Le Petit Max at Bonzo’s

The organic flour and free range eggs, purchased from Mme Roustand, made wonderful pastry for yet another tarte au citron. However, I still can’t find a really shallow tart tin, with or without a crimped edge, to make my ideal thin tart. I normally make a Jamie Oliver version of sweet, shortcrust pastry which uses 2 egg yolks and 125gms of butter to 250gms of flour. He recommends that the dough is quickly formed int0 a sausage shape, then wrapped and chilled in the fridge for an hour. This is quite a sticky pastry, so one cuts discs off the pastry sausage to stick on the surface of the tart tin, until it is totally covered. Yesterday I used a recipe which advised 1 whole egg and175gms of butter to 250gms of flour.This dough was quickly patted into a ball, wrapped and chilled for 40 minutes in the fridge, and miracle of miracles, it rolled out perfectly. Not too fragile, easy to handle  like tablier de sapeur – odd to draw a comparison with tripe, but only you, dear reader, can be a judge of that. The point of this is that, although the tart was a triumph, its success was limited by the lack of the thin, uncrimped appearance that reminds me of a perfect, as yet not repeated, tarte à la crème that I enjoyed 17 years ago, give or take 3 weeks. We had gone to celebrate one of my landmark birthdays at an early example of a “pop up” restaurant run by the amazing Max and Marc Renzland. Situated in a lay by directly opposite Hampton Wick railway station, the establishment was, during daylight hours, a transport café named Bonzo’s . As evening fell Bonzo’s transformed into Le Petit Max, a tiny parody of a bistrot, but which produced some of the best French bourgeois cuisine that I have ever eaten. The incredible identical Renzland twins performed this magical transformation with great attention to detail. The tables were covered with proper paper tablecloths and the cutlery and crockery was as it should be. On this particular night, as with most nights of its short life, Le Petit Max was bursting at the seams for the first of the two nightly sittings. Corks were being pulled, as Le Petit Max was unlicenced, by hungry people anticipating delicious food. The brothers had already made a name for themselves with no lesser names than Elizabeth David and Jeremy Round, and were soon to open their second restaurant, Chez Max in Ifield Road. Their first restaurant, unusually named Chez Max, was closed by those notoriously bad sports, HM Customs & Excise. The format of the menu was, and still is, my ideal – 3 or 4 entrées, the same amount of plats and a couple of desserts. All the ingredients were the finest. I remember having rillettes, which were as good as I have eaten, some wonderful Charolais beef, and the unforgettable tarte à la crème. That dinner was inspirational for me. The fact that I had turned 50 was forgotten in the wonder of realising that not one of the 8 people at our table had anything but praise for everything that they ate. There were no “It would have been perfect but for…….” ‘s to be heard. Sadly Marc died soon after the opening of the Ifield Rd restaurant. I ate at two other incarnations of Chez Max, but neither had the “echte” atmosphere of Bonzo’s, nor the faultless food.


About Food,Photography & France

Photographer and film maker living in France. After a long career in London, my wife and I have settled in the Vendee, where we run residential digital photography courses with a strong gastronomic flavour.
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2 Responses to Le Petit Max at Bonzo’s

  1. Jack says:

    I probably made this for you at least once. The pastry was actually bought in France, we simply didn’t have the time or space to make it. Virtually everything was made every day. When the second sitting left around midnight I would prep the deserts for the next day. Dinner after one and home around three.
    So just the finest puff pastry, rolled, rested and blind baked.
    You know that cream you get in France? It’s UHT, but not as we know it. 2 litres, reduced until thick and golden, about 500ml.
    Pour it in and bake again for 15-20 minutes, until it bubbles and has that amazing skin.
    Best and worse job of my life. Mark could cook like no one else

    • Thank you so much for letting me know the way that wonderful dessert was prepared. I’ll buy the frozen puff pastry from Picard and we have plenty of the thick, yellow creme fraiche d’Isigny easily available. My memories of Bonzo’s still rest at the very apogee of my finest restaurant moments. Many thanks again.

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