Food & drink

A foodie’s day out in... ILKLEY

Known as “The Gateway to the Dales”, Ilkley in West Yorkshire teeters on the edge of some of the most spectacular countryside in Britain.
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Known as “The Gateway to the Dales”, Ilkley in West Yorkshire teeters on the edge of some of the most spectacular countryside in Britain. Its iconic Cow and Calf rocks, perched precariously on the heathery moors above, provide the perfect viewpoint not just of the breathtaking scenery, but the town itself. Here, tea in hand, looking over its tumble of fine Victorian villas, houses and hotels, it’s clear how much of Ilkley’s character was formed during its full bloom as a nineteenth-century spa. This was where the wealthy – and later the working classes – came in droves for rest and recuperation. Here they let their hair down, healed body and mind and struck up rousing ballads about losing your hat. Indeed, Ilkley’s reputation precedes it thanks to that famous Yorkshire anthem: On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at. Although no longer a health resort, Ilkley remains prosperous. It’s not for nothing that the town is nicknamed “The Chelsea of The North”. Yet while Ilkley has always had classic restaurants and tearooms, it’s hardly been a scene for the culinary adventurer. That’s changed with an influx of great producers and places to eat and drink in recent years. Today the town has a reputation as one of the best foodie spots in the UK. Here the natural larder of Yorkshire comes to your table, from Dales lamb and local cheeses to craft brews, artisan gins and the best brownies this side of Boston.

09:00AM - Bettys

Bettys café and tearoom is a Yorkshire institution for good reason and no visit to the handful of places where you can find them is complete without a cup of their famous tea or coffee. With fine silver service and staff in smart Edwardian-style dress, they feel like the quintessential British tearoom, which is funny when you consider they were actually started by Swiss entrepreneur Fritz Bützer in 1919. The classic afternoon tea here (with “Fat Rascal” scone) is a winner but, being early, I opt for a breakfast that celebrates the Anglo-Swiss heritage. This features a perfect rosti – a hearty shredded potato pancake – piled high with the bacon, poached eggs, tomato and mushrooms. I wash it down with a cup of their malty breakfast blend, poured from a gleaming silver tea service. Bettys popularity means that you’ll always find a queue stretching out the door. Ornate glass windows frame the hustle and bustle outside, making it a people-watcher’s paradise. Small wonder that it is Alan Bennett’s favourite place for a cuppa. Fortified, I grab a couple of fondant fancies and head out in search of less well-charted territory.


11:00AM - Love Brownies

After a lovely amble around Ilkley’s Victorian streets and amply-stocked charity shops, it’s time for another tea stop. Brownies have become ubiquitous in recent years. And while opinion is divided on just the right ratio of moisture-to-crispness, most agree that the dry, days-old specimens you find in most big-brand coffee shops don’t do the job. Enter Love Brownies and head baker, Chantal Teal, who left behind a career as an international chef to open up shop here in 2010. Her talent is paired with a strong commitment to local ingredients with almost everything – bar the cocoa – coming from trusted Ilkley suppliers. And what an array of enticing flavours, from classic chocolate to more exotic coconut or Morello cherry. But what really matters is the divine taste and texture, with just a hint of crumble and crunch giving way to a perfectly judged fudge-like interior. 

13:00PM - The Box Tree

Like Bettys, The Box Tree is another landmark Ilkley name that resonates far beyond the borders of the county. The picture-postcard sandstone cottage dates back to the 1720s but The Box Tree has been welcoming diners through its doors since 1962. It was one of the first restaurants to win two Michelin stars as far back as 1977. Current operators Simon and Rena Gueller have been here since 2004 and Rena welcomes me at my table. There’s a real sense of integrity to the offer here; food and ambience both balance classic and modern. Rena puts her finger on it: “There’s a sense of responsibility to what we do.” She says. “People know The Box Tree, some have been coming for 50 years. We’re very proud of that. Keeping them happy, as well as the next generation, is very important to us”. And they manage this admirably, with service just the right side or formal and wonderful, creative cooking that marries British produce with modern French techniques. A succulent, perfectly cooked pigeon breast with colourful heritage beetroots and potato purée particularly stands out, likewise the breathtakingly fluffy soufflé for dessert. I manage to resist the amply laden tray of chocolates, but it’s tough.

15:00PM - Fuggle & Golding

As the hop-inspired name suggests, this is a quirky bottle shop specialising in beer. Owner, Mark, took over here just over a year ago, and he’s doing a fine job of supplying Ilkley with the best of British brews and a good few bottles from further afield too. Key has been installing a set of taps at the counter and keeping cutting-edge craft ales on rotation. People stop for a snifter while they shop and there’s a lively crowd of devotees at the weekends. On my visit the conversation is animated around a shared love of beer. Several locals excitedly compare their purchases. I try a cheeky half pint of Verdant’s tangy Pulp – a sought after double IPA from Cornwall. Then the chat turns to nearby brews, and they don’t come much more local than Ilkley Brewery, one of Mark’s biggest sellers that is only a five-minute walk down the road.

Fuggle and Golding

16:00PM - Ilkley Brewery

Ilkley brewery is a runaway success story with a raft of beers known and admired UK-wide. They balance crowd-pleasing classics like Mary Jane, an honest session pale named after the love interest in the folk song On Ilkla Moor Baht ’at, to creative numbers like pineapple pales and spicy chocolate chipotle stouts. The brewery holds occasional events with tours, but day-to-day it’s just a lovely place to go have a chat with the team and pick up a few of their more interesting brews straight from source. I do exactly that, leaving with a few choice bottles and cans including a new one, Hendrix, which celebrates when Jimi himself played a gig in the town. But that’s another story.


16:45PM - Lishman’s

En route back to town I make a pit stop at the butcher's. Not an obvious choice, perhaps, but this isn’t any old butcher's. David Lishman’s is well known to Yorkshire folk, reputedly a favourite of Princess Anne, and recent winner of “Best Butcher's Shop in the UK”. Meat is, of course, king. Had I the carrying space I’d be leaving with armfuls of its Dales lamb and Lishman’s own charcuterie. Today though, I make do with a sausage roll, which is also deservedly multi-award winning. Scoffing it with a final cup of Yorkshire Tea, I watch a flow of customers chatting merrily with the staff, making orders and having things sliced and diced. It feels at once like a throwback to an earlier time and comfortably modern, much like Ilkley itself.

17:30PM - The Gin Lounge

I arrive just as the staff are setting up. They are easy to spot, dressed in full Edwardian costume. Today that’s braces and flat caps, but at weekends it’s frilly dresses and suits. The interior tells the same story, a lovingly reconstructed period place which wouldn’t look out of place on a TV set. The clue is in the name; it’s all about the gin. And, after a quick chat over the bar, they whip me up a spicy and slightly savoury gin and tonic using Edgerton Blue Gin, garnished with fresh chilli and coriander. It’s a great palette cleanser before the final stop of the day.

19:30PM - Friends of Ham

The vast, lettered windows at Friends of Ham glow irresistibly as the light fades above the moors. This Ilkley outpost of the Leeds temple to charcuterie and beer sits up a side street in the old Ilkley Gazette offices and oozes atmosphere: stripped wood, cladding frames, candlelit tables, an enticing charcuterie counter and a large bar well-stocked with beers, wines and sherries. It feels like the kind of place you could settle in and graze for hours. Taking a cushioned bench, I plump for a pleasant tasting plate of cheeses and meats. Everything is carefully selected and, should you want it, comes with a story. I try Finocchiona from Tuscan butcher Carlo Pieri, a man who takes animal welfare to such extremes he personally accompanies all his pigs to the end, ensuring as stress-free lives as possible. Apparently, this is not only ethical but improves the flavour. I partner it with a resinous, hazy, tropical IPA from mysterious nomadic brewers Velvet Owl. Fortunately, it’s a short stroll across the road back to the station. Fully satiated as the train pulls away, I imagine the many other visitors that must have shared a similar sensation when leaving here over the last 150 years. And after what I’ve tried and tasted today, I feel sure many more will feel the same for many years to come.

friends of HAM


Best Western Plus Craiglands Hotel – Cowpasture Road, Ilkley, LS29 8RQ

A classic Victorian hydrotherapy hotel close to the moor in landscaped grounds with smart rooms, terraces, restaurant and log fires.

Bettys – | Love Brownies – | Box Tree – | Fuggle & Golding – | Ilkley Brewery –

Lishman’s – | The Gin Lounge – | Friends of Ham –

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