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Marco's sitting pretty after applying the Max factor

Published 2 March 2003
News Review
503rd article

Chez Max: Winner with chef Adam Clark, left, and Max Renzland (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

No one ever listens to me. Actually, that's not strictly true because I know if I write massively praising somewhere, you go in large numbers. But that's not the same as listening when I talk. When I talk, nobody cares.

A long time ago I said to Marco Pierre White he was in danger of opening too many restaurants offering much the same food. He bristled and tried to tell me they were all different.

Of course they were not. Not only was the food similar, but the menus looked like they were part of a chain, not individual, and printed in such small type in faint wording on a coloured background, you could use them as an eye test.

Marco's Parisienne Chophouse in Yeoman's Row, Knightsbridge, was an attempt to break the mould. It was very good but it was much the same as all the others.

So it was no surprise when Marco recently abandoned the name and style of the Parisienne Chophouse and it transmogrified into Chez Max. When I asked why, Marco replied: "It was too much like Drones, which I own nearby. So I decided to change it."

In came Max Renzland, who had a number of restaurants with Max in the title, one of which gained a Michelin star. Max introduced himself and his menu to Chez Max.

"Are you still the owner?" I asked Marco.

"Max is the owner," said Marco.

"What are you?" I asked.

"I don't know, I haven't decided yet," replied Marco. He's a wag, isn't he.

I'm a great admirer of Margo. He's got some very good restaurants, and his choice of Max, regardless of his ownership position at Chez Max, was brilliant.

I like Max. He's not pushy. He's very charming in a quiet way. He grafts and gets on with the job. Everything I ate at Chez Max was good. I'm only sorry it's a basement. I'm a bit claustrophobic so I don't like basements. But if you have to be in a basement this is as good as any.

I think there are slightly fewer tables and they're bigger than before. This diminishes the noise level, although you still couldn't call it quiet.

I've been there twice. Once to dinner with Marco and his lovely wife Mati and once to Marco's 41st birthday dinner. On my first visit I looked at something and said: "Is this herring, Marco?"

"These are Cantabrian anchovies," was the response.

Either way, it put me in my place. They were on toast. Absolutely delicious. Then I had quail's eggs with a duxelles of mushrooms (don't ask me what that is) with hollandaise sauce and a base of puff pastry.

My main course was ham hock. "It's a knuckle of ham, a small one, from France," Max explained. "It's from organic pigs."

"And what am I having with it?" I asked.

"You can have char-baked beans, like butter beans in a broth," advised Max.

"I'll have that with mustard sauce on the side," I decided.

The only thing wrong was the Hildon water, which I find ghastly. I finished with a superb pavlova Chez Max - meringue with fruit and home-made vanilla ice cream.

Marco produced a tarte a la creme. He wanted me to eat a whole slice. I took a little bit and it was staggeringly good. I took some more.

On my second visit I had a rib-eye steak. I can't remember what else, but I know I enjoyed it.

I was seated next to the very lovely actress Martine McCutcheon. I saw her in My Fair Lady and thought she was absolutely brilliant. Very teal and gutsy. I'm glad she's doing so well.

Then David Collins came and sat next to me. Mr Collins is a famous restaurant designer about whom I've been endlessly rude. But he's a very nice person.

I don't think it was because I met him that I really liked what he'd done to improve L'Acajou, the upstairs, supposedly chic restaurant at Sandy Lane, Barbados.

"I suppose he's bought a lot of extra brown paint," said Lord Andrew Lloyd-Webber when I told him of David's Sandy Lane efforts. For once he hadn't. David added big flowery banquettes and mirrors and greatly improved an impossible room.

I only went to L'Acajou once. The food was all right, but it's the only part of Sandy Lane they need to start on all over again. They'd intended to take away the absurd, split-level layout, but they were so busy they didn’t dare close the restaurant down. That's nice, that they were busy. They deserve it.

Oh, I've deviated from Chez Max. Go there. It's great.

Winner's letters

From the BBC News website, February 21, 2003: "Film maker Michael Winner has been discharged from hospital following his admission for an undisclosed complaint." Maitre d's around the world must be poised with bated breath lest the source of the complaint is revealed. If it's so bad Winner dare not disclose it, God help them all!
Lee Bostock, London

Some of us cannot travel in the style you managed on Concorde to Barbados (Winner's Dinners, February 2). On a BA flight from London to Grand Cayman via Nassau, economy passengers got a packet of snacks, a hot lunch and a cold refreshment on the first 10-hour journey. After an hour on the ground in Nassau with no food we faced a second flight of 1½ hours. We received only orange juice. My husband was told our trip of 12 1/2 hours was not classed as "long haul", so additional food was not ' provided. For £550 each BA should have done more. No-frills airlines are better. There at least food is available for passengers to buy.
Fiona Wong, London

We went to Harry's Bar in Venice for my birthday dinner. It's a mistake that Michael Winner calls this the "best restaurant in the world". It was very disappointing. Average food and rather boring. We'd eaten within an hour. The point was to have a nice evening meal for a couple of hours, not to be rushed out to get new guests in. Never again!
Christina Andersson, Windsor

It's not a good idea to pollute one's mineral water with ice (Winner's Dinners, last week). In most restaurants ice cubes are made from tap water.
Gunvor Symonds, Kensington

Myself and two friends were at Bonaparte's bar cafe at Waterloo station when the waitress leant over and said: "Give me your glass." I murmured that I hadn't quite finished, to which she replied: "There's only a drop left. You had that the last time I came round." The clear implication being that we'd nursed a glass of tap water for hours and were taking up valuable table space. In fact we spent more than £40 in 60 minutes. Bonaparte's is opposite the Eurostar escalator. Welcome to Britain.
Lynn Picknett, 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