In the 1980s and early 1990s Max Renzland and his identical twin brother Mark (who sadly died in 1995 from a heroin overdose) ran some excellent restaurants in west London. Chez Max was initially in Kew from 1989 to 1991 and then later in Chelsea from 2002 to 2004, Le Petit Max was in Hampton Wick from 1991 to 1996 and Monsieur Max was in Hampton Hill from 1997 – 2002, the latter awarded a Michelin star from 2000 to 2004. All were bistros showing real passion for French cooking and ingredients, and I ate many good meals in these fine establishments. Following this, Max disappeared off the food scene for a while, then he headed food development for D&D London from 2007 to 2012. Max travels extensively around France, and has a deep knowledge of its food and restaurants.
In March 2012 he got back into the restaurant saddle, opening Provender in Wanstead, not the most obvious location to open a restaurant. When I lived in nearby Leytonstone in the 1980s the local fare was mainly restricted to fish and chips and the odd pizza and kebab, and my local greengrocer was baffled when I asked for a shallot. The intervening years have certainly seen a lot of development in east London, though Provender is the only serious restaurant I am aware of to be located this far out of the buzzing east end food scene around Old Street. The 80-seat restaurant opens all day, and was turning tables on the night of our visit. The dining room is in two sections, with exposed brick walls and banquette seating.
There are actually two wine lists. The main all-French wine list ranged in price from just £15.95 to £72.50, with a median price of £33 and an average mark-up of 2.6 times the retail price, which is on the low side for London, with relative mark-ups tapering off towards the high end of the list. Example wines included Sauvignon de Touraine Domain Guy Allion 2012 at £24.95 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £10, Chablis Domaine Bernard Defaix 2011 at £36.50 for a wine that retails at around £14, and Puligny-Montrachet Domaine Sylvain Bizkot 2011 at £57.50 for a wine that will set you back £32 in a shop. The separate fine wine list, with limited availability in terms of specific bottles, was more interesting. Didier Dagenau Pur Sang 2009 was £75 for a wine that actually costs £60 to buy in a shop, Henri Gouges Clos des Porrets 2001 was £85 for a wine that retails at £42 and the lovely Etienne Sauzet Puligny Montrachet Les Referts 2008 was £92.50 for a wine that costs £58 in a shop. Baguette bread was supplied from Delice de France, and as ever from this large supplier was distinctly ordinary (12/20 at best). For breakfast bread here they use Flourish, a much superior baker.
Starters were generally priced at the £6 to £7 mark, with main courses around £15 - £17, desserts £3.75 - £6.95. Charcuterie is sourced from the noted supplier Madame Sibilia in Lyon, a stall in the Aux Halles de Lyon market that has been operating since 1911. A board of fishy nibbles included Shetland salmon mousse, potted mackerel and herring. Warm Sibilia pistachio sausage served on a bed of puy lentils with choucroute was very enjoyable, the sausage itself excellent (14/20).
A starter of shellfish cocktail had a mix of prawns, smoked prawns, crayfish and brown shrimp with Marie Rose sauce, which was very pleasant if unexceptional (13/20). Better was foie gras cured in salt with wine jelly, the liver flavour coming through well and the texture smooth, with good toast, this time using bread supplied from Flourish (14/20). I also enjoyed an old Monsieur Max favourite, iman bayildi. The spiced aubergine salad came with a red pepper and harissa dressing, Greek yoghurt and grilled crostini; the spices were in just the right balance, and this was as good as I remember it from many years ago (15/20).
Turbot was roasted on the bone and served with Hollandaise and creamed spinach. The fish was carefully cooked but the Hollandaise was rather thick (13/20). I preferred Barbary duck breast, carefully cooked and slightly spiced, served with very good red cabbage, port jus and excellent gratin dauphinois (14/20).
For dessert the star was sherry trifle with jasmine tea sponge, good custard, griottine cherries and excellent Valrhona chocolate (14/20). Pruna and aramagnac ice cream was also good, with Agen prunes and orange confit (14/20). Coffee was Musetti and had good flavour.
Service was friendly and attentive. The bill came to £107 a head, but this was with a top quality bottle of wine from the fine wine list and additional dessert wine. If you ordered a modest bottle of wine then a typical bill for three courses and coffee would be about £50 a head. Provender is a terrific neighbourhood restaurant, using high quality ingredients and with its owner’s love of France shining through.