Since 1893, Rome has boasted a traditional and very elegant English tea room. Stepping inside Babingtons with the promise of tea, cake and scones, you have to remind yourself that you’re not in England, but instead sitting in the very fashionable Piazza di Spagna in the heart of the Italian Capital. Babingtons Tea Rooms is located on the ground floor of an 18th-century building right next door to the Spanish Steps.
The history of Babingtons is a wonderful story that would make a wonderful film and evokes images similar to ‘Downton Abbey’. When two English women, (one who had recently been left at the altar on her wedding day) Anna Maria Babington and Isabel Cargill, arrived in Rome they had one hundred pounds. They decided to start a business which would benefit the thriving English community living in the Eternal City. Before Babingtons Tea Rooms opened, tea could only be bought at pharmacies. Anna Maria created an intimate and private location where tea could be enjoyed, newspapers could be read and importantly, also a place which provided bathroom facilities!
Isabel met and married Giuseppe da Pozzo, an artist who is responsible for the portraits of Anna Maria & Isabel still hanging in the tea rooms. Isabel gave birth to Dorothy, who would eventually be responsible for the running of Babingtons after the second world war. It was during the first world war though and the depression that followed that Babingtons risked closing. Thanks to the determination and tenacity of the staff, the tea rooms survived. Anna Maria meanwhile had moved to Switzerland for some much needed rest and relaxation but died in 1929 of a sudden heart attack.
Dorothy helped with the daily management of Babingtons and business once again began to thrive during the 1930’s. With the rise of Fascism, Babingtons became very popular with high-ranking members of the regime. While they were served tea and scones in the front room, the anti-fascist intelligentsia would meet in the back room. This allowed them easy access to an escape route through the kitchen!
Isabel died in 1944 in Northern Italy. Dorothy, her four children and Isabel had fled to the North after the outbreak of the second world war in 1941. Dorothy returned to Rome not knowing how and if indeed the Tea Rooms had survived but she must have been shocked to discover that not only was it still open, but it had survived thanks to her faithful and loyal staff. The three women had been opening Babington’s every day, walking from home and using their personal war rations to create recipes for Babingtons clientele.
Today Babingtons Tea Rooms is managed by Isabel’s great-grandchildren, Rory Bruce and his cousin Chiara Bedini. Babingtons is open every day from 10:00am – 9:15pm. The Babingtons website boasts “Tea is our passion and dining our speciality. From elegant afternoon teas, light lunches, snacks and salads to indulgent ice creams and the finest aperitifs, excellent refreshment is never far away, all enjoyed from one of Rome’s most historic landmarks.” I will confess that when I know I’m going to visit Babingtons, I get so excited thinking about their delicate English sandwiches, scones, pavlova and cupcakes that I almost forget to get excited about their incredible tea selection. Choose from either their unique ‘Babingtons Blends’, the vast selection of Teas from The World, or the Herbal Teas.
Rome can certainly get hot in the summer, and this week temperatures are already in the 30’s. (celcius). Aperitivi are an incredibly popular way to enjoy early summer evenings in Rome and at Babingtons you can now combine a refreshing cocktail with a Victorian High Tea! Tea hasn’t been forgotten though, in fact Tea is the protagonist as it becomes the vital ingredient for their cocktails. Babingtons says, “Tea harmoniously enhances the flavours of each and every dish, whether savoury or sweet. Tea follows the food, accompanies a conversation and strengthens friendships…beyond all cultures, time and age.”
I was privileged to be invited to enjoy Babingtons Victorian Happy Hour with Rory Bruce and I was fascinated by the stories he told of his ancestors and the remarkable history that is Babingtons Tea Rooms. I arrived promptly on time, well… a little early actually and tried to hide my excitement. I love a traditional English afternoon tea, and with the addition of cocktails I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed.
The choice of two tea based cocktails or iced teas are included as you enjoy savoury cupcakes, hot scones, delicate finger sandwiches, mignon cakes and pastries and mini Pavlova.
Babingtons Victorian Happy Hour is available every Wednesday from 6:30pm to 9:00 pm, through to the end of July. The cost is 23 euros.
Don’t be mistaken in thinking you’ll need dinner afterwards, Babingtons Victorian Happy Hour is your dinner alternative!
It was when I incredulously realised that is was 9:00pm that it dawned on me how comforting the whole experience is at Babingtons Tea Rooms. It is indeed a Roman institution, but for me it was the nostalgia of enjoying foods and flavours from my childhood that made the whole experience particularly special, and it’s easy to see why Babingtons has always been such a wonderful place and will no doubt continue to be uniquely special for many years to come!
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the Tabby Cat logo, it was Dorothy’s son Valerio who designed it. Until health and safety regulations intervened, there had always been a resident cat (Mascherino) in the Tea Room.