The Lorelei as it was in 1966 (and 2013), from Soho Night & Day
We try always to focus on the positive in our guides, to remind people of what is there to be enjoyed, but the sad news this week that Marine Ices in Chalk Farm has been sold to Ponti’s, coupled with the shuttering of Soho’s Lorelei has brought on clouds of melancholy. Loyal customers have long approached both establishments with a sense of trepidation, anxious about what modernisation might have taken place. We were lucky they lasted so long.
They were both Italian restaurants of the old type, friendly and unpretentious. Marine Ices, as the name suggests, grew from an ice cream business, expanding to take over several adjacent shops in Chalk Farm, at the foot of Haverstock Hill. Its walls were decorated with photographs of the owners and staff, growing older and experimenting wildly with facial hair, crowded alongside an unlikely quantity of framed celebrity autographs on Marine Ices headed paper. We loved its terrazzo floor, its ice cream bar, its unchanging quality; it did change, but so slowly as to be imperceptible. Until now, that is. With Ponti’s takeover, the dread moment has arrived.
The Lorelei in Bateman Street was among the last authentic survivors of the Soho coffee bar era, unaltered since the 1960s. A shabby little place, with a red, green and white frontage, its lure was cheap pizza and a bolthole from the modern world. Few will have gone for the quality of its food but, as with the mourned New Piccadilly, it provided nourishment of a rarer type. At the time of writing The Lorelei has one or two more days to go, so try it while you can.
We cannot begrudge the owners for selling. We admire their persistence for lasting so long and are grateful for happy memories. But there is a quite genuine sense of loss. With so many smaller restaurants closing and Drummond Street threatened by HS2, where now?
Side door of Marine Ices, from Flickr user Emily Webber