The Stockpot – a London institution


Stockpot_menu Back in 1995 when my mom and I made our wonderful mother-daughter sojourn to Europe, I was already a keen restaurant patron, as was Mamma.  But of course, travelling on South African Rands in Europe was a rather tricky proposition.  Whereas I had grown up in a world where for decades the British Pound was worth two Rands, things had been economically difficult for the country in the dying years of the last apartheid government, and as a result our currency wasn't half the Rand it used to be – quite literally.  When we visited London in 1995, the exchange rate was a scandalously bad five Rands to the pound, and London is not known for being a cheap city! (Incidentally, the Rand is now at fourteen to the Pound – we had no idea how good we had it in 1995 ;-))

Before arriving in London, we had already visited Neuschwanstein and Vienna, so our wallets were beginning to feel the burn.  So what's a hungry forex-challenged tourist to do??  Our hotel was one of those hulking buildings kept alive purely by travel agents tacking the accommodation onto your flights.  It had beautiful public rooms and, shall we say, eclectic bedrooms.  Eclectic as in green carpet, pink curtains and mismatched bedspreads.  And after the first morning's attempt at breakfast (soggy toast, stingy little jam containers and coffee that tasted fresh from the muddy bottom of the River Thames), we wisely chose to get coffee pastries from the shop across the road and sit under the autumn trees in Russel Square to eat them!  Clearly, dinner in the hotel was not an option. 

In our bulging suitcases, however, we did have a very useful book:  Let’s Go Britain, lent to me at Johannesburg airport by my good friend Peter as we set off on our journey.  And according to this bible of budget travel, the place we needed to visit if we wanted to dine in a princely area for pauper's prices was The Stockpot.  From what I can tell, the Stockpot is the name of a small London chain of restaurants (I know of four, but there may be more)and they have been around for a while – I believe the Chelsea branch was called the Chelsea Pot and was around in the early 1980s.  They seem to have a knack of finding premises in prime locations and then packing in the crowds with their extensive menu of home-cooked style grub.  This is not cuisine, people, it's grub – but it's always fresh and always plentiful… and always cheap.  There is nothing fancy about them – no tablecloths, bright lighting, noisy patrons and tables so close together that you can never be sure the hand you reach for under the table is your date's (I believe "cosy" is the politically correct term…).  But if you're a broke student or a tourist on a budget, or you need a quick meal before or afer a show and can't face another Pizza Express pizza, or if you just want a plate of food that looks like it might have come from your mom's kitchen – then this is the place for you. 

On that occasion we retraced Peter's steps and headed for the Basil Street Stockpot.  I remember a feeling of mild panic as we located it – could we really afford to eat somewhere that is practically sandwiched between Harrods and Harvey Nichols, across the road from Hyde Park?  But my fears were unfounded – look at the menu pic above.  Starters begin at £1.45 and nothing hits the £3 mark!  And main courses pretty much follow that trend, hovering around the £4-5 mark.  Astonishing.  And all main courses come with salad and two veg – nothing fancy or beautiful, just a generous spoonful of your 5-a-day allocation.  So it's no wonder that when Nick and I first came to London in 2000, sleeping on a friend's floor and limping along on one salary, the first place we went for a Friday night treat meal out was… the Stockpot (although the one we go to now is the Old Compton Road branch).

Our most recent visit was after a friend's birthday drinks in the West End.  By the time we left, it was that tricky time of the evening:  to late for a proper restaurant meal, and yet if we first made the 45 min trip home, it woudl be too late for ANY meal, and we were both starving.  So we decided to revisit our old haunt and ended up at the Old Compton Street Stockpot.  It was Friday and the place was heaving, to the extent that I was worried we Stockpot_cheese_salad_1would be bundled down to the dungeon-like basement dining room (avoid if possible!).  But then our eagle-eyed waiter spotted a tiny table for two in the main room and we were seated.  Cosy.  The dapper gentleman next to us looked like a retired Shakespearean actor and kindly offered to host our bottle of wine on his table, 5cm away, as he could see we were struggling to get ourselves, out bags and winter coats stowed, let alone having space for the food and drink on the table.  But once that was sorted, we were all quite happy.  The menu changes in minuscule ways, but somewhat retro old favourites are always there:  mackerel pate, cheese salad, salmon fishcakes, supreme of chicken with chasseur sauce, lamb chops.  Although I Stockpotfishpieam usually a smoked mackerel salad kinda girl, this time we shared the cheese salad to start – and as you see there is nothing remotely chi-chi about it. Lots of fresh salad.  A slab of cheese.  Like mom might have made for an after-school lunch.  For mains I believe Nick had chicken of some description and I felt in need of comforting and had the fish pie.  As you see, perhaps not the most photogenic presentation of this dish, but plentiful, freshly made and warm and tasty, with more vegetables on the side than most places charging three times as much would serve you.  Comforting.  And even more comforting was the price:  under £20 for the two of us, including a half-bottle of wine.

OK, so if you are in the mood for a romantic dinner a deux or you want a cutting-edge culinary experience, this is not the place for you.  But, say what you like about the basic facilities, the cramped space, the patchy service (the Kings Road branch is mentioned repeatedly as having The Rudest Manager in London…) – in an age where "cheap" means "nasty and probably microwaved from frozen", I find it refreshing to know that  place like this still exists in the heart of London's most expensive neighbourhoods.

Liked: excellent value for money, huge portions, locations
Disliked: tables very close together

Stockpot on Urbanspoon

The Stockpot
18 Old Compton Street
Tel. 020 7287 1066

The Stockpot
6 Basil Street
Tel. 020 7589 8627

The Stockpot
273 Kings Road
Tel. 020 7823 3175

The Stockpot
38-40 Panton Street
Tel. 020 7839 5142

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  1. says

    i could have sworn you had taken that picture of the menu in 1995 – or 1959 more likely… a set menu for 5.20? you’d be lucky to get a sandwich and a drink at most chains for that!

  2. says

    You’ve really struck the nostalgia chord for me with this! We used to go to the King’s Road Stockpot whenever we were treating ourselves to a meal out, in our London living in a photographic studio days. My husband always used to have the roast dinner with jelly, custard AND cream for pudding. I seem to remember the chicken chasseur and treacle pudding being my usual. I think if we came back this would be the only place we could afford to eat with the rand in its sorry state. I’m glad the Stockpot is still going strong to sustain Londoners and forex challenged visitors
    I tagged you for a Thinking Blog Award on my blog, if you would like to join in.

  3. says

    I wonder if the Panton Street Stockpot is the similar sounding “Three Lanterns” chop house that I remember in that street from the early 1980s? Wonderful institutions – well researched!

  4. Jess says

    We used to eat at the Old Compton branch all the time. We’d all just left uni and had moved to London and none of us were earning very much. It’s a great place – the food isn’t stellar but it’s perfectly reasonable and very cheap. I may have to revisit it again now – you’ve given me a nostalgic longing…

  5. says

    Hi Pille
    Oh it’s a great way to save on meals so that you can afford those one or two total total restaurant extravaganzas per trip!
    Hi Johanna
    I know what you mean… The whole place – the food, the photocopied menus, the prices – seems to be caught in a time warp. But it’s rather a nice timewarp :-)
    Hi Kit
    Thanks *blush*! I’m happy if I can raise a laugh out of people – thinking is a bonus 😉 I will give some thought to five others to tag… And I’m glad I gave yuo a nostalgic moment. The Stockpot is probably the first place that many people ate out in London, and I do believe it hasn’t changed much since the 1980s!! Even in Rands it’s not too bad…
    Hi Brian
    What – no private dinner with Heston?! :o)
    Hi Ash
    If you want to meet up when yuo are here, let me know! There is actually also another chain called Bistro 1 that serves slightly less basic food but still at happy prices (under £10 for a 3 course dinner). I’ve eaten there and they are great for that price.
    Hi Ian
    Apparently the Stockpots have “sister restaurants” – I know the Chelsea Kitchen is related to them, so it’s quite possible that there are other relatives floating around. Glad you liked the post!
    Hi Jess
    I think maybe the Stockpot is the ultimate London nostalgia destination – everyone has a happy student/tourist memory there! And let’s face it, sometimes you just feel like a square meal – nothing fancy schmancy 😉

  6. says

    Hi Jeanne – what a trip down memory lane – as I recall, the stockpot near leicester square was there in the late 70s – and I ate there again when last in London (about three years ago). Spot on description and great place to take overseas visitors for traditional english grub too – because you know it won’t fail…

  7. Chris Gallop says

    No, Ianm, the Three Lanterns was on the other side of the street – same sort of menus but even cheaper. Speciality was Spag Bol and Chips.

    • Neil says

      Ok so This is in reply to a post from 5 yrs ago but I would say that the 3 lanterns speciality was the veal schnitzel that came with spg bol and chips and was about £2:45!

      That and the (greek?) head waiter who always subtley welcomed my friend with the receding hair as “Hello Kojak!” Happy days

  8. Peter says

    Unfortunately the one on Basil Street has gone as I discovered when visiting last year. Used to frequent that one when sharing a bedsit in Wilton Place in the mid 60’s. Seem to recall you could get a decent meal then for well under 10/- Must have been as in those days I was earning the princely sum of £8.0.0 a week. On the plus side beer in the local, Nag’s Head on Kinnerton Street, was only 1/6d

  9. Stephen says

    I loved the Basil Street place. I worked in Victoria and after work used to walk up there past all the Embassies and fancy hotels in Belgravia. The staff were a friendly United Nations mix whereas the customers were mainly cabbies, local workers and ladies up from the country. I loved the shared tables and had some great conversations. The wine was ordinaire and the food was simple – often had avocado vinaigrette, liver and bacon followed by apple crumble (no custard!) and an expresso . The bill was always reasonable. I have since travelled all over the world and have eaten in many great restaurants but I cannot think of anywhere I ever felt more comfortable and satisifed. It was very sad when the area was redeveloped,