THE SHEPHERDESS CAFE: UP AND DOWN THE CITY ROAD
There is a pub on The City Road called The Eagle. I have not been in it ever that I can recall. It looks like it has been refurbished, but it used to be such a rough pub that you were not allowed in if you had your own teeth. It is a famous pub for one reason only. It is mentioned in the second verse of the popular nursery rhyme "Pop Goes The Weasel" which has its origins in the hat making industry of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Weasel apparently, was a hat blocking tool and "pop" referred to the pawnbroker where the tool was hocked for drinking money. Hence the second verse
Up and down The City Road
In and out The Eagle
That's the way the money goes
Pop goes the Weasel
I mention this because next to it is The Shepherdess Cafe a prime example of a disappearing breed, the London "caff" . Both utilitarian and egalitarian the "caff" served to provide cheap filling food to a wide spectrum of the population from early in the morning to early afternoon when they closed.
I have been unable to train for a couple of days because of a cold. But, being a brave little trooper, I have still been awake at the crack of dawn and up and about. So, this morning, I decided to forgo my usual breakfast of porridge and prunes ( regular as clock work, thanks for asking ) and have a fry up at The Shepherdess. This is considered one of the better greasy spoons in London and the pictures on the walls show the owner gurning next to a wide variety of celebs both major ( Tom Jones ) and minor ( innumerable members of the cast of The Bill ) There are also far too many pictures of that buffoon, Jamie Oliver whose Fifteen restaurant is about 50 yards away. Enough to put any decent human being off their black pudding.
When I arrived, the cafe was filling up nicely with a wide variety of british working men ( all men, not a woman in the place bar the waitress and so it remained for my whole time there ) from the besuited city businessman to the steel top capped boot wearing construction worker. I was disappointed to see that the Ketchup and Brown sauces were not in plastic tomato shaped containers (never quite understood that. Tomato sauce in a large plastic tomato shapped dispenser, fine. Brown sauce in a large brown plastic tomato, just weird ) but was very pleased to see a sign saying "Polite Notice: Please do not put shoes on seats" a sign of a classy joint.
Like all good cafes, it offers a wide range of breakfast combo's featuring the usual suspects of fried eggs, bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding, bubble, sausages, chips, baked beans etc etc. I asked the chef to prepare a tasting fmenu for me. Nah, just joking. I ordered Egg, beans, sausage and bacon and a mug of tea. The waitress piped up ' you get chips with that" I responded " I don't want chips, or toast" which drew a a raised eyebrow from her and a sharpe intake of breath from most of the other customers. I stuck to my guns though and sat reading my morning freesheet while sipping on the unfeasibly large mug of tea that was also included in the price.
My breakfast arrived a few moments later with two small chips artfully placed atop a slice of bacon as if the cook was saying. "It says he gets chips with it, so he gets bleedin' chips if he wants them or not". There is a very good reason why most of these caf's are disappearing though. Bottom line, the food is actually not very good. An ocean of sludgy beans, tough watery bacon, sausages that seem more the product of the petroleum industry than farming and an egg tougher to crack than The Da Vinci Code. This is where the brit caf' falls short of the US diner. Decent short order cooking.
The fact that it is cheap ( and this was cheap, about £4.50 the lot - including the chips and toast I didn't want ) does not make up for that fact that it is lousy. I have been as guilty of bemoaning the decline of this age old institution and viewing them through the grease tinted glasses of nostalgia. But, the truth is,if this is the best they can come up with, roll on the demise of the caf''