Food and Drink: More pearls with the twin set: Max and Marc are back in business, serving up some gems. Emily Green gives them a big hello - again

Last Sunday night, behind an overflowing builder's skip, Chez Max opened in Fulham, west London. Half the stairway banister was missing, and the carpenters had smashed a windowpane in the downstairs dining-room. But one of two loos was working, after a fashion.

To make the evening properly sporting, the owners had booked in a large group - always more difficult to feed than small ones. This one included a top chef, a food critic, a famous master of wine and - in person and in polka dots - Delia Smith. A fair number of smaller tables had also been reserved, including mine for two.

This sort of situation can drive chefs to drink. Yet the mood in the dining- room was dreamily convivial and the food was wonderful. It generally is where the men behind Chez Max are concerned. They are the identical twins Max and Marc Renzland.

Max is host, Marc is chef. At the beginning of service, several newly employed waiting staff were still not quite sure which twin was which. As a rule of thumb, Max is likely to be the dapper one, most recently seen in a Ralph Lauren shirt and tie with a pussycat pattern; Marc is the rather portly one in the kitchen whites labelled 'chef'.

They sound alike: both share a tendency to lapse into phoney French accents. Given that they are from Essex, this sounds ridiculous. What saves it from pure idiocy is the intensity of their Francophilia. They gaze adoringly across the Channel. And it follows most beguilingly that their restaurants look, and even smell, French. (Downstairs someone was smoking Gitanes.)

The walls have been painted a marvellous, very continental shade of green, and there are covetable Fifties French ashtrays, soft lamplighting and fluttering white muslin curtains. All

it lacks is a thick-lipped Jean-Paul Belmondo and a Simone Signoret only slightly gone to seed.

The food, too, is amazingly authentic - that is to say, rich. Moreover, there is a lot of it in a three-course, fixed-price menu for pounds 19.50.

Somehow, in five years of regular visits to the twins' various restaurants, I have never eaten fewer than five courses at a sitting. Last Sunday, our pre-starter was quite the best imam bayildi in London. (The cumin in this aubergine salad was perfectly judged.)

Of starters proper, an oxtail soup was so rich it was more like a jus, with a three-inch segment of bone, full of its creamy marrow, in the centre of the plate. A creamy crab bisque was built on a perfect fish stock, and studded with more than a dozen mussels.

Main courses were flawless. Brill served with brown shrimp and a veloute sauce was one of the freshest, most perfect fish dishes to be found this side of the Channel.

A fillet of properly hung and lightly grilled Aberdeen Angus beef came with garlicky gratin dauphinois, and spinach cooked and seasoned with an exact touch. To the side, in a small ramekin, sat bearnaise sauce, with just the right amount of tarragon.

One could quibble, if inclined, with the lemon tart: too citric, slightly overcooked. The cream tart was also overcooked, but tasted great. The creme brulee, however, was the best I have eaten anywhere, including France. And the pot au chocolat, made with excellent chocolate, was intense. The fizzy water was, of course, Perrier, but the cafetiere coffee was English style: weak with a sweetly rancid aftertaste.

Vegetarians, please note: request special meals when you book, and you can expect to eat wonderfully. Fish eaters should not misdefine themselves as vegetarian: this is one of the few new- fangled absurdities that may actually irritate these very nice men.

Though customers are welcome to bring their own wines (corkage fee, pounds 3.50), there is a short wine list. The Medoc we chose, a 1990 St Estephe Chateau Lilian Ladouys, was just ready to drink, opening up elegantly from hard and eucalyptic to round and subtly spicy.

Until this restaurant becomes well established, it could be tricky for it to list a fuller selection of wines. At least one leading merchant is still fuming about the spectacular failure of the Renzland brothers' first restaurant, also called Chez Max, in Kew. It was abruptly shut by HM Customs several years ago for VAT arrears, and wines, fixtures and fittings were seized.

Those who loved that first restaurant still feel the loss. The experience, however, may have knocked some business sense into the brothers.

During the wilderness years, they jobbed their way through enough highly commercial restaurants to spot where they went wrong - and right. Most remarkably, they retain the moonstruck passion of amateurs.

To pay off debts and rally their spirits, they struck a deal with a caff called Bonzo's in suburban Hampton Wick, Surrey. The terms: they would take it over by night, shaking out gingham for a quick change into an unlicensed bistro called Le Petit Max.

It is now a little gem. For all sorts of reasons, mainly space and credit, Le Petit Max is unlicensed. Customers bring their own bottles.

The twins plan to maintain both restaurants. A loyal and talented kitchen staff, and Graham Thomson, a calming and professional third partner, should make this feasible.

Chez Max, 168 Ifield Road, London SW10 9AF (071-835 0874). Three courses pounds 19.50. Wines from pounds 9.50- pounds 26.50; corkage pounds 3.50. Open nightly for dinner, daily for lunch from 16 May. Cash and cheques.

Le Petit Max, 97a High Street, Hampton Wick, Surrey (081-977 0236). Three courses pounds 19.50. Open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday, lunch Sunday. Cash and cheques. Unlicensed; corkage pounds 2.

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning:The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier league

The Independent's live blog of today's Premier League action

Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam