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At Paul Rothe & Son, Delicatessen

February 23, 2023
by Julia Harrison

It is my pleasure to co-publish this piece by Julia Harrison, author of the fascinating literary blog THE SILVER LOCKET. I am proud that Julia is a graduate of my blog-writing course.

There are only a few places available now on my course HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ on 25th & 26th March. Email to enrol.


Portrait of Paul Rothe by Sarah Ainslie


I have known Paul Rothe’s Delicatessen & Cafe in Marylebone Lane for as long as I can remember. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, my mother used to travel up to town from Putney with me and my sister for a lunchtime treat at Paul Rothe’s before having our haircut by Mr John of ‘Charles, Bruno and John’ in their salon round the corner in Hinde St. I still have my hair cut by Andrew, who was a young apprentice in those days and now has his own salon, ‘Andrew K’, nearby on Marylebone St. He told me on my recent visit that during the salon’s heyday they used to cater for their clients and would often order sandwiches from Paul Rothe. I think it is these connections and the continuity they represent which make Paul Rothe so special to me.

Today, I work at Daunt Books on Marylebone High St and often, seeking a moment to myself at lunchtime, my footsteps lead me in Paul Rothe’s direction. Whether I am having a good day or a bad one, I know when I walk through the door a sense of inner peace will descend. Paul and his son Stephen will be there in their smart white grocer’s coats, lively smiles combined with looks of concentration on their faces as they deal expertly with the lunchtime rush. Office workers will be ordering take-aways, together with locals settling down for a bowl of homemade soup, while a happy customer chooses their favourite jam, chutney or sauce from the colourful range lining the shelves.

In the summer, snatches of music and occasionally operatic voices drift over from the rehearsal rooms across the road. Then I am drawn back to those innocent days long ago when my sister and I would look forward to window shopping at the Button Queen opposite, before ordering our homemade Liptauer and cucumber sandwiches at Paul Rothe, eating at the iconic fifties flip up seats and Formica tables where I sit today.

On a recent visit, in the company of Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie, I sat down with Paul to learn the story of his shop.

“Rothe is a German name.  I am named after my grandfather who came from Saxony and worked his way over on a coal barge in 1898. Most German people at the end of the nineteenth century thought that the streets of London were paved with gold. My father didn’t know a lot about his father’s early life in Germany, except he met my grandmother in London. There was a flower shop in Jason’s Court called Schillers, they were German, and they introduced my grandmother and grandfather to each other. They got married and my father was born in 1915.

Paul started in partnership in Soho. The reason he opened there was that the man he was in partnership with was meant to open early, then they overlapped in the middle of the day and my grandfather would stay open late. But a lot of the customers were saying that his partner wasn’t in the store until about two hours after he should have been, so my grandfather decided to come here to Marylebone Lane and open on his own instead.

In my grandfather’s day, it was purely a retail shop, much smaller than you see now. There was a parlour at the back with a fireplace. My grandmother didn’t want the shop made bigger but my dad was always moaning that it was too small. After my grandfather had passed away, when his mother was on holiday, my father knocked the wall down and made that area part of the shop.

The shop opened on August 2nd 1900. We traded as a German deli. In one of the old photographs of the shop, you can see the words ‘Deutsche Delicatessen.’ We still make Liptauer, which is an Austrian cheese, and my dad made a cheese of his own invention with caraway seeds called ‘Kummelkase.’ A lot was imported from Germany and most of the staff spoke German. My grandfather was in the German army before he came over here and then he served in the British army.

In the Second World War, my father was a conscientious objector, he worked in the Middlesex Hospital on Mortimer St. He never heard his parents speak to each other in German, they only spoke in English. There was quite a German community round here then and we used to get a lot of customers coming to us because they felt at home. Until the First World War, we had ‘Deutche Delicatessen’ on the windows but they took that off. Now we have evolved and trade as an ordinary deli but at Christmas time we still have stollen and lebkuchen

We lived in Harrow when I was a child and I will always remember coming in to the shop. We had the freestanding tables in those days. Dad had a pole attached to the ceiling which is still there, hidden behind the wooden beam where customers hang their coats, and we used to play ‘Here we go round the mulberry bush.’ I had a great time with my sisters dancing round the shop. 

After the Second World War, we started becoming what you see today. A lot of other food stores opened up nearby and we had to change the way we operate. There was a Europa food store in Marylebone High St and, in recent years, Waitrose. Rather than having a general store where you could buy cornflakes and self-raising flour, we reduced our stock but specialised a lot more, so now we do every single jam and marmalade that Tiptree makes, for example, and all the sauces too. The brands that we stock, we have every option available. ‘Cottage Delight’ from Staffordshire is another one and ‘Thursday Cottage,’ which is a separate entity within Tiptree. They’ve got their own little factory and their own manufacturing process.  We do well with Regent’s Park honey when it is in season in the summer. 

The biggest change in how we operate was when we had parking restrictions imposed. In my dad’s day, anyone could pull up their car and do a week’s grocery shop but, because of the lack of parking, we don’t have that trade now. At Christmas time, we provide stocking fillers, little gifts that people will take home on the train. We don’t do a vast range, we specialise in particular things. My son is very artistic and he gets the aesthetics of the displays just right. He is computer literate too, which I am not, and looks after the social media side of things, putting the soup of the day up so people know what it is.

My father was very fortunate to buy the freehold of the shop when it came up for sale.There was an auction and no one else was bidding that day. Apparently, someone else had been interested but they got caught in traffic!”

Quite reluctantly, I leave Paul and his son Stephen to go back to my late shift at the bookshop. I am captivated by the stories he has shared. In his breezy, good-natured way, he brought to life not just the history of his family but a century of shopkeeping. Our bookshop has been in existence since 1910 and still has its original fittings, so I like to imagine book lovers of the Edwardian era choosing the latest volume, before walking down Marylebone Lane to buy their groceries at the Deutsche Delicatessen.


A photograph from 1914 showing ‘Deutsche Delicatessen’ on the windows. The girls were from the newsagents next door.

Paul Rothe’s grandfather in the early twenties, with his assistant Ernie

Robert, Karoline, Helmut and Thomas, c.1956

‘We stayed open during the war – my aunt ran the shop with one other member of staff called Thomas. As a young boy I remember we had Helmut who was a German prisoner of war who stayed over here – he always wore a little bow tie and we had a German student here. I would have been about ten and my grandmother was serving behind the counter.’

Robert Rothe, 1961

‘My dad was full of adrenaline, trying to serve quickly at lunchtime, he didn’t like anything that slows things down, so he didn’t do toast, wouldn’t do lettuce, he wanted everyone served quickly, he didn’t want a long queue.’

Three generations of the Rothe family on the shop’s hundredth anniversary

Stephen & Paul Rothe today

Stephen & Paul Rothe

Stephen demonstrates the fine art of a pastrami sandwich

Adding the pickles

The complete sandwich

Wrapping the sandwich expertly

A magnificent sandwich

David prepares the soup of the day freshly in the kitchen

‘At some point after the Second World War, my father started doing catering on the premises and we had freestanding tables with four chairs round each table, but you would get a group of six in and they would move the chairs around. We were already getting long queues and dad would have to stop serving and put it all back to where they belonged. So he ordered these that were screwed down to the floor so that people couldn’t move them. They are very fifties with their Formica tops. We had two more put in in 1964 and they’ve been here ever since.’

Stephen & Paul Rothe

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

PAUL ROTHE & SON, 35 Marylebone Lane, W1U 2NN

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15 Responses leave one →
  1. Saba permalink
    February 23, 2023

    Do not make a stingy sandwich.
    Pile the cold cuts high.
    Customers should see salami
    Coming through the rye.


  2. February 23, 2023

    Stephen & Paul Rothe are a great team. And their traditional shop is definitely on my list of places to visit in London. I love the little 50s tables, which have their own historic charm. — Eine wunderbare Geschichte!

    Love & Peace

  3. Kitty Shepherd permalink
    February 23, 2023

    Lovely post, thank you.

  4. Clare E Shepherd permalink
    February 23, 2023

    I used to work for the British Heart Foundation in Fitzhardinge St 22 years ago, before retirement back home in Devon,. I loved this area, visiting Daunts in my lunch hour and buying snacks for lunch at Rothe’s or elsewhere and eating in the little park and reading. I loved the area, and see that the deli is still there, wonderful news.

  5. Greg T permalink
    February 23, 2023

    VERY reminiscent of a famous (?) “Italian” deli in Edinburgh – Valvona & Crolla [ EH7 4AA ]
    Long may both of them continue!

  6. Lorraine Whebell permalink
    February 23, 2023

    Such an enjoyable read this morning..
    What a marvellous little gem this place is…
    Long may it continue. Must try to visit when
    next in London.

  7. February 23, 2023

    I loved this blog, 10 years of doing on-call at The Heart Hospital in Marylebone gave me a small area that I could walk and still be in bleeping distance. Rothe & Sons and VV Rouleaux were the two windows that fascinated and entertained 24/7. So thrilled to know what goes on behind the windows.

  8. Marie Lenclos permalink
    February 23, 2023

    I really enjoyed reading this article, thank you. I will make it a destination to visit when I’m north of the river.

  9. Peter Schweiger permalink
    February 23, 2023

    We are near neighbours and have quite a lot in common. I ran James Taylor & Son Bespoke shoemakers in Paddington Street for 40 years and sold the business in 2011. I have written a book of memoir and diary called All Ways Walk Cheerfully and includes quite a lot about Marylebone and the history of the building I partially own. Thank goodness for parents who bought the freehold.
    Your customers certainly eat cheerfully.

  10. Jim Keltz permalink
    February 23, 2023

    That was such a good tale, it made me hungry. If I wasn’t so far away I’d rush over for soup and a sandwich.

  11. Bru permalink
    February 23, 2023

    Despite living in Beckenham, reading this makes me want to jump in the car and drive across London to get at least one of those sarnies! Yummy yum!

  12. Frances permalink
    February 23, 2023

    Well, Julia’s excellent post is a treat that has made me aware of a London gem that until now was unknown to me. How could I not have known of Rothe’s? Many thanks to you and to Julia for this splendid introduction. Whenever I manage to overcome my Covid-wariness enough to once again visit London, I truly look forward to visiting Rothe’s and having some of that Soup!

  13. Deby Goldsmith permalink
    February 23, 2023

    This is such a heart warming post and perfect collaboration…
    I have a clear image if you and dear Julia sitting discussing
    this and am jealous of the sandwiches you ate.
    I will be in London soon and will be sure to visit.
    Many thanks and cheers

  14. Jill Forgham permalink
    February 23, 2023

    What a lovely post! One of my favourite spots in the West End and a constant and reassuring presence in an ever-changing world. We enjoy taking friends and visitors there and seeing their delight at the discovery of such a London gem.

  15. February 25, 2023

    Great post and it brought back some lovely memories for me. I used to pass this shop on my way to work at Scripture Union whose offices were at 47 Marylebone Lane. I worked there as a designer around 1974-75 and used Rothe’s often, mainly on a Friday as a treat. There was also an excellent greasy spoon called The Marylebone Cafe. It was a lovely area to work but a long journey from Hornchurch where I lived at the time. Thanks GE for posting.

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