Rock and Sole Plaice: 150 years on, but now the chips are really down

Battered by Brexit? The 'birthplace of London's fish and chips' fears closure

Thursday, 27th January — By Tom Foot

pics2022jan27 Image 2022-01-27 at 08.13.01 (6)

Supper at the Rock and Sole Plaice

LONDON’S longest surviving fish and chip shop will close after 150 years if the government does not provide special support to central London businesses, its devastated family operators said this week.

Rock and Sole Plaice which has been in Endell Street, Covent Garden, since 1871 has been overwhelmed by Brexit causing fresh fish prices to rocket and the pandemic decimating crucial tourist trade.

Brothers Ahmet and Ali Ziyaeddin, whose family have run the business for 42 years, said Covid grants made available have not met the needs of traders in Covent Garden.

The historic shop – ‘the birthplace of fish and chips in London’ – has already closed temporarily while demands from bailiffs, utilities companies and rents and rates are piling up.

Ahmet, 52, said: “This shop went through the Second World War and didn’t shut for one day, and Covid has taken it out. Before Covid we didn’t owe anyone a penny and now through no fault of our own we have lost everything.

“Right now we’re still the oldest surviving fish and chip shop in London and this business has been here for 150 years. It was supposed to be a year for celebration.

“But instead I’ve spent the last year homeless sleeping at friends sofas. I’ve sold my car. We’ve used up little savings that we did have to keep this veritable place going. But now we’re at the end of the line.”

Brothers Ahmet and Ali Ziyaeddin,

He added: “I always say London is five cities all in one and central London is a different animal to the others. The government grants, while most appreciated, aren’t helping people enough in Covent Garden.

“For someone in, say Hull, that £25,000 might mean rent for a year – for us it covered our expenses for two months. The support available needs to be set at been different levels.”

The Ziyaeddin brothers took over the business from their Turkish Cypriot parents in 2008. Ali recalled peeling his first potato there aged 6 and learning to cook aged 11.

Ahmet said: “No one can say where egg and bacon was invented, or where roast beef was invented. But we have the history of fish and chips here in Camden, it’s part of our heritage.

“People who come to London they are looking for things they don’t find at home and as a result our business is reliant on foreign tourism.

Things were starting to pick up again but with Omicron, well, London clears very quickly .”

The shop as painted in 1932

He described Covent Garden as “a little part of the borough that for many years was used by Camden as a cash cow”, adding: “It used to be a dynamic area like Camden Town, a special place for people to come and get something they wouldn’t anywhere else.

“But now people just look at the West End like it’s overpriced and out of fashion. It’s become ‘corporated’.”

Last month, there was a 26 per cent drop in Transport for London usage in central London as a result of the Omicron variant.

Ahmet said the shop had been “proud to represent the national dish in the best possible way”, but added: “We’ve always been a completely fresh fish operator, which is rare.

“We know from 40 years experience that the best cod and haddock comes out of Peterhead in Scotland. Lemon sole, skate and rock we generally source from Cornwall.

“With Brexit, the boats are leaving UK ports and catching fish and landing in EU ports to sell them there, so they don’t have to do the paperwork. Whatever bits they catch on their way back is what is landing in our ports. But it isn’t as much and it means demand is outstripping supply. Prices are doubling.

“It’s the same with our potatoes, that came from Belgium and Spain.”

Ali, 47, said: “People won’t pay a higher price for fish and chips. No one wants to pay more than £10-15 for it. It goes back to the war, when meat was rationed. There’s the expression ‘cheap as chips’. But that’s not the case anymore.”

Camden’s regeneration chief Councillor Danny Beales said: “Since the start of the pandemic Camden council have been working hard to ensure that businesses receive the urgent financial support they need. We redeployed staff to help pay out over £300m in grants and rates relief in Camden.

“The level of funding and priorities for support were set by government and have not been sufficient.

“We have been campaigning for further funding from government and for greater support for small businesses.

“There is currently a new £6,000 grant for the hospitality and leisure sector impacted by Omicron and we urge eligible businesses to apply via our website. The deadline for applications is March 18.”

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