t’s featured in three series of the BBC’s fast-paced re-imagining of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle classic, in which Benedict Cumberbatch plays the lead role. “Location managers came in asking if we’d been interested in filming,” says Speedy’s Cafe owner Chris. “If they were willing to pay us, I responded, it was a no-brainer.”
The buildings along North Gower share similarities with those in Baker Street, the home of the fictional detective, but are much less busy, enabling traffic flows to be managed more easily during shooting. “On one occasion they changed the whole road and brought in horse drawn carriages,” says Chris, “another time they put fake snow in the road in August.”
He was an extra in one scene, donning trademark sideburns of the era. “It’s amazing the work they go through in the name of authenticity,” says Chris. “It’s been great for the area, not just for us. We get coachloads of tourists; when we’re full up we direct people to other places in the vicinity.”
And what’s the main man like? “Benedict is very nice,” says Chris, “They all are, we got to know them a bit.”It’s not just avid fans of the sleuth that are patrons of this NW1 institution, although they make up a large percentage: it serves up an array of good-value dishes, attracting locals and workers.
Hungry for a full English or a spot of lunch, people pile in from 6:30am onwards. The joint is traditionally decked out, with chequerboard flooring in hues of brown and cream, wooden tables and chairs and mint green walls adorned with scenes from the drama.
We swing by on a balmy afternoon, enjoy a bite at one of the alfresco tables and watch a stream of tourists taking endless pictures from every angle. “I’m here for Sherlock,” says one young lady, “I watch the show on Netflix back home in France and love it.”
It’s mid-afternoon, the place soon closes up for the day, yet most of the tables are taken, with diners munching on sandwiches, paninis and more substantial mains: burgers, fish and chips, bangers and mash.
Amiable server Luis takes our order at the counter. A tuna mayo and sweetcorn bap arrives well-filled, layered with mixed leaves, cucumber and tomato. The only thing missing is a smattering of salt and a crack of black pepper.
“I’ve owned the cafe for fifteen years but my business partner has been here even longer, about three decades,” Chris says. The aim is to give customers quick and efficient service, and so the name Speedy’s was coined. Nowadays, everyone’s selling sandwiches,” says Chris. “It’s gone crazy – there are three Sainsbury’s within a five-minute radius.
But we’ve always been steady, and benefit from being niche; we’ve kept the shop full of character and people love it. We didn’t want everything white and ultra modern. People come in and comment on the fact that they’ve been looking for a homely place.”
What’s helped to keep them in business all this time, aside from the quality grub they serve up? “We’re still are relatively cheap,” says Chris. “Our prices haven’t gone through the roof, but it’s getting harder. Plus we’ve been lucky with the Sherlock connection.”They’ve named a wrap after after the investigator. Stuffed with chicken, crispy bacon, Cheddar, peppers, red onion and a choice of sauce, it’s a popular option. But the specialty of the house is the Full Monty ciabatta.” It comes toasted, crammed with homemade escalope, melted cheese, sweet chilli and salad,” says Chris. “We do a similar dish with marinated meat that’s very popular too.”
The chef has been with Chris for aeons, as have other members of staff. “Luis has worked here for about twenty-four years,” says Chris, “that’s longer than I have. I just let him get on with it.”
Chris has cleverly capitalised on the link to Sherlock in other ways too: “I sell Speedy’s mugs and t-shirts, and we’ve also got merchandise in Takashimaya, a Japanese department store like Selfridges.”
Sherlock or not, this spot is worth popping into for simple, hearty food, friendly service – and to support an independent.
Main image: Dan Hall