Published: 06:00, 20 May 2021
After months of being forced to cook our own meals – not good if you don't know which way up a frying pan goes – followed by weeks of shivering on pavements outside pubs and restaurants, ordering the most spicy thing on the menu to keep warm, it's time to come in from the cold.
And what better way to bring in this new dawn after the long dark hours of fasting, than that most classic ways of breaking a fast – breakfast.
It is morning after all, 9am Wednesday to be precise, and I'm looking forward to returning to the lost world of the greasy spoon cafe.
Except there's a problem – it really is almost lost. The legendary Oakdene Cafe slap bang alongside the M20 at Wrotham, where bikers and lorry drivers once enjoyed plates piled high with greasy delights, is now as flat as a piece of fried bread after being accidentally sat on by a 20 stone trucker.
And whether it was on its way out before lockdown or not, it seems for some cafes the pandemic has brought on the financial equivalent of a coronary blockage that many couldn't survive.
A few panic stricken phone calls and Google searches later, and it transpires another favourite old venue has gone, while another is now vegan – which is fine but you need cheap pork products in a proper traditional breakfast – so I phone some builder contacts who inform me of a hidden gem in East Malling – Sam's Bus Stop Cafe – and the internet says it's open right now!
"Great, I'll get you breakfast if you come along and take a picture of me eating!"
The excitement was building as I passed through the morning traffic on the way to this fabled establishment, but alas, a few minutes later, said builder friend and I were standing in the drizzle looking mournfully at the door that once led to Sam's Bus Stop Cafe.
"It's closed down," said a man. "You could try the burger van at B&Q."
"No you fool, we need plates piled high, and we need to empty them while sitting on plastic chairs," was not our reply.
"Ok," said the builder. "We could try Martin Square."
Desperation was setting in by the time we pulled into the car park at Martin Square, Larkfield, and I stepped out of the car feeling sick with worry and anticipation but fortunately I would soon be sick with satisfaction, because lo, shining like the Holy Grail a'top a mythic castle shimmering in the grey morning light was Cafe Plaza – and its door was open.
Inside it's just as a cafe should be but a bit posher, with wooden tables and chairs rather than plastic ones. The waitresses are friendly and welcoming and explain how they're happy to be back at work, although they admit the initial buzz didn't last.
"We were dead excited when we came in on Monday," says one. "We were bouncing around but the novelty wore off pretty quickly. It's still been a good atmosphere though."
At least she's honest, and so's the rest of the cafe.
We order two cups of tea and they come served, of course, with a bit too much milk and the tea bag still inside – just how I hate it, if I'm at home, and exactly how I love it when out in a cafe.
It's a good start and we choose our breakfasts. The builder surprisingly has the smaller £4.70 version, while I decide I need the larger £6.80 one to conduct a more thorough review, with a black pudding and mushrooms as traditional extras to compensate for the controversial chips. (Fight it out in the comments section please).
While we're waiting, we embark on a traditional greasy spoon cafe conversation, and the builder comes into his own, talking about rained-off building jobs, fishing trips, pubs and Danny Dyer. I attempt to chip in with something about Charlemagne, but it doesn't go down well, and we turn to observing the rest of the cafe.
"It's nice and airy – good for Covid," notes the builder, which is a polite way of saying "it's not that busy".
But cafes are always like that at times. We clearly missed the morning rush, and at least that means there's more room for our stomachs to swell out once we've consumed our breakfasts... which, like manna from heaven, have just arrived.
At this point I have to confess to a slight handicap when it comes to reviewing food – or at least in a manner that might help others decide if they want to eat it too.
And that's the fact I have never really not enjoyed a meal. I've eaten in the best places (or the best I can afford) and worst cafes and restaurants in a variety of countries; several of them during a very budget inter-rail trip around all corners of Europe in 2005, and enjoyed everything I've eaten everywhere.
The affliction, or blessing, depending on your point of view, is so apparent to anyone that's ever joined me for more than a few meals, that it led to the creation of a Facebook group in which so-called friends posted pictures of increasingly disgusting food items and discussed whether I would eat them.
I won't post the name of it and suggest you don't look it up.
Needless to say the group was short-lived and not very popular but my food tastes and appetite remains largely unafflicted.
Nevertheless, I do enjoy some meals more than others, and can report back that this meal is among one of the finest I can remember. Whether or not that's simply because it's been so long since I last had a proper fry-up in a cafe, it's difficult to say, but it certainly hit the spot.
The bacon was beautifully salty, the sausages spectacularly budget, but it was all delicious. What's more, it contained so many calories that I didn't even feel hungry when a work meeting later that day ran for two hours through lunchtime. And as I write this, the working day nearing its end, I've got so much energy I'm thinking about going for a run before getting the train up to London straight after work.
That, dear friends, is the often unspoken power of the Full English Breakfast, and I suggest you go and experience it as well, before too many more of these unheralded gems are lost to England forever.
The builder said it was good too.
Cafe Plaza, Martin Square, Larkfield ME20 6QL
Food: Fantastic, if you like fry-ups how they're supposed to be done *****
Drink: Too milky and with the tea bag left in. Excellent *****
Decor: A bit nicer and cleaner than your old-school fry-up venue ***
Staff: Cheerful, chatty and helpful *****
Price: Great value *****
Ratings out of five