dietary needs.
For my vegan afternoon tea, I would be enjoying a selection of vegan sandwiches followed by two homemade pikelets and jam, finishing with a fruit salad.
Mum opted for the traditional afternoon tea, and I must also note that there are also vegetarian and gluten-free options available too, which is great to see.
I love the ceremony that surrounds something pleasurable, whether it be making a lovely pot of my favourite tea, or running a luxurious bath surrounded by my top products and candles; there’s something very special in those extra additional touches to an experience. At Bettys, I found that the tea service offered the same ceremony that I try and implement in my lifestyle. From the delicate tea cups, to the silver tea strainer that allowed us to pour our drink without leaves, the few minutes before our food arrived were filled with a calm satisfaction.
As you can see, the food was presented on a very chic afternoon tea stand. The pikelets needed to be served warm, so the sandwiches and fruit were set in place initially, with the pikelets brought out after my first course.
The sandwiches were delicious, and a real treat to enjoy typically English afternoon tea fayre. I loved how a vegan spread was included, which was a pleasant surprise as I wasn’t expecting it. The fillings were avocado and tomato, Mediterranean-style sweet red pepper, red onion, tomato and, of course, cucumber!
I definitely am more on the savoury side when it comes to food, although I do enjoy sweet treats as well, so these sandwiches were perfect for my palate!
The pikelets arrived swiftly, and this was actually my first time eating them – can you believe it? They reminded me of a lighter, flatter version of crumpets, and went perfectly with the strawberry jam that accompanied them. I can also imagine they would be super tasty with some vegan cream or hard cheese too!
Finally, it was time to move on to the fruit salad. Now, unsurprisingly, I eat a lot of fruit, but rarely take time to prepare a proper salad mix of my favourite fruits (I know, it’s bad, but what can I say? #entrepreneurlife).
Firstly, can we just admire the bowl that the fruit was presented in? Understated chic, and a very glamourous way of getting your 5 a day! With grapes, clementine and strawberries, the fruit was flavoursome, ripe and seasonal – perfect!
My closing comments from our time at Bettys, was that not only was it a fantastic experience to enjoy an afternoon in such a famous setting, it was a pleasure to do so knowing that they are able to cater to vegan requests. Although it is one of the places to visit in York and you will undoubtedly need to queue for a short while, we didn’t feel rushed at all once seated. We were able to take our time, enjoy our food, and leave at our leisure, which I think is really important when dining somewhere special. The service was excellent, friendly yet professional and we were made to feel so welcome, right from the beginning.
A huge thank you to Bettys for hosting us, and I look forward to visiting again in the future.
For more information on Bettys Tea Rooms, visit their website here.