I feel quite at home at Bettys, a traditional café-tearoom and chocolate emporium in the north of England. This is because it’s rooted in Yorkshire (me too), but a part of its history is Swiss (mine too).
The story goes that, back in 1907, a young baker named Fritz Bützer set off from his native Switzerland to find work in Edwardian England. Arriving at Dover exhausted, seasick and with a sketchy command of English, he discovered he had lost the precious piece of paper with the name of the town where a job was promised.
All he could remember was that the name sounded something like “Bratwurst”, so he tried this out forlornly on a few passers-by. One of them came to the rescue, deduced that Bradford was his likely destination and put him on a train up to Yorkshire. Here the young Bützer found work in a chocolate shop owned by a fellow Swiss.
In due course the ambitious baker, by now also an accomplished chocolatier, realised the genteel spa town of Harrogate was more likely to deliver his dream than bustling, industrial Bradford. In 1919, as the country emerged from the First World War, he opened Bettys Café Tea Rooms in Harrogate. Sensing that a German-sounding name was likely to be a handicap, he changed his to Frederick Belmont.
Today Bettys is a household name and Harrogate remains the centre of operations. Easter is huge in the Bettys calendar, rivalling Christmas as its busiest time. Easter eggs don’t come much huger than this year’s Imperial in Bloom Egg (£250), which has conscious Fabergé connotations.
Made to order from more than 5kg of Swiss Grand Cru chocolate (in an enduring link with Switzerland, all Bettys’ couverture comes from the renowned chocolate specialist Felchlin) and standing 55cm high, it’s a very grown-up egg. The decoration is done by practised, white-gloved hands; blossoms, buds, bluebells, daisies, forget-me-nots and narcissi are piped in royal icing, with a few handcrafted butterflies and bees applied in a final flourish.
Less ambitious but no less delicious are the chocolate farmyard animals (from £4.95), ranging from saddleback pigs, laying hens, spotty rabbits and mini piglets to – my favourite – the Milk Chocolate Badger (£20) with his white and dark chocolate flashes.
Alongside the shop is the café, elegant and understated, warmly lit and buzzing with life. I love the beaming waitresses who make you feel right at home (though I fear that they may no longer be allowed to call you “love” or “pet”, as in the old days). Clad in crisp white aprons over broderie anglaise blouses, a cameo-esque brooch at the throat, they recite the day’s specials, notebooks poised in mid-air, and return later with plates of sandwiches or cake stands piled high with dainties and fancies.
They do lunch too – my favourite feast is a pair of local sausages from the Vale of York served with rösti (£13.50), followed by a properly decadent dark-chocolate torte (£4.50) and a small carafe of Aigle: Yorkshire meets Switzerland. One hundred years on, I’m sure Frederick would feel quite at home here. He’s not the only one.