York is a northern medieval city with a wealth of cultural and historical attractions that has managed to preserve much of its pre-industrial charm. Visitors love the 13th-century walls and the winding narrow streets and they flock in numbers to see York Minster, one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in the world. This tourist-friendly city carefully preserves the traditional pubs, cafés, museums and restaurants that keep the tourists coming. Alongside this heritage, a new wave of lively youthful eateries and restaurants are rising to take their place in a city some believe is the true “capital of the north”. York offers some the best afternoon tea experiences in England at a range of establishments from humble tea rooms to grand halls and fresh new gastropubs, there is no shortage of options for those who seek to indulge.
Betty’s Café Tea Rooms
Betty’s is a much decorated tea room chain with a number of outlets around York, all of them recipients of the Tea Guild’s award of excellence. You can’t go wrong with afternoon tea at the flagship outlet on St Helen’s square. Betty’s York has been open since1937 and you’ll see a long queue of people waiting to try the selection of handmade cakes from Betty’s Craft Bakery, accompanied by the café pianist. Luckily they take reservations for the Art-Deco Belmont Room where you are magically transported to an age of traditional elegance and sophistication with wooden panelled walls, huge windows and beautiful white tablecloths. Your celebration tea starts with a glass of champagne and your choice of teas to accompany a delightful array of sandwiches followed by two mini scones with jam and cream. The silver cake stand is crammed with the finest cakes and choosing a favourite among the likes of a decadent chocolate financier, or a light berry meringue is almost impossible. Not to mention the chocolate orange sponge, walnut cake and raspberry tart. As someone once said, comparisons are odious, but we can assure you that afternoon tea at Betty’s is beyond compare.
Cedar Court Grand
Built in 1906 as the headquarters for North Eastern Railways, The Cedar Court Grand is York’s first five-star hotel and it evokes the golden age of travel with sweeping staircases, mosaic-tiled corridors and luxurious décor. Afternoon Tea at The Grand is served in the beautifully decorated HQ Restaurant, offering outstanding views of York’s historical wonders. The relaxing atmosphere, coupled with the unobtrusive service combine to provide an unforgettable experience. There is a wide selection of teas and treats to choose from, including a children’s menu, a champagne tea, the sparkling afternoon tea (served with prosecco) and a gin and tonic enhanced version that features a gin and tonic cocktail served in a Hendricks tea set. If you stick to the traditional menu you will enjoy delicious sandwiches beautifully presented on a range of breads. Two mini scones are served with Masham clotted cream, and a selection of seasonal jams. The cakes include a rhubarb and custard cone, a dark chocolate delice, a tea loaf and a lovely lemon cupcake with vanilla icing.
The Black Swan
The Black Swan’s tearoom ( in Helmsley, just 20 miles west of York ) has won awards of excellence from the Tea Guild every year since 2009. The hotel receives visitors from all over the world, drawn by its charm and architectural history as well as the reputation of its restaurant, The Gallery. The Black Swan offers a fabulous quintessentially English afternoon tea served in their tea room, the hotel lounge or the Cygnet Bar. In summer it is served in a delightful walled garden. In addition to the traditional Afternoon Tea menu, which changes seasonally making best use of the fresh, local produce available, the Black Swan boasts a fine selection of over 20 teas and a good selection of coffees as well. Their tea is served on a lovely three tier cake stand and includes rolls as well as sandwiches and their freshly baked fruit scones come with butter, strawberry conserve and clotted cream. The mouth watering cake selection includes such delights as a chocolate layer cake, strawberry macaroons, a passion fruit and lemon posset with raspberries, and gooey banoffee tart.
If you fancy a fine afternoon tea in a hidden gem right next to the York Minster, then head to Grays Court – a small luxury hotel hidden behind heavy gates on a charming cobbled street. The elegant mansion has grand formal rooms, a long gallery where Kings once dined, rare Gyles painted glass, leaded windows, thick wooden doors and limestone fireplaces. It is steeped in history – and the oak floors, panelled walls and winding staircase all have stories to tell. Afternoon tea is served in a parlour stuffed with classic and modern literature, and comfy sofas, or – weather permitting – at a table set up on the lawns of the charming walled garden. Their traditional English afternoon tea is made up of dainty sandwiches, scones, cake and pastries to be enjoyed to strains of classical music. Service can be elusive, but that gives you a lovely sense of seclusion. When they do appear the staff are exceptionally helpful and display excellent knowledge of their different blends of loose teas. This is a unique and lovely afternoon tea that is crowned by the delicious and very original home made cakes and desserts on offer.
Middlethorpe Hall is a William and Mary country house, less than ten minutes outside of York, that has been lovingly restored by Historic House Hotels. This red brick mansion boasts luxurious accommodation and a variety of grand, historic public rooms, looking out over the sweeping lawns and parkland, where a great afternoon tea can be enjoyed. The panelled dining rooms, library and elegant drawing room are decorated with antiques and 17th century art and your tea is served here, or on sunny days, on the lovely terrace, The hall was once home to a family of confectioners so you can expect fine chocolatey treats as part of the afternoon tea menu. The traditional tea features a good selection of leaf teas by Taylors of Harrogate and finger sandwiches with traditional afternoon tea fillings. Home made scones are served with clotted cream and strawberry preserve and a rich traditional fruit cake accompanies a seasonal selection of home-made biscuits, pastries and desserts. For special celebrations you can add a glass of champagne or something stronger.