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Balfours Tea Rooms in Rundle Street

The name Balfours has been associated with Adelaide for more than a century.

For many baby boomers the name conjours up a trip to ‘town’ with mum or grandma and a lunch in the tea rooms that remained a fixture in the city until 2004, although it had been sold by Balfours in the late 80s I believe.

It all began in 1856 when Scottish immigrant James Calder established a bakery and shop on Rundle Street, Adelaide, called the City Steam Biscuit Factory. He was joined shortly after by his nephew, John Balfour, in 1877 and the company eventually traded under the name Calder and Balfour.

Photo courtesy of San Remo Macaroni Company Pty Ltd Balfours Tea Rooms in Rundle Street. A favourite place to have lunch in the city when shopping

Photo courtesy of San Remo Macaroni Company Pty Ltd Balfours Tea Rooms in Rundle Street.
A favourite place to have lunch in the city when shopping

In the 1890s a new factory was built in Caldwell Street (off Carrington Street) but tea rooms remained in Rundle Street. Further expansion occurred in the early 20th century, seeing Balfours move to a new factory site, on the corner of Morphett and Franklin Streets.

Balfour’s son-in-law, Charles Wauchope, entered the business in the 1890s and later the company name became Balfour Wauchope Pty Ltd.

Balfours maintained this presence in the city until 2003 when manufacturing was moved to Dudley Park, a suburb in the inner north-west.

Photo from State Library of SA. The Balfour Wauchope Factory was a well know landmark in the city, on the corner of Franklin and Morphett Streets

Photo from State Library of SA. The Balfour Wauchope Factory was a well know landmark in the city, on the corner of Franklin and Morphett Streets

As a kid growing up I remember being taken to Balfour’s Tea Rooms for a treat when we’d been shopping or even for lunch. My recollection of the interior is pretty much as it is in the photo, but I think it later changed to laminex tables and chairs. In 1972 the shop was said to be the busiest in the southern hemisphere. I know that people still talk about Balfour’s Tea Rooms today and tell their children and grandchildren about it. 

One of our early posts on the ARW Facebook website had posters recalling their memories. Janet Randell recalled “It was such a big deal to go into ‘town’ to shop. Always dressed up and if we were good, went to Balfours for a frog cake! Talking 1950’s here”!

Barb Jamieson wrote “We lived in Broken Hill then, and Adelaide was our annual holiday destination . We always made the trip from Semaphore to the city at least once, and Balfours was always on our agenda. In those days you didn’t go to the city without your hat and gloves ,and your best outfit on , like Balfours , it was class all the way”.

Deborah Morgan reminisced; “Even as it got old and run down, there was still a very special feeling, a sense of the past. The uniforms worn by staff, always looked crisp and clean. Sliding in and out of the booths was tricky, but part of the vibe. There was also place in I think in Gawler Place that had similar decor’.

Many posters lamented the loss of so many of the places remembered as they were growing up in Adelaide in the 50s and the 60s, now nothing more than a distant memory.

 

A true South Australian icon, a Balfours Frog Cake

A true South Australian icon, a Balfours Frog Cake

Today, one of Balfours’ signature products is the frog cake. This cake is also recognised as a South Australian icon. Balfours introduced the frog cake in the 1920s when the tearooms were popular. The cake consists of a sponge cake square coated in jam (the frog’s body) topped with cream (the frog’s head) and enclosed with the fondant icing.

10 Responses to Balfours Tea Rooms in Rundle Street

  1. Tony September 15, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    I remember this well. We were an immigrant family in the early 50’s and a trip to Balfours was a real treat in what was for us fairly hard times.
    Tony

    • Justin June 22, 2015 at 7:15 pm #

      Still love a cold Balfours pie with sauce , makes my kids cringe . Very sad that most shops now sell the pies rock hard from over heating . The old sausage rolls were fantastic , not sure what was in the filling but they were fantastic . Please bring back the old sausage roll recipe . thanks Balfours

  2. Ian Kershaw September 15, 2014 at 9:19 am #

    Another great loss was Glover Gibbs who manufactured their excellent meat pies on the corner of Davis Street and Glynburn Road, Glynde. This in now the factory occupied by Robern Menz.

  3. Vivienne O'Neill September 16, 2014 at 12:11 am #

    My grandmother was probably the only person ever to be run over in Rundle Street by a cake trolley.

    I was recently going through some family papers, and found a letter to my grandmother from Balfours’ insurers, about an accident outside the Rundle Street tearooms. Whoever was trundling the trolley load of cakes across the footpath between a van and the shop obviously didn’t have a clear view, and knocked her down. She ended up with a broken arm, some compensation, and a story she dined out on for years. The experience didn’t put her against Balfours – she still bought us frog cakes for a treat.

  4. Geraldine McMillan April 21, 2015 at 8:34 am #

    I loved going into town with my mum in the early 1950 would go there for lunch on one occasion we came out after lunch & mum had a fork hanging off her coat sleeve cant remember if she took it back , does any one remember Rix bakery in Kingwilliam St it was on the corner of the lane that goes to Pancake kitchen

  5. Ralph Brew April 24, 2015 at 6:14 am #

    I am just slightly younger than baby boomers, but I recall that we almost never ate at the Balfours Tea Room, when we “went to town”, usually to get some new clothes, because it was always so FULL. Instead we used to go to the John Martins Buttery, up on the 2nd or top floor of Johnnies overlooking North Terrace. That was a wonderful institution too, dim, warm and mysterious. I preferred Balfours to Gibbs pies and pasties any day.

  6. Lucy May 14, 2015 at 1:28 pm #

    I don’t live in SA at the moment but I spend lots of time seeking Balfours products in the supermarkets so I can show my kids that there aren’t any donuts anywhere that come close. Unfortunately they’re not that easy to find 🙁 I often had lunch in the Rundle St/Mall cafe and wish it was still there. Does anyone remember the coconut donuts and the square almond powdery slices that were out of this world?

    • jeff January 20, 2017 at 3:23 pm #

      hey ; Lucy . COLES have Balfours pies in the freezer

  7. Mike from the NE suburbs April 11, 2016 at 4:48 pm #

    I can remember only ever eating in the Balfours tea house in Rundle street only once or twice in the early 70’s because it was always just too busy but I can remember eating in the Buttery in John Martins quite a lot in those years. For as a kid, me it was always a Gibbs pie over a Balfours pie (not these days though), but Balfours pasties were and actually still are probably the best, although Cowlies square pasties were pretty good when I was growing up in the 70’s back then as well. However the best thing from Balfours (even still to this day) is their custard tarts. This recipe has never been modified or lost over the years and really nothing has eve been able to preplace them either (sorry Mr Villi!)

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