GO FULL ENGLISH AT SHEPHERDESS CAFÉ
If you dare to live on the edge, ditch your matcha tea and carrot sticks for a greasy, full English breakfast at Shepherdess Café. This classic pub with a traditional menu and reasonable rates is ideal for diners with a hearty appetite and a weakness for fry-ups.
Shepherdess Café, 221 City Road, London EC1V 1JN. Phone: 20 7253 2463
The modern chain café is marked by a transitory atmosphere. You pass in and out to get a drink or a snack “on the go”, that subtle capitalist admonition to work yourself into an early grave. If you do stop ever-so-briefly, it is typically for a meeting or to rig your cerebral cortex up to the free wifi for a social media fix.
What I want from a café is rather different. This isn’t meant to sound conceited: I’m as much a stimulation junkie as every other contemporary human being; I’m also partial to a soggy cheese toasty scooped off a stainless steel production line by a smiley Spanish barista. But were these filling stations of capitalism not so ubiquitous I would spend more time in places like Shepherdess Café on City Road in Shoreditch.
As with the ideal pub, it’s the atmosphere of Shepherdess Café that clinches it rather than any item on the menu or added extra (this place also has wifi, so there goes the prospect of an unconnected idyll!). The light music, the clatter of plates, the small, bullet-shaped plastic canisters of brown sauce and ketchup, the plate of Tunnock’s Tea Cakes sitting enticingly on the counter, the strip lighting, the red tables and olive green booth seating – they all denote the peculiarly English atmosphere of the greasy spoon.
The view isn’t up to much – it’s on City Road after all – but these little recesses allow just enough seclusion to mount an attack on the greasy plate of food in front of you without shame.
As does the food, which is both traditional and reasonably priced. A Builder’s Breakfast – egg, bacon, sausage, chips and beans – together with a mug of strong tea comes in at under six pounds. Healthy options are available, but the menu is mainly geared toward the mid-day blowout. There is cod and chips, gammon and chips, ham two eggs and chips, mixed grill and chips etc. Appropriately enough, there is a large mirror spread across the back wall so that after you’ve disported yourself you can adjust your waistband before sheepishly making your way back out into the street.
I like as a rule to sit at one of the homely booths next to the window. The view isn’t up to much – it’s on City Road after all – but these little recesses allow just enough seclusion to mount an attack on the greasy plate of food in front of you without shame. A feeling of brotherhood soon develops with the fat man who is inhaling a plate of chips in the booth next to yours. His furtive glance is a tacit acknowledgement that the shrieking commissars who would replace this stodgy pleasure with celery and carrot juice can get at neither one of you in here.
Healthy options are available, but the menu is mainly geared toward the mid-day blowout.
And herein lies the real pleasure in a place like Shepherdess Café. It isn’t found in the fact that local celebrities are known to drop in occasionally – Jamie Oliver is a regular and the walls are decorated with dog-eared photographs of illustrious diners. It’s that the greasy spoon taps into a fundamental truth about life. The streamlined world of carrot sticks and soy lattes is only tolerable so long as one occasionally affirms life by dipping one’s toes into the encroaching tide of molten lava. As Saul Bellow famously put it, “Death” – or in this case a full English with all the trimmings – is the “dark backing that a mirror needs if we are to see anything”.
It is important to feel properly alive now and then. For some this means jumping out of a plane at 10,000 feet with a sheet of nylon attached to their back. For others it is equally bracing to wander in off the street, set down the briefcase and newspaper, loosen one’s tie and top button and, as it were, attack a sausage sandwich or eggs Benedict with all the vigour of an infantrymen going over the top at the Somme.
Feature photograph copyright Felix - stock.adobe.com