The first will be a single man, coat folded neatly next to him. He might be sad and lonely but then again he could well be a millionaire with a beautiful wife. As happy as Larry. Who’s to say? In any case he’s on his own and his beans are touching his eggs.
Next, two Irish ladies — it is an Irish café — who are either visiting family or used to be local but moved to the suburbs years ago. They will be enjoying the bottomless tea that comes with each fry up and they will be fervently keen with the plump sausages that are inexpensive.
Shockingly, a band of workmen are here. Each will have a preference for eggs — Maggie’s does them any which way — and some might have bubble (if you also say “and squeak,” there's the class signifier), others fried bread; chances are all will have decided to have at least one hash brown.
There’s a family in that almost certainly lives down the road. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them here before, and although the fry up is the most popular dish at Maggie’s, today he’s got the chilli con carne with chips and rice, she’s having the lasagne, and their two kids are demolishing generous plates of bangers and mash.
Finally, there is me. Or at least there used to be when I lived in Lewisham. Which I did for some years. I’d go in every couple of weeks, sometimes for a lunchtime jacket potato, occasionally for a soothing-on-the-bank, irresponsible-on-the-waistband early bird dinner. Tuck myself into a nice little booth and read something empirical (watch the football on my phone).
But of course the best thing about Maggie’s was, and still is, the breakfasts, each one traditional and based on an age-old rubric: for a set fee, choose your items. Prices start at £5.95 and move up by the number of items allowed. By far the most agreeable and economical measure is to pay £10.95 and claim 20.
I never reached that hallowed figure but 20 would be my bracket of choice. And so would arrive two sausages, two pieces of crispy bacon, two portions of hotel buffet-style scrambled eggs — pale, overcooked by gastronomic standards, but be quiet — perhaps three triangular hash browns, sun-kissed and gold like scorched Mayan temples, and then fried mushrooms and tomatoes. Never beans because I'm not a child.
Here is a café built on true, old school hospitality
This would be served by either one of the waitresses, always fiendishly efficient and almost trenchant in taking orders, or by the diffident co-owner, one of Maggie’s sons, endlessly reserved but welcoming nonetheless. He brings tea or milky sweet coffee before you’ve even had a chance to establish the level of hangover in need of vanquishing.
I should mention the cafe’s namesake, Maggie Khondoker, who died in 2020 aged 74. She was originally from Cavan and her death made the Irish Post. Tributes were many and it was because she had, with her Pakistan-born husband Mazid, established a community there by the train station, a splendid green café that serves regulars, tourists, anyone in need of decent food for little money.
And so here is a café built on true, old school hospitality — it is not hyperbolic or indulgent to call it special. This year the place celebrates its 40th birthday and its longevity is testament to its reverence. Find me a better way to dine on a tenner in London. You cannot.
320-322 Lewisham Road, SE13 7PA, maggiesrestaurant.co.uk