A darn sight tastier than the young Rolling Stones
Published 4 March 2012 News Review 971st article
Michael and Dinah May, right, at the Sticky Fingers Cafe with the general manager, Annie Donohoe (Craig Doyle)
I first met the Rolling Stones in 1964. A cockney producer who I'd made a couple of movies for rang at around 12.30pm and said: "Michael, I've got some boys here, they're so ugly you'd 'ave to shoot an 'aunted 'ouse film with 'em. That's 'ow ugly they are. But they're packin' the ABC cinemas. I want you to meet 'em."
I said: "EJ, I've got to leave my office at 1pm on the dot . . ." "I'll send 'em over," said EJ. In came the boys. They sat on a horrid sofa that stretched along one wall. We chatted about a movie, which never happened. Then I left for lunch with the Academy award-winning producer Jimmy Woolf. As the Stones exited, Brian Jones said nervously: "Get our first LP, Mr Winner. It's out next Monday."
Occasionally I'd meet up with Mick Jagger. Then in 1989 Bill Wyman, who I'd become friendly with, opened a restaurant round the corner from my house called the Sticky Fingers Cafe. Bill has the most fantastic collection of Stones memorabilia. Before opening, he was overseeing posters, photos and concert programmes being put on the walls.
I said: "Bill, you're hanging these up with wire and a nail. You're crazy."
"Why?" he asked.
"Because they'll be nicked," I explained.
Shortly after the launch Bill said: "You were right. Five posters were taken from the staircase leading to the lavatory." After that they were screwed to the wall.
Bill opened a couple of other Sticky Fingers in Cambridge and Manchester. They failed and closed. He sold the one in Phillimore Gardens, off Kensington High Street. It's now run by a group owned by a very able restaurateur, Brian Stein.
I went with my assistant, Dinah May, shortly after we'd visited the dreadful Chicago Rib Shack for the worst meal ever. Sticky Fingers offers a similar type of food. I used to greatly like its chilli con carne.
After a pleasing chocolate milkshake, I had hand-scooped potato skins with Texas beef chilli. Better than the Rib Shack ones but disappointing: the skins weren't crisp and I couldn't taste the chilli through the cheese. The garlic bread was fine.
I also ordered a second starter: crispy duck with cucumber, spring onions and hoi sin sauce. That was close to historic. The duck was fantastically crisp, great skin, good meat. I'd been advised by the general manager, Annie Donohoe, to have the dry-rubbed ribs, which had cajun chilli seasoning and were served with barbecue and sweet tennessee sauce.
They came with chunky apple coleslaw, and I slung in some fried onion rings. Unlike the inedible, meat-meagre ribs at the Chicago Rib Shack, these were excellent. This rib could have fed a family of eight. Very good meat, lovely chilli dressing, the whole thing highly commendable.
For dessert I had New York-style baked vanilla cheesecake with raspberry coulis and white chocolate sauce. Not bad, but nothing compares to the Wolseley version. My pecan nut brownie smothered in hot chocolate sauce with vanilla ice cream was better.
The large red leather booth had a view on one side of local ladies eating; I guess they came either from shopping or nearby offices. The other side showed a strange no-man's-land street that runs behind the Kensington High Street shops. It was all very lively. I think they'd turned the music down a bit for me, even though I didn't ask. If you fancy that sort of menu, go. If not, flaunt yourself at the Wolseley, the Delaunay or the Ivy.
In 1968 I paid £8,300 to Harry Saltzman, the James Bond movie producer, for his 1966 Rolls-Royce Phantom V. It became a classic. I've just sold it for £70,000 to Andrew Davis, whose von Essen hotel chain went into administration last year.
I thought the scorn and derision levelled at Andrew was over the top. Hundreds of restaurants, hotels and other businesses go under all the time. In a recession, the top end of the market is particularly vulnerable. Corporate hospitality more or less ceased; people getting married switched from Andrew's luxury hotels to somewhere cheaper. I could name many of today's billionaires whose companies, in less fortunate days, collapsed.
What matters is how you recover.
Andrew has just sold the London Heliport for around £50m to the property entrepreneurs the Reuben brothers. He still owns the largest fleet of helicopters in England plus a private jet company. I bet he buys back some of his old hotels.
To replace the Rolls, I bought a lovely dark blue 1998 long-wheelbase special-edition Bentley Brooklands R Mulliner. Mine is No 87 of the 100 produced. I still have another Bentley, a Rolls-Royce Corniche and a saucy Suzuki Grand Vitara.
Andrew also bought two valuable Patek Philippe watches from me. Never wore 'em; they sat in a drawer. Might as well sell and buy a radish.
From Dennis Pallis in Kent: Hymie tells Moishe his wife Becky must be dead. "Why should you say such a thing?" asks Moishe. Hymie replies: "Well, the sex is the same. But the ironing's piling up."
"I'm an expert on nothing," you professed in last week's column. How about egomania?
Brian Ahern, Dublin
I've read your column for years. As ever it's complete rubbish! Anyone who knows anything about pears would rate English conference pears far and away above abate and rocha for both culinary and fresh use. If the ones you're eating are too hard, I recommend leaving them out for seven days at room temperature to reach a soft eating quality. I'd be happy to send you and your expert, Tony Reynolds, a sample, as I'm a pear farmer.
David Long, Kent
Did you know a new Jewish restaurant had opened in New York? It's called Susuemi.
David Bedale, Cheshire
You're right. What a farce the Michelin star has become. Years ago it was the mark of quality, innovation and total dining experience. Sadly it's become an icon of achievement by adhering to a set of outdated and - oh dear, yes - French principles. Thus sacrificing variety, spontaneity and individuality.
Neil Stevens, Hertfordshire
Re the Michelin star system: I'm reminded of when my husband was taken to a famous three-Michelin-star restaurant in Valence. His host, a well-known wine producer, explained that food lovers knew that one star was for food, two for ambience and sophistication. The third star was for decadence.
Philippa Seligman, Cardiff
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