It feels these days as if every time I venture into the West End I will pass a raft of unfamiliar shiny expensive shops and restaurants and then stumble upon one last holdout from the London that I grew up with. “How on earth has it survived,” I’ll think. And then a week later, I’ll find out on Twitter that it hasn’t.
So it is with Soho’s Stockpot, the cheap and cheerful bistro on Old Compton Street that was more than a cafe but wasn’t quite a restaurant. This closes on Sunday after decades of serving starving Soho dilettantes.
I started coming here in my early 20s. It was the first time I felt like a proper grown-up because I wasn’t simply eating at Burger King. It was utterly, ineffably London, as if they had distilled the very essence of the city and mixed it into the gravy that they poured liberally over the liver and bacon.
The Stockpot was somewhere you could come at any time, though I was usually there around 6pm before a night out, lining my stomach with cheap carbs before a gig or evening in the local pubs. It was one of the few places where you could order something like gammon and chips, and could be sure of getting a hot main course for under a fiver, which even then was something of a bargain.
I often ate there alone, with a book and tumbler of cheap red, feeling mildly bohemian, imagining that I was parking my posterior on wooden benches that had once seated some of Soho’s finest writers, artists, poets, wits and wasters. It felt that a torch was being carried. There was a sense of continuum, of being a tiny part of a magnificent city where progress and tradition could go hand in hand.
I loved so much about the Stockpot. I loved the simplicity of its frontage. I loved the way people sat close together, knee to knee, as the waiting staff stuffed another customer into every available space. I loved the menus, handwritten daily but always the same. I loved the ancient brass till that looked like a Victorian musical instrument. I loved the theatrical paraphernalia and overheard conversations of people that seemed like actors and artists but were probably receptionists in a nearby film production company as they gossiped about friends. I really loved the prices. I even loved the food, which was tasty, hearty and filling, precisely what was required before a night exploring Soho’s familiar haunts.
Once you’d eaten at The Stockpot, you felt ready for anything, and that the intoxicating adventure that was a young man’s night out in London was already underway.
Oh no. Actually, I didn’t know there were any Stockpots left. I used to use the one in Panton Street. Curried eggs followed by jelly and cream usually. Yum. Went into Gaby’s the other day, still hanging in there.
But you have captured the essence of The Stockpot perfectly.
There one on the Kings Road. Still open. Still packed. Still cheap. Thank god; 0)
I’m so glad to hear that. It was the one I went to most of the time. Can’t do so know as I’m living in Crete!
Live in Nottingham now, but every time I go to London I have to eat at the Stockpot across the road from Lightfoot Halls, and Chelsea School of Pharmacy……Happy Days…may it never close its doors!
In 1991, I invited the buyer’s clerk from the Harrods shop department to the SP branch near the Harrods staff entrance. The sun was shining, she was beautiful…………..she wasn’t interested but who cares, happy days. R
For me it was often the place to go to feed a hangover on the way to an afternoon at the cinema.
But, did you keep going? I stopped years ago. Just got out of the habit. Now I feel guilty and a sad at the demise of another small sliver of my long gone youth. London can be a cruel place sometimes.
Whenever somewhere like this closes why does everyone assume it’s closing because it’s failing as a business? – Forced out by “soulless chain” restaurants and high rates… The article itself says it’s closing after “decades of serving” – perhaps the owners want to retire and don’t have children who want to take over? Perhaps they got an offer they couldn’t refuse and have sold out to set up elsewhere, or try something new??
Whilst sad from a nostalgia point of view perhaps if it is failing, as a previous comment says perhaps you should have kept visiting it or perhaps it simply just wasn’t as good as it used to be.
The sadness is also that an institution I cherished will not be there for other people to enjoy. That sense of continuity is crucial to London but is being eradicated for many reasons, with the cost of land usually at the heart of it.
The owner does have children! But I dont know if they would like to keep!
Oh, man, sadness. Mind you, the last couple of times I ate there the food was really not good (that made me sad, too, because I knew it would mean people would stop going).
Nonsense, the food was the same as it ever was. Maybe it’s you that’s changed and that’s not an insult.
very sad news indeed! Stockpot is a big part of who Soho is!
I’ve just found out the reason it’s closing is that the owner is retiring at the age of 70. I will miss it a lot and certainly will eat there over the weekend.
I wish the owner a happy retirement, through my tears.
Reblogged this on The Orkney Vole and commented:
When I was but an adolescent Vole and visiting my relations, the London Voelles, keen and adventurous, I would go in to the Stockpot (not the one on the stove) all sleekit and bristling for adventures. And no never, no more!
As a young man working in Dean Street in the late 70’s it was almost considered exotic. Knee to knee, cheek by jowl, ham, egg and chips, pie and chips. Hustle, bustle, sharp elbows and a 40 min in-out with a post scoff fag with enough time for a sharpener in the Crown & Two before returning to work. Bruno sandwich bar still feels like home
Loved the Stockpot in Panton Street – loved what they called risotto with chips, peas and carrots – and my friend used to have the curried eggs – but that was 40 years ago – I remember other restaurants that are not there any more too, in Panton Street – the Three Lanterns where you old get curry rice chips and peas and vegetables on an oval platter or a lovely roast also on an oval platter – then there was the Egg and I round the corner in the Haymarket whee they served the best lasagne I have ever tasted – all of which were really reasonable – the good old days
I loved The Three Lanterns! A friend & I used to eat there about once a week between our art history class at the Tate & whatever concert or theatrical performance we had tickets to that evening. This was back in 1979 when we were college students. I remember getting ravioli that was served with chips, which was a strange combination for us Americans, but the food was tasty, filling, & inexpensive, so that was fine!
There were three Stockpots in Earl’s Court in the sixties which served cheap and cheerful meals to me and a host of Colonials but I don’t know if they were connected with the others mentioned.
Earl’s Court was the first and original one , open to serve army veterans. Then the owner opened few other and sold them to various people. His wife used to run Basil street one, after he passed away, until it closed many years ago . Great place , great food, great people
Discussing our recent upmarket restaurant meal in Sydney (2017 October) with my partner I complained that everything these days seems so over-engineered. I said the best meal I remember having in my 76 years was in 1963 at the Stockpot in Earls Court, London. As a newly arrived visitor from Sydney in March we queued up the street in the sleet for a very cheap but marvellous meal of some sort of stockpot followed by, I think, apple crumble with sultanas and real cream. Basic, delicious and unforgettable, even after 54 years! Needless to say, we ate there often.
Gutted. Felt like 20th Century Soho. I’ve had so much of the menu because it was affordable, you had cutlery, vegetables, condiments, pudding. A proper meal. Used to go to both Stockpots in Panton Street and Old Compton Street. It was a family favourite part of Central London that once lost can not be recaptured in the 21st century. I can only wish the owner all the best wishes in retirement with thankful gratitude. Amazing and Awesome legendary eaterie. If you missed it, you really missed something.
I’ve been going there for 30 years. I’ll miss the great mix of people the syrup sponge which was 60p when I started going. A great shame.
Reblogged this on Goodbye London and commented:
Good blog I also wrote about it’s sad demise on mine
I presume the lease ran out -it’s getting close to the December quarter-day …
This is a beautiful piece – I have exactly the same memories of this wonderful place… Thank you for writing this.
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I never used the Stockpot in Soho, but when I worked in Orange Street I used to use the one on Panton Street on a pretty regular basis. I always remember feeling quite adventurous when trying beef bourguignon until i realised that it was just beef stew.
Happy days long gone
Very sad I used to go to the one in Basil Street next to Harrods when I was working there, then when I worked in The Kings Road I used to go to the Chelsea Kitchen in there every day,
Thanks for the memories
Its sad to hear….in the eighties, when i had no money, holes in the bottom of my shoes, i would spend my last pennies in there, my only source of a good meal. happy memories…..
Closing??? With The Stockpot gone from Soho I fully expect to hear that the apes have deserted Gibralter! Great pity and loss of my destination after many a trip to London……Curried Eggs and Chips!!! What memories
Never even knew about the Soho one, but I regularly used the Sloane Square one when I worked near there and later the Panton St one. Sad day. Oh well, at least there’s still a Chix Chox (cheap and traditional with fabulous cream cakes) in North Finchley, although the Muswell Hill one is long gone. And I believe the Spaghetti House opposite Tufnell Park Tube is still there.
Fairwell old friend. You will be hugely missed.
Reckon I ate there twice a week for at least 6 years whilst working in the West End. It gave me energy on 2 show days and my mum really did believe I was “eating properly” even on Equity minimum. Thank you for good home cooking and great custard.
I often frequented the ones in Earl’s Court (late 60’s) and have continually taken my children to them all until they grew up etc. and I have continued to patronise wherever possible. Let’s be clear (+ please correct me if I am wrong on what I am saying)- Panton Street, Soho (referred to above) and lower King’s Road (which had the dome removed on hot days / evenings, so you could see the sky) were left to the chef / managers in the will of the original owner, who set it all up in the late fifties / sixties. Basil Street and Chelsea Kitchen were eventually closed due to redevelopment. Distinctive points included the same ‘roneo’ style menus, items as well described above + other ‘classics’ such as their egg mayonnaise, nicoise salad (excellent for the price), escalope Viennoise, lots of peas and carrots, and their piece de resistance- chocolate trifle!!!!! (fresh cream extra); + the old sweda cash machines. Any more comments welcome- this was an important part of our London, kept us poorer folk very well fed at great prices- sad passing of a fine institution, to be remembered with great affection and respect..
Talked with the manager last night to find out that the real reason that it’s closing is that the landlord has raised the rent by (wait for it) a staggering 50%… and they simply cannot continue. I have been visiting it at least monthly for as long as I cab remember and feel like a little part of me has died.
My memories of Stockpot are specifically the branch on Basil St,off Sloane St in Knightsbridge. It was always about the trout in garlic butter. Healthy food at a very reasonable price. Nothing lasts forever,and so the next cycle begins.
Such a shame ! First panton Street, now this. My all-time favourite was the Chicken Escallope – huge, and remained crisp for ever uinderneath the generous vegetable source.
Where will one eat now ? Any suggestions ?
Crown Cafe, 136 Strand, London WC2R 1HH
Thankyou Veg, I will check it out.
Hi there veg, Have also found Mediterranean Cafe in Brewer Street. I recommend it , if you don’t already know it. It is currently undergoing a refit, but that should be finished by 8th January. Lunchtime – two courses £8.99, and three courses £9.99. Not such a Bohemian clientele as Stockpot perhaps, and a smaller menu (which may not change very regularly), but friendly, tasty and good value.
What a great shame, heathy, hearty food in an unprentious environment.
The closure is, sorry to say, not due to falling customer demand but the greed of landlords/developers who gave the business less than a weeks notice. Once again London another ‘ordinary’ venue in London is closing due to the rapacious greed of those who don’t give a shit for anything but the almighty £. Meanwhile the Mayor of London, the Greater London Assembly and Westminster Council don’t do anything to stop the development of London as a playground for the rich and the tourist to the exclusion of those who live her full-time or were born here.
“A bitter chill embraces the London streets”, Derek Jarman recorded in his diaries, Smiling in Slow Motion, but “I had a bite to eat at the Stockpot”. No matter how depressed the filmmaker felt about Soho’s commercialization, he always ‘ended up in the Stockpot having liver and bacon’. So, if Jarman were alive today, he would not be smiling at news that, barring a last minute rescue, his favourite Old Compton Street eating-place will put out the lights for good at midnight on Sunday November 29.
When Time Out last covered the ‘unreconstructed caff’ from a culinary land that time forgot, ‘Will anything ever change at this Soho institution?’ it asked, and concluded ‘We doubt it’. The reason for this confidence was the real throwback: the bill, with mains for £6 and a 3-course set-menu at under a tenner. As a result, the clientele comprised ‘old gents hunched’ over books, ‘students eking out cuppas’, and ‘meedja trendies paying homage to a rare survival of Old Soho’. But this was surely a winning combination that would outlast the recession.
So what went wrong? Speaking as one of those hunched readers, I can look up from my cozy corner and see the Stockpot has been on borrowed time since 2011, when the adjacent Central St Martins decamped to its Neronian necropolis at King’s Cross. Generations of art students sustained the place as their extramural canteen. But staff at the pristine new Foyles bookstore who came in their wake were too cool for school dinners with gravy and custard, let alone the signature £2 soups affectionately said to be reconstituted from last night’s left-overs.
There was a time when the Stockpot would be crammed till all hours with actors off Shaftesbury Avenue and clubbers headed for the nearby Astoria. But the legendary music venue was flattened for Crossrail, and the thespians defected to gayer bistros. What remains are budget tourists and regulars like Angelo, retired from the British Museum Reading Room, making weekly trips from nursing his 90-year-old mother in Eastbourne. So, where will they eat when the Stockpot closes? Where can they afford to eat in the Soho of ceviche bars, tapas and sushi?
Time Out was sniffy about the Stockpot’s ‘1960’s décor’ of pine panels and varnished tables, but I have to declare an emotional interest. This carpentry was the last work, before his tragic early death, of Mark Edwards, a glamour boy of my York University generation, which Linda Grant portrays in her novel Upstairs at the Party. It is true that the job lot of Spy cartoons lining the walls, which feature whiskery Victorian worthies, always looked surreal, and troubles feminist parties. But when all this is ripped out on November 30, it will be the passing of more than one era.
It was at the Stockpot that I eavesdropped as Jarman explained The Tempest to one of his young mariners: ‘It’s all about magic”. With tables six inches apart, and riveted to the floor, it was impossible here not to exchange words with your neighbours. So for a long time I was puzzled that one elderly gent only responded on alternate Tuesdays. Eventually I asked a waitress the reason. There were, in fact, two identical twin brothers, she explained, who came up from Esher. But never together…
Only in the Stockpot… For years I watched a well-dressed pensioner scrawl cheques at the end of her evenings. Of course, as Will Self found after he wolfed its Chicken Kiev (“as if I were in a 1970s episode of Dr Who”), the Stockpot only accepts cash. But no one told the old lady, who was still given free meals when she was so far gone she would circulate the room stealing from plates on other tables. In the end, a waitress escorted her tenderly each night to her bus on Charing Cross Road.
Stockpot loyalists remember Soho as one of a chain, and many arrived after an epic row at a Panton Street precursor. But what made Old Compton Street more a club than a caff, was its staff’s devotion. Seven days a week for thirty years Manuel has presided like the Speaker over these green benches, as solemn Darek, stately Zorana, handsome Carlos, and winking Marissa squeezed between our desks and the dumb-waiter, cradling Beef Stroganoff or apple crumble with the confidentiality of parliamentary messengers. On November 1 they were given thirty days’ notice.
When the Sorbonne’s Café Balzar was threatened by developers, its regulars ambushed the owner, and stood up with speeches saying a restaurant wasn’t real estate or mirrors. It wasn’t even the food. A restaurant was the collective spirit of all its staff and diners over decades. The protest succeeded. So it would be nice to think speechifying could also save the little café paradiso in Soho that has been a home from home for so many fashionistas and quiet readers. But there is talk of big money. And as Derek Jarman knew, a bitter chill possesses these London streets. RICHARD WILSON
Wow. What a great shame. The Stockpot has been a constant in my dalliances with London. Visiting with my parents as a child touring the capital, as a meeting place when a student and visitor and then as a lunchtime and early evening favourite when I lived and worked in London. Having moved away some 11 yrs ago, it remained as a significant landmark to visit and my children have become accustomed to its charm and hearty meals. They will probably be as upset as I will with this news. I wish the owner all the best for retirement and all the staff for their friendly service. Now I just have to find somewhere else where you can get cheese and biscuits for less than £2.
I used to use the Panton Street one all the time when I first came to London, as well as the Three Lanterns opposite (which someone mentioned). I hadn’t been aware of the Old Compton Street one, but oddly enough I only walked past it last week, and was surprised that there were still any Stockpots left. Now there aren’t…
I am truly broken hearted at this news. I moved to London 15 years ago but before I moved a best friend took me to the Stockpot for my first meal in London. I drop in on the place every 6 months to a year and its a must see visit that I tell (Told) all my friends about. I even suggested my own son visits so he can avoid that junk food culture and so he can be besides interesting people when he has his meals out. I always felt “At home” in the Stockpot. There is no good news here, this is all very sad 😦
Very sad to hear about this. I was a regular in this Stockpot, and Presto just along the road when I worked in the area in the 90s. As I student in the 80s I had frequented the Basil Street Stockpot along with the similar, though unrelated Chelsea Pot down on the Kings Road. All now long gone.
I discovered Stockpot about two years ago and loved the food and atmosphere and I am old! What a pity its no more. Lovely place.
The level of homogenising of London’s districts is unlike anything that has happened here before. It is a tragedy. Our grandchildren will wonder what the heck we are going on about. I have protest fatigue, to this end. Unless we form up and actually do something, all will be lost. Crying about it will not help.
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