The Shepherdess Cafe is legendary for its big breakfasts and its unique interior has featured in films and TV shows aplenty. Cheap, cheerful and retro, it’s just about the ultimate greasy spoon.
The Shepherdess’ distinctive exterior – it’s part chalet, part old-school caff – on the corner of City Road and Shepherdess Walk is vaguely reminiscent of one of those little taxi-cab huts you find on London squares. Inside, the cafe just gets better; its decor is full of character and kitsch charm. The windows of this light, airy cafe feature painted-on checked curtains, and an assortment of welcomingly retro signs. Just inside the entrance there’s a takeaway snack counter that verges on being a mini newsagent’s, with shelves of crisps and sweets next to the till and whiteboards that list all manner of sandwich fillings. There are comfy booths by the windows and long bench-style tables in the centre of the cafe, while the green-painted serving area is decorated like a little shack.
Being close to Old Street and the offices round the Wenlock Basin, the Shepherdess is a popular spot for local workers of all trades and construction workers, suits, couples and students all rub shoulders at the Shepherdess’ red-topped tables. It’s always fairly busy but it doesn’t feel cramped and there’s a very cheerful, cosy, bustling atmosphere. The waitresses are polite and friendly, ready to take orders as soon as you enter and the food arrives within just a few minutes.
The menu at the Shepherdess is just as you’d expect from a greasy spoon – hot, filling, inexpensive, and usually accompanied by chips. Gammon with eggs and chips, a mixed grill or fish and chips will set you back less than £6. There’s also a huge sandwich menu – just take your pick from the fifty or so listed on the whiteboard, available in sliced bread, a bap, baguette or ciabatta for about £3.80 at most.
For a meal that’ll keep you feeling full all day, the English breakfast (£5.30) can’t be beaten. Every inch of the plate is piled with food: two slices of bacon, a sausage, chips, beans and an egg. Although the sausage has a couple of odd bony bits in it, the breakfast otherwise tastes just as it should. The bacon is thick and not too salty, beans the perfect consistency and softness, and the generously-piled chips are light, fluffy, crisp and golden.
Sandwiches are freshly made and the bacon and avocado wholemeal bap (about £3) is a major meal in itself, being the size of about two or three average bread buns. The bacon is freshly cooked and there’s an impressive amount of ripe, creamy avocado squeezed into the sandwich.
As you’d expect, this is a good place for a strong, fortifying cuppa, and a nice mug of tea costs just 80p. Soft drinks, coffee and juices are also available and there’s a big fridge advertising ice cold drinks to take away, too.
The Last Word
The Shepherdess is easily one of the best traditional cafes in London. With its cheery, no-frills efficiency, hearty not healthy meals and totally authentic interior, it feels like it belongs to another era. A true diamond of a cafe.