Published: 05:00, 25 November 2021
Back in the 70s when Wimpy was having its heyday, you could buy a burger for 21p.
The fast food chain brought American diner style to the UK's high street, though by the time I first came across Wimpy in the late 80s, its shiny red and white styling was starting to be overshadowed by a certain other American fast food chain beginning with M.
I've lived in Maidstone for quite a few years now and though the Wimpy joint is a familiar fixture at the top of Gabriel's Hill, I'd never ventured in before.
The sounds of the Drifters singing Come On Over were ringing in my ears as I stepped inside yet it took me a while to properly recall the catchy 1987 advert jingle "Come On Over to my place... we're having a Wimpy" they were actually singing.
How could I have forgotten (a little YouTube search refreshed my mind and got it stuck in my head)?!
I don't know how long the Wimpy has been on that site in Maidstone but inside and out it looked exactly as I think it would have done in 1987. Like - exactly.
It has a motorway service station feel about it, and the furniture was definitely out of the 80s. Some of the pictures on the walls also looked as though they had not moved for decades. But everything was spotless.
We were immediately greeted by some very friendly staff - every member was welcoming and helpful, without being over-friendly, throughout our visit, and did everything with a smile and a laugh.
I was surprised to find on a Tuesday lunchtime that there was a steady stream of customers, of all ages (except perhaps image-conscious teenagers). Only the tables at the very back weren't taken.
According to Wikipedia, during the 1970s Wimpy as a company refused entry to single women after midnight. But there's no such discrimination now - no-one can get in after 4pm every day bar Saturdays, when the latest it opens is 5pm.
The laminated menus weren't offering 70s prices, but there was still a reminder of the chain's heyday, as you can still get a classic Bender in a Bun (for those unaware it's a fried smoked pork sausage cut so that it bends round in the bun) with cheese, costing £4.30.
I opted for a fish finger burger which was inexplicably 10p more.
We also ordered a tea and diet coke, plus some sides of mozzarella sticks and cheesy chips.
So did the Bender in the Bun stand the test of time? Sadly childhood memories faded and more grown-up tastes meant it was actually a bit tough to finish. I can report that the fish finger burger was just as I thought it would be though, and perfectly acceptable.
Unfortunately, the cheesy chips were laying in wait for any unsuspecting cheese lover.
They had an unfathomable form of cheese on top. As a fan of cheese, I can honestly say I had never tasted anything like it. I actually had to try some more despite the taste in the hope I would work out what type it was. But no such luck. Answers on a postcard please...
A quick check of the facilities also produced another surprise - one toilet for both sexes as one was out of order, with the best makeshift sign ever trying to explain it was for both. Clean yet ancient, the loos did also come with an unexpected tiny step down which could catch some out.
Wimpy may have faded in the nation's affections over the years, but it's clear there's still a place in Maidstone's heart for a good value lunch with good old fashioned service - and, for some (but perhaps not us another time) a Bender in a Bun.
Ratings out of five
Food: The food was good, and Wimpy couldn't really be blamed for the bender in a bun not living up to childhood memories, could it? As for the "cheese" though - maybe ****
Drink: They make a good pot of tea, and the coke was as you'd expect ****
Decor: Clean and so, so dated! But I think I would have been disappointed if it had been any other way ***
Staff: Friendly, helpful, they absolutely get top marks *****
Price: Two burgers, fries, mozzarella sticks, cheesy chips and drinks for £23.10 isn't quite 70s prices, but it's hard to beat ****