Published 17 April 1994 Style Magazine 42nd article
Wyman with Sticky Fingers (George Jaworskyj)
"Ere," said a cockney producer I once worked for, "I 'ave got some boys in this office so ugly you could only make an 'aunted 'ouse film with 'em. They'll 'ave to 'aunt an 'ouse. I'll send 'em over."
The boys were The Rolling Stones. It was March 25 1964 and I had a very important lunch date at the sadly departed Empress Restaurant in Berkeley Street with a real producer called Jimmy Wolf. I didn't want to hang about to meet these uglies who might or might not feature in a haunted house movie. But in they came, five shy young men who sat on a long sofa opposite my desk while, for a few moments, we chatted about the proposed film. As they left Brian Jones said nervously, "Our first album's out next week, be sure to buy it."
Thirty years later I sat last week opposite one of those lads, Bill Perks (better known as Wyman) in his Kensington restaurant Sticky Fingers. I had vaguely kept in touch with most of The Stones and had made, I thought at least, a very witty speech at Bill's wedding to a girl called Mandy. Sticky Fingers is near my house, but I have seldom been there. The music was far too loud and, early on, I had a hot dog that was revolting. Now Bill, 57, and without his black-dyed hair a lookalike for Keith Waterhouse, told me he'd "called a board meeting and told them to lower the music level". So it was pleasantly there, but unobtrusive. The food had perked up no end as well.
The potato skins with cheese, bacon and sour cream were a delight, and Vanessa's vegetable chilli was excellent. The service was good; water, ice and lemon came like lightning. For the main course I had to try the hot dog again, but I also ordered a hamburger as it is a sort of hamburger joint. Both were superb. The hot dog was totally unlike the earlier disaster, although the fried onions were a bit soggy. The hamburger was first rate. On both of them the buns were fresh and not at all cloying. Vanessa's main course was a veggie burger, also tasty. She ordered a strawberry milkshake and I sipped a bit. Totally historic. The best milkshake I've ever had, and I used to be a milkshake freak. Just the right texture, a nice light pink colour, thick with sort of more liquid bits here and there. Exceptional taste. We ordered another.
For dessert I had chocolate iced yoghurt which the menu said had "no fat, no cholesterol". If it's true it's the most delicious thing ever to be so kind to heart and waistline. Vanessa had home-made bread and butter pudding with toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream. I nicked a bit. The pudding was okay, the ice cream excellent. All in all it's a terrific place. It delivers exactly what you'd expect, and does it very well. The customers included Sloaney girls, kids, shoppers and an American film executive. Of course Princess Di's been there with those strange children, as well as Daniel Day Lewis, Bob Dylan and various other peculiars.
When Bill started he had two partners and the rock memorabilia was fixed to the wall so I told him unsafely. I also said he'd regret the partners. He disagreed. The rock stuff was nicked, so it's now firmly screwed and the partners are gone. You can buy a variety of jolly clothing and souvenirs from a leather jacket at £195, to postcards for 50p. Children get free balloons, colouring books and stickers, and on Sundays there's a magician. Bill is now well settled down with a serious new wife. He grows sugar beet, winter wheat and barley on his Suffolk land. Farmer Bill, in fact.
I have only two complaints. Firstly, the menu card was filthy: full of old smear and slimy things. Secondly, and far more serious why did I not get my free balloons, colouring book and stickers?
Michael Winner's criticism of everything at The Lanesborough (Hospital Case, April 10), with the exception of his long-standing friend, John Davey, extends to the exterior of the building, which most people consider a gracious London landmark. Mr Winner considers it to be "like a home for the mentally unstable" (perhaps he has had some personal knowledge of what a home for the mentally unstable looks like!). With regard to the fire in the lobby as being an "awful gas imitation coal fire", does Mr Winner know anything about the environmental pollution constraints in this area? If these comments are anything to go by, the accuracy of his culinary knowledge is certainly in question. The fact that Mr Winner would order a Chateau Lafite '61 with his kedgeree also leads to questionable culinary knowledge, and suggest a tendency to showing-off, bordering on egomania. We are very upset at this vicious attack on our Conservatory restaurant, as are many of our regular and loyal guests. I write this letter in the hope that you will restrict Mr Winner's unwarranted, and uncalled-for, attacks on any more establishments before The Sunday Times becomes as successful as Mr Winner's films.
Geoffrey A Gelardi, Managing Director, The Lanesborough
We were appalled at Michael Winner's comments about The Lanesborough hotel's dining room. It has been a consistent favourite of ours for more than two years. Its bread, which is baked in-house every morning, is the best in London. We have yet to eat a bad meal in the Conservatory. The service is always first-class, the young staff are friendly and attentive.
Stuart and Hazel Sapcote, Birmingham
Although I do not often venture into the expensive reaches of The Lanesborough hotel to take meals, I did take a friend visiting from America to lunch at the Conservatory as recently as April 1. We both ordered the Friday set menu: a starter of salmon fettucine, the main course of salmon dartois, and a delightful dessert. We both agreed that the meal was one of the most delicious we had ever eaten. The service was very friendly and prompt. As an American living here, I tend to stay away from London restaurants due to their usually high prices, indifferent service and mediocre food. However, my three or four visits to the Lanesborough, though the prices are high, have been quite excellent. I don't think the negative review Michael Winner wrote about the Conservatory is deserved.
Charles DConnor, London SW1
I was heartened to read Michael Winner's misguided review. When Mr Winner becomes known as the arbiter of good taste in Britain, I shall emigrate. In the meantime, I look forward to many more delightful evenings enjoying Mr Gayler's first-rate food and warm hospitality.
Mary Domange, London N11
There must have been many readers incensed by the article Mr Winner wrote about The Lanesborough and the very talented head chef. I have eaten there at least a dozen times and have never had anything but an excellent meal and service.
D Murphy, Ilford, Essex
Having eaten at The Lanesborough hotel, I found Michael Winner's comments totally and utterly unbelievable. All restaurants can have an off day, but some of the slating personal comments regarding the chef were arrogant in the extreme. Paul Gayler, as most people will know, is one of the most dedicated and committed chefs in the catering industry, for whom I and many of my colleagues have the greatest respect. I hope The Lanesborough will not accept this totally unfounded critique lying down.
John Retallick, Chairman Of Judges, Le Salon Culinaire des Londres, Dyfed