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‘I went to the South London café where you can build your own Full English breakfast for £8.95 – it’s the future of fry ups’ – Ellen Jenne

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A Full English is the cornerstone of British cuisine, a meal for all seasons and times of the day. It’s one of a very small handful of traditional breakfast dishes you could get away with having for tea in the evening.

Usually the only time I consume the packed plate of fried goodness is when I’m ten shots of tequila deep in a hangover, full of vodka-fuelled regret, while reminiscing the morning after the night before. For me, a Full English isn’t just about the greasy spoon food, it’s the whole experience of sitting beside ten incredibly inebriated pals all melting into their steaming plates of fat, salt and cholesterol.

It’s also a meal which has come under much scrutiny when it comes to price, size and “done-ness”. So having the option to build your own from 20 items is like hitting the Full English jackpot, all for £8.95, even better. Tucked away beside the railway arches of Lewisham High Street lies Maggie’s, a local institution when it comes to all day breakfast. A proud and extroverted greasy spoon which has been knocking about since 1983, inviting customers from all over the city to sample their “build your own” fry up.

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Maggie’s is a humble greasy spoon

From the outside, the caff looks like your run-of-the-mill eatery swallowed up by the millions of pounds worth of built-to-rent high-rises. But I couldn’t miss its vibrant green and yellow sign in the splinter of sunlight which decided to make an appearance.

The caff’s two-person tables, which lined the immediate vicinity, were full apart from one that looked like it had just been vacated, as a lonesome plate sat there waiting to be cleared away.

Inside was decked out with exposed brick, light lacquered wood at every turn, and enough tables to fill every reasonable space of the entire café.

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Maggie’s had its own style

Maggie’s menu could’ve rivalled the length of the Magna Carta. But I needn’t bother scouring the entire menu, even though I did take a quick peek, as I’d come for one thing only – the “Create Your Own Breakfast” – where the power was in my hands alone, meaning I could get rid of whatever I wanted and not feel guilty for saying so.

However, before anyone screams that I committed a cardinal sin by foregoing the meat options (sausage, bacon, liver, ham and black pudding) and eggs, there was a very good reason for it. Meat just doesn’t float my boat as it once did. So keep all your comments about my fry up not being a “proper” Full English to yourself.

I took full advantage of their 20 items, ordering a mammoth portion consisting of veggie sausages, mushrooms, fried onions, hash browns, beans, bubble, grilled tomatoes, fried slice and toast.

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I’m not joking… it really was

I didn’t feel the need for a bottomless tea or coffee since the spring sun was blazing through the window. A pint of fresh orange juice sufficed instead. Oh, and I forgot to mention – the fry up comes with two of each item.

The waitress did ask if I wanted any eggs (fried, poached or scrambled) before I gently declined.

As I looked around the room and eaves dropped where I could, near enough every other customer who’d ordered, or were in the middle of their midday meal, were tucking into a variant of Maggie’s breakfasts – Eggs on Two Toast, Avocado Smash, and Sausage, egg and bacon. Breakfast time didn’t end inside the walls of this caff, as if time stood still at 10am all day everyday.

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The menu was as detailed as the Magna Carta

Before I knew it, a plate three times the size of my head, piled high with carbs upon carbs upon carbs. I had to collect myself for a moment as the reality of my task hit me square in the face with a frying pan. The plate was gorgeous, guilty and gluttonous in the best way imaginable. But I had a behemoth challenge on my hand. I don’t think I fully comprehended just how gargantuan the plate would be as the ingredients rolled off my tongue.

From the first bite I had been consumed by the Full English’s power. It hit all the right spots from the grilled onions to the lake of baked beans. I didn’t need meat to complete the dish, it was already whole.

One highlight was the enviably crisp hash brown. Perfectly formed triangles fried until a luscious brown. I was surprised yet thankful every item was cooked evenly, including the fried slice. From now on, I only want fried slices of bread. Fried bread is the way forward. There was a small period of time where the waitress appeared to forget the toast part of my order. Deep down I was thankful because I didn’t think it would be humanly possible for me to eat more than what was already put in front of me.

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What more could you want from a fry up?

To my horror she remembered and planted a side plate of two buttered slices of toast next to my full plate. Each forkful of onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and bubble topped with beans teetered on the brink of pleasurable and laborious. Piling my cutlery high was the game plan, was it sensible? Probably not.

However, my only gripe was the lack of creativity and imagination when it came to the veggie sausages. Once again I found myself with a “sausage” made from potato, which in my opinion was a poor excuse for a vegetarian alternative. Take note greasy spoons, up your veg game, please.

Whatever minor chagrin I held for the potato sausage was drowned out by the rest of my mountainous plate. I succumbed to its temptation like Eve with the apple in the Garden of Eden.

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Would the portion of toast be too much to bear?

Did I feel guilty? No. Would the world be damned for all eternity? No. Should “build you own” fry ups be the way forward for breakfast? Absolutely. Maggie’s cracked the all-day brekkie game, making it a meal for all seasons for every type of person – local, tourist, worker.

I couldn’t narrow down or label a “crowd” which occupied the neighbouring tables, Maggie’s hosted all sorts, from young families to friends catching up, and colleagues on their lunch break and… one of my favourite food critics.

My eyes were wandering around the room when in my peripherals I caught sight of Jimi Famurewa milling about looking for a table.

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I was officially defeated

He’d strolled in and sat down at the table facing mine. Internally I was fangirling, on the outside I was as cool as a cucumber. He must’ve been a local as the staff and patrons greeted him like he was a regular customer, not batting an eyelid. Surely this means Maggie’s has a food critic’s seal of approval?

Eating at Maggie’s was like I’d been invited over to a friend’s house for tea, where everyone knows everyone and knows their order off by heart. Although it was my first time there, I didn’t feel like a newbie or a stranger. I felt cared for and overly nourished, leaving with a belly-full of grub even though I didn’t want to.

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Maggie’s have cracked the breakfast code, making a Full English astonishingly affordable in the city, shunning any hints of the nouveau breakfast and brunch hype. This was simple, quality food tailored to every customers’ needs. I couldn’t scoff at the £8.95 price tag, because I got way more than my money’s worth.

In times when money is tight but you still want to treat yourself, Maggie’s in Lewisham provides everything to satiate your Full English desires. It’s everything I could’ve ever wanted from breakfast time.

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