Save Soho

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | December 3, 2015 0

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When you first come to London you seek out places to eat which are personal or good value or both. I remember well The Chelsea Kitchen, the Stockpot, Daquise, Wong Kei, and the markets and food stalls in Strutton Ground, Victoria and Berwick Street, Soho. Slowly the real London we knew and related to is being eroded over the years due to gentrification, Landlord’s greed and redevelopment. These good value places start to disappear, normally in tandem with glossy property adverts praising an areas “Village like” qualities.  stockbrekkiestockcustard

Now the well known Soho institution The Stockpot – famed for offering punters a three-course meal for less than a tenner despite its exclusive postcode – has shut its doors after 25 years. Staff at the restaurant were on Tuesday packing up and preparing to leave Old Compton Street for the last time. Angelyn Lopera, whose parents opened The Stockpot in 1990, told the Standard it was the “end of an era” and a blow to the high street. Her parents had decided to call it a day after running the business for so long and because of increased costs and competition. stockpotStockpot0112c

“We were an iconic restaurant in Soho,” she said. “It feels like a lot of the chains are taking over. “I guess with the increase in rent, it’s very difficult to maintain independent businesses like ours.” Ms Lopera, 32, said The Stockpot had managed to keep prices low thanks to its fiercely loyal customers, some of whom visited every day. “My parents wanted to give the restaurant a timeless feel,” she said. “There’s loads of modern restaurants out there but this still had a touch of the 1960s or 1970s. The wooden benches and tables were pretty close together – it was kind of like eating with every other customer, but that’s something the customers did enjoy.

“A lot of people come to the West End and know they could have a good meal from The Stockpot without having to break the bank. That’s one of the reasons we stood out. We got the kind of dishes you couldn’t really find in other places like liver and bacon, escalopes and things like that – traditional continental food, all homemade and fresh. We had lots of loyal customers who would come in on a daily basis. We did get a bit more of the older generation who liked our home cooked food – the younger generation just tend to go for what’s hip.”

But The Stockpot had plenty of “hip” regulars too – among them filmmaker Edgar Wright, who tweeted on Saturday: “The Stockpot is closing. R.I.P. Soho.” Actor and director Andy Nyman added: “Just heard The Stockpot in Soho is closing! Heartbreaking. The unstoppable greed of landlords has ripped the heart out of London. Shameful.”

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Nothing ever changed at The Stockpot, that’s why we loved it. The décor could have been put in place in 1965 and just left there, maybe with the odd slap of paint or varnish. The menu was basic to put it mildly, and with few nods in the direction of modernity. Trend-setting? Ha! Cool? Except, of course, that The Stockpot’s complete lack of cool made it cool in its own way. That’s why, alongside the people who genuinely needed ultra-inexpensive food (you could eat three courses here for little more than a tenner), there was always a contingent of the slick and the hip slurping soup or coffee. stockexteriorstockinterior

Celebrities including Stephen Fry have mounted a “Save Soho” campaign in the face of property developers’ creeping hold over the famed neighbourhood. Among the recent casualties of the area’s changing face are the Music and Video Exchange and Beatroot café in Berwick Street, which is still home to a fruit and veg market six days a week. Ms Lopera said it had been “great” reading the regulars’ messages on Twitter and Facebook in support of the business, adding there had been “just a lot of love”.

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“I would love to take it over,” she said, “but I have a young family, and running your own business in central London is a 24/7 job. My parents are retiring – they’ve just got to that age rather than anything else.” But spiralling rents and the increasing dominance of chain shops had been “a factor” in her family’s decision not to keep The Stockpot going, she added.

It has not escaped anyone’s notice that Soho is being transformed by the annihilation of old businesses and their replacement by businesses that attract Big Money. With it you lose the richness and texture of the area, uneven, in your face and forever real. Instead you get empty “Buy-to-Leave” apartments invariably dark at night, and clone chains replacing real businesses owned by families and individuals with attitude. A place like Soho which was a City parish, a neighbourhood, a refuge, an escape from the samey city becomes just like anywhere else in Blandville. And all of us become a little greyer and a little poorer.

The Skibbereen Eagle

In 1898, to widespread bemusement, a small Provincial Newspaper in an equally small town in the South West corner of Ireland sonorously warned the Czar of Russia that it knew what he was up to and he should be careful how he proceeded for “The Skibbereen Eagle” was wise to his game and in future would be keeping its eye on him! It is doubtful that Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias, even noticed the Eagle’s admonitions but as history soon proved he should have paid closer attention to the Eagle’s insightful opinions!

Today, powered by its readers and contributors, from its cyber eyries in Ireland and the centres of the Irish Diaspora The Eagle casts its Cold Eye on Life and Death and much in between.
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