Feast of the M60 visits an old friend
A recent conversation with a fellow ‘Bridge fan on the joys of the Wheatmeal Bun in The White House is partly to blame for my most recent visit to this place seen above. Yesterday, I saw the same fan (also a real ale and rail fanatic like myself) whilst en route to Huddersfield. I had every intention of calling into the said town’s Wimpy Bar, albeit for a Spicy Beanburger.
Somehow, his presence prompted my change of dinner. On being handed a menu, I then realised that Wimpy still did Wheatmeal Buns. Result (though the same couldn’t have been said of The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic’s 1-0 reverse against Solihull Moors the previous day)! Yours truly opted for the quarterpounder with chips. Quite nice it was too, though it seemed a little odd enjoying a burger in a brown bun.
Till the start of 1990s, Wimpy Bars were a common sight in most UK towns. Spun off from the Lyons Corner Houses, they took the name from the Popeye character Mr. J. Wellington Wimpy. By the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, they were the last name in fast food dining throughout the UK. In its heyday, they were taken over by United Biscuits in 1977 before being sold to Grand Metropolitan in 1989. Today, it is owned by South African company Famous Brands.
What’s more, the way a Wimpy meal is served is quintessentially English. Instead of disposable packaging – as used by its red-headed nemesis and rivals – cutlery, plates and mugs are the norm if you eat in. It is more laid back compared with its rivals and a more civilised way of enjoying a spicy beanburger. And they wait on you too, which is a good thing.
Three years before United Biscuits’ acquisition, McDonalds opened its first branch in Woolwich on the 12 October 1974. They counteracted this by launching counter service, where plates were eschewed in favour of disposable packaging. Counter service only restaurants were opened up, though the end of the 1980s and early 1990s saw these converted to Burger King outlets. Today, it is possible to ask for counter service McDonalds style or table service.
East of the M60 motorway, Wimpy had branches in Middleton (Arndale Centre), Rochdale, Oldham, Stockport and Ashton-under-Lyne. Oldham had two with its table service branch moving from High Street to a counter service branch on Market Place (which became a Burger King). Middleton’s and Stockport’s were converted to Burger King outlets, whereas Ashton-under-Lyne’s branch remained open till 1998, when its lease on Staveleigh Way elapsed. Today, Salford Shopping City, Pendleton, is home to Greater Manchester’s only Wimpy branch. A fifth branch in the North West of England was situated in the now closed Camelot Theme Park in Charnock Richard.
I had visited the Huddersfield branch once before, and my reasons for visiting include nostalgia value. I used to like the Ashton branch, which I frequented with my late Nana (opting for a coffee and toasted currant teacake offer – who could blame her?). Another – more so in Northern England and Scotland nowadays – elusiveness. It is also more to do with the fact I prefer to enjoy my burgers on a plate instead of on cardboard (though that option is also available).
The pace is gentler, music is set to a softer volume and – as I have noticed in my most convenient branch [Huddersfield] – older clientele, often families and 40 – 50 something diners. You don’t feel coerced in any way to leave the premises as quickly as possible unlike rival chains, and the seats are comfortable enough for you to savour your meal. The decor has leanings towards its 1970s pomp though a healthy dose of 21st century coffee shop chic.
Its sense of history isn’t lost on Wimpy’s present owners with red once again its most dominant colour. Thankfully, it has nixed the mainly yellow style with lowercase red sans-serif lettering in favour of reverting to its early 1970s logo. Whereas that appeals to the converted (Children of the 1980s like myself and a great many readers for example), it makes for a more upmarket look from the yellow fascia.
Not everything is stuck in the 1970s. Coffee wise, latte appears alongside cappuccino and bog standard filter coffee. Smoothies appear alongside its thick milkshakes, so 21st century families along with 30 something nostalgia freaks are equally appeased.
Needless to say, I was happy to find that such delights like the Bender Meal and International Grill still feature, along with the belt-busting Brown Derby. As for a return visit, given the choice of McDonalds on the corner of New Street, the adjacent Pizza Hut, Burger King on Kirkgate, or Wimpy, I would go for the latter. Perhaps I might get around to trying the Spicy Beanburger, followed by a Brown Derby and a chocolate milkshake.
The chips were far from greasy and it seemed a change to taste fries which lacked the obvious Instant Mash Potato type of taste symptomatic of rival chains’ efforts. As for the burger, reassuringly the same Wimpy quality I had experienced in the early 1990s (and a good thing for a Child of the ’80s like myself). As for the coffee, my bucket of latte was eminently drinkable – every bit as good as the expensive coffee chains.
Long may they continue to flourish alongside its more aggressive cutlery and crockery deficient rivals. If there’s one thing they ought to improve upon, free WiFi access may be a boon.
And the Wheatmeal Bun well and truly rocks.
Stuart Vallantine ordered an Original Quarterpounder on a Wheatmeal Bun with chips and a large Latte at their Huddersfield branch on 9, Cloth Hall Lane.
S.V., 10 December 2012.