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It's all come a bit unstuck since Bill Wyman quit

Published 21 September 2003
News Review
532nd article

Meaty issue: Winner congratulates Wyman on his hamburgers

Bill Perks, once bass guitarist with the Rolling Stones, is a man of rare intelligence. He made a decision few people are sane enough to make. After the second big Rolling Stones comeback tour he packed it in in 1993, regardless of the financial rewards because he wasn't enjoying it. He went to his 15th-century mansion in Suffolk, acquired a new wife, three new children, a chain of hamburger restaurants and created an excellent new band called Rhythm Kings or Bootleg Kings, according to which CD you buy.

I first met Mr Perks in March 1964 when he was known as Wyman. A cockney movie producer phoned and said: "I've got some boys 'ere. They're so ugly all we can do is make an 'aunted 'ouse film with 'em."

The Rolling Stones were sent round for inspection. As they left my office Brian Jones said nervously: "Our first album's out next week, be sure to buy it."

Twenty-five years later I was a regular at a splendid restaurant near my Holland Park house, owned by Bill Wyman. Other diners included Princess Diana and her children, Daniel Day Lewis and Bob Dylan. At Bill's Sticky Fingers the hotdogs and hamburgers were exquisite, the fried chicken wings a rare treat, the strawberry milkshake historic, the potato skins with cheese, bacon and sour cream a delight. I still recall the chilli con carne with immense affection. The chocolate iced yoghurt was supremely delicious.

Bill was a terrific restaurateur. I even made an extremely witty speech at his wedding to Mandy. Mind you, it can't have been that witty. I wasn't even asked to his next wedding.

Sadly, today Sticky Fingers, minus Bill, is a shadow of its former self. He sold it to Maxwell's restaurants. I'll say one thing for them - and only one - they greatly improved the look of the place. They brightened it up, put mirrors on the ridiculously lowered ceilings, added some red neon strip lighting and spaced the tables so I could actually hear what Geraldine had to say.

Keeping on the positive side, which is difficult, Geraldine thought her veggie burger was delicious. She also liked her guacamole. Asked about her margarita, she pulled a face and said: "Not very good at all, I'm afraid."

I was distressed that many of my old-time favourites were no longer available. The strawberry milkshake had dropped from historic to just okay. There was no chilli con carne. Hotdogs were only on the kiddies' menu. The frankfurter was very poor quality, there was no good taste in any of it.

I then had a hamburger with American cheese and a fried egg plus tomato plus salad and a slice of pickled cucumber. Oh, and chips. The burger was very feeble, not a patch on what it was before. The rest was tedious. It cost £11.08 including 12½% service. The service was excellent.

By comparison, the Ivy hamburger, which is supreme, is £9.50 including a gherkin, tomato and red onion. The Dorchester room service hamburger is £18.50 including Vat and service. That's good, too.

At Sticky Fingers I finished with a waffle with maple syrup and vanilla ice. If this was real maple syrup it was a ghastly variety. The waffle itself was soggy, no texture, no crispness, really awful. The vanilla ice cream was all right. Nowhere near the best in London. That's to be had at Marine Ices in Chalk Farm.

I won't dwell on the current food at Sticky Fingers. I'll return to the way it was. I went in when Bill Wyman was putting up the fascinating Stones memorabilia, which still adorns the walls. I noticed it was hung with wires onto a nail.

"Are you crazy!" I said. "This'll all be nicked." "No it won't," he said. A couple of weeks later I saw them screwing all the paraphernalia to the walls. "We lost four posters from the staircase down to the toilets," explained Bill.

He also opened a Sticky Fingers in Cambridge and the superb Manchester one had a marvellously high-ceilinged room. "They only go out Fridays and Saturdays in Manchester," Bill told me ruefully, explaining its demise. I went there when I flew up for Mrs Merton's TV show.

"Did you mug a young person on the way here to get those clothes?" was Mrs M's first question. She was lovely. So were the hamburgers at Sticky Fingers under Bill's rule. I even gave them the Winner's Dinners Best Hamburger Award. Our photo shows Bill collecting it. Why not buy the place back, Bill? I might even go halves. Can you think of anything worse than having me as your partner!

Winner's letters

Don't be so obviously old and pompous, Michael. You hated Biarritz. We had a wonderful holiday there. Why do you stay at places where fawning is a requisite? I'm amazed you didn't find Chez Albert in the old harbour. You missed a real treat.
Pat Jacklin, Sheffield

I don't know why people always seem to be complaining about Michael Winner. So what if he's a pretentious old git! I think he writes a brilliant column. I love reading it even though I can't afford to go to any of the restaurants he talks about.
Markie R, by e-mail

I have a chocolate shop in Lewes where my husband's ice cream is exemplary. I'd like you to try it. I used to work at Debry Patisserie in Brompton Road when I wasn't doing things like dancing the twist in a film with Billy Fury and Bobby Vee. The director, a certain MW, was handsome and witty but absolutely terrifying - a fear factor exceeded only by Otto Preminger.
Elizabeth Syrett, East Sussex

Have you noticed a big increase in the number of young children being forced by their parents to attend restaurants when they'd rather be tucked up in bed with their teddies? While this is not yet regarded a problem by the social services, we who have to endure the moans of the unfortunate offspring would appreciate a list of restaurants who refuse to allow children under eight years old to dine after 8pm.
John Griffin, Hertfordshire

I've nominated you for an honorary degree from the University of Wales, Lampeter, for "services to the culinary arts". You should stay at the Falcondale Mansion hotel. It has spacious views and the Welsh lamb is "historic". You can watch the live variety from the restaurant window. It makes the meal more poignant.
John Gordon, Yorkshire

At Balans in Kensington High Street they served me back bacon instead of streaky as offered on the menu. When I sent it back with cold French toast, they went out to a shop for streaky bacon. Ten minutes after leaving I went back to question incorrect change. They returned my tenner, no questions asked. This is "customer for life" service!
Seth Lewis, London

Send letters to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or e-mail michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk