Meandering through the streets on an overcrowded, under ventilated bus, I had little to entertain me other than the sight of the bustling Roman pavements and the echoes of a silly Englishman’s feeble attempts at insightful conversation. “I suppose this is the Roman equivalent of Derby Road” he slurred at his disinterested son in a familiar Midland accent. I couldn’t help but smile as I mentally questioned his preposterous comparison of a magnificent Roman boulevard to a rather nondescript road in Nottingham. Why, I thought to myself, do we seek to compare so much in life to something else? I can only put it down to the human race’s need to establish familiarity, understanding, safety.
Rarely do we stumble across something in this world that is incomparable, something that stands alone, a bastion of independence, refusing to submit to a genre, category or label. When I booked my plane ticket to Rome, I had little idea this would be the city in which I stumbled across my ‘something’: Babington’s.
I love a rustic building. I like to think every flake, crack and groove has its own story to tell, and Babington’s is no exception. Founded in 1893 by two Englishwomen (Isabel Cargill and Anne Marie Babington), the 18th century building has survived two world wars, various economic crises and the rise and rise again of Silvio Berlusconi (but the less said about him the better). Sitting pretty on the corner of the infamous ‘Spanish Steps’, its prestigious location indicates its worth in the tea world. But despite the droves of tourists that pass its doors each day, inside it remains peaceful, refined, dare I say undiscovered. At least that’s how it felt as we were greeted by one of the charming waitresses, sporting an equally charming uniform.
Sitting down, my excitement reached dangerous levels. Little did I know this excitement would be momentarily quashed by the arrival of the menu. Why? Not because the teas lacked oomph, nor because the choices were few and far between. In fact, it was quite the opposite: there were too many. Rows upon rows of teas, equally endearing, equally tantalising. The majestic tones of Babington’s Royal Blend (developed for HRH Queen Elizabeth II) resounded in my mind, but how could I refuse the allure of Moroccan Secret or the force of Jasmine Dragon Phoenix? An eyeful of the cake menu left me wanting a mouthful of them all! This was a crisis. And thank God a solution was found.
This solution was Afternoon High Tea for Two. At 30 euros, it’s an expensive but nonetheless unparalleled array of miniature scones with clotted cream, strawberry jam and a generous pot of Darjeeling. Of course, I couldn’t resist taking a picture or three…
The magic of Babington’s lies in their gift for attention to detail. ‘Average’ has been deleted from their vocabulary, nor should it ever be employed when describing this elegant establishment. The scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam oozed fine quality; they were so devilishly moreish that only being provided with two per person seemed rather cruel (but no doubt a Godsend for the waistline). The Darjeeling was the fullest, most delicious I’ve ever had the fortune of tasting, my cupful count must have reached at least 7 (even my boyfriend, a renowned tea hater, had 2 cups).
So, scones, tea, what else? What is so endearing and distinctive about this tea room? Their signature teapot, of course. Sterling silver, classical curves, I couldn’t help but find our (rather large) teapot bewitching. A cat lover, my nerdy fascination became stratospheric at the sight of the miniature silver cat sitting patiently, sternly and majestically on the lid. Of course I quickly came crashing down to Earth as I stared in bewilderment at the 210 euro price tag…
Staring out of the window of my London flat, I’ve come to the conclusion that my hour within those four walls was one of the best I spent in Rome. I could almost feel Isabel and Anne Marie’s presence: their 19th century stamp glows for all to see. I only wish I’d tried that Royal Blend, that Moroccan Secret, that Jasmine Dragon Phoenix. But I suppose at least I have a reason to return to Babington’s, my Babylon.