It takes a very special place to wow me to the extent that Thomas Maxwell Bistro in Parkmore, Johannesburg wows me. I’ve even gone so far as to call it my favourite restaurant in South Africa. So when I found myself in Jozi last week, it was a happy day securing a last minute reservation at this much-loved establishment. I think I could have done a little dance. Just possibly maybe.
In all my previous visits to Thomas Maxwell, I have tried to take in as much detail as possible. To say that I still find interesting little trinkets & treats around the edgy, bare brick New York style restaurant tickles me in ways I find hard to verbalise. From the pewter greyhound in the bar area, to the wooden pineapples featuring randomly throughout the restaurant, the incredibly fabulous art deco red leather & brass chairs, and the hat boxes that adorn the wine crates & vintage dressers that separate the kitchen from the dining area, this is one eclectic yet well thought out space.
I immediately like a place where the chefs run the show. Yeah yeah, I get that that may not be everybody’s cup of icky earl grey tea, but I appreciate that the focus is on the food experience, rather than fancy-pancy waitrons flouncing around in stiff whites jabbering unashamedly amongst themselves about how few tips they’re making. I like that Thomas Barker & his sous chefs engage every diner & explain the day’s/evening’s specials, because they know exactly what they’re talking about & can recommend suitable wines for every dish. I love that every time I go I pour over the menu, agonizing in my selection process as every item pulls at some or other taste bud & heart string & I feel as if I’m doing a disservice to all the other items on the menu by not ordering them instead.
The food is uncomplicated. The menu is not extensive, focus is on quality ingredients & complimentary flavours. Steaming mussels & pommes frites with garlic, lemon & parsley cream (a Thomas Maxwell staple), tomato tart, and warthog carpaccio adorn the starter menu, while main courses like rabbit & chorizo risotto, fillet medallion in a truffle cream sauce topped with a foie gras and thyme butter crust, cappellini pasta with queen prawns, rocket, basil pesto & parmesan shavings excite even the most unadventurous diners. Dessert here is certainly not an afterthought: crème brûleè (10/10 from me, a brûleè connoisseur), decadent chocolate torte & summer fruit crepes with zabaglione continue the trend of classic, well-executed dishes. The wine list however is extensive & sadly didn’t inspire or excite.
I ordered the tomato tart on my first visit here, which I have never ever been able to substitute on subsequent visits. The pastry is perfectly crisp & thin, the tomato petals taste as if they’ve been poached in pure happiness & are seasoned to perfection. The soft goats cheese cuts the acid & the sweetness of the tomato & the deep-fried basil leaves add a crunchy, pungent vibe to complete this truly wonderful dish. My dining companions ordered the warthog carpaccio & the creamy mussels, and so I didn’t feel like such a fool moaning and groaning from sheer delight over my tart, as they were making similar gestures of ecstasy themselves. Two of us had the creamy mussels & pommes frites as a main course, while our compadres enjoyed the rabbit & chorizo risotto and one of the evenings specials, a chicken, porcini & truffle pie served with pommes frites & creamed spinach. We were slightly disappointed with the texture of the rabbit, which was on the chewy side, and the risotto was a little too starchy. The moment the chicken pie pastry was cracked open, the most incredible aromas filled our little nasal cavities & warmed the cockles of our hearts. The portion of pie was large, and was bursting with juicy chicken & big chucks of porcini mushrooms. It wasn’t swimming in sauce, but was coated with a lovely smooth, thick sauce smacking with truffley flavour. A perfect winter dish, conjuring up childhood memories of home-made pies on steroids.
None of us could manage dessert after that, which was a fairly disappointing performance on our part. But just so that we’d remember on our next visit, our bill was presented on a large vintage silver cake stand teeming with petit fours & cupcakes. Somehow we found our sweet-teeth and our wallets & left a still-full restaurant with full, content bellies. Dinner for 4, consisting of 3 starters, 4 main courses & 1 bottle of wine came to R860. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s damn good value for such a winning dining experience!
Find Thomas Maxwell Bistro at 140 11th Street, Parkmore, Johannesburg. For reservations call 011 784 1575 or visit them here.