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Thomas Maxwell Bistro

Thomas Maxwell Bistro
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Cost
R170 avg main
Ambience
Contemporary cool
Food
French
Payment
Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Corkage
R60 wine, R70 champagne

Critic's review

Hennie Fisher

Food 
Those with a puritanical outlook on all things culinary may find some of the  flavour combinations a touch daring, but the dishes at Thomas Maxwell are well-prepared and tasty. Starters include duck and porcini pietettes (phyllo parcels with truffle porcini cream); zucchini chips and emmenthal salad with rocket and seaweed; ostrich carpaccio with red onion chutney, cactus pear jus and a blini; and it’s even possible to create your own salad from a list of vegetables and herbs (choice of six).

Daily specials may include a beetroot, ginger and star anise risotto; rabbit tortellini with feta and gorgonzola; crayfish pasta with thyme and chardonnay velouté, or a fillet of Scottish salmon with pea mash and a chermoula of ginger, coconut, lime, garlic and parsley.

Main courses are served with creamed spinach, creamed pumpkin and chips separately. Among the main options you’ll find porcini risotto; Monty’s fish cakes with wholegrain mustard; or Merguez sausage and rabbit on penne. For dessert, try the chocolate fondant with berry coulis and strawberry ice cream.

Drinks 
Start with the cocktail du jour, which could be something such as a coffee martini made with Patron Café. They have a separate Champagne listing that includes some fantastic choices and a great selection of MCCs. The Maxwell’s wine library offers wines of limited vintage and availability. But the nicest thing about the wine list is that there is a ‘shortened version’ for those that do not want to wade through the entire list, including such wines as De Grendel Koetshuis Sauvignon Blanc, Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc and Avondale Camissa rosè. Wine by the glass is served in a 250ml carafe.

Service 
The maître d' and waiters are obviously used to managing the demands of a packed restaurant; customers are never neglected and close attention is paid to everyone’s needs and desires. Soft light and lots of candles, decanters hanging from their own custom-made stands, beautiful parquet floors, sections of wall where the red brick shows through, large pots of lavender and a few fireplaces all contribute to a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Ambience 
Over a period of ten years the restaurant has grown from one, then two, and now three adjacent shops that have interleading doors between the spaces. It is a busy, convivial space that features quirky décor touches. The first two spaces house kitchens at the back, and ambling around the restaurant one could view some of the action in the kitchen. The restaurant is located in a small street-front shopping centre behind Benmore Gardens Centre and, weather permitting, little sidewalk tables could allow you to sit outside like in a French bistro.

And…  
Thomas Maxwell Bistro offers private function facilities and hosts wine tastings and food and wine pairing dinners. They opened a daytime restaurant called the Red Rabbit in the Nicolway Centre, offering slightly more modern and accessible French-influenced food.

(July 2014)

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  • A fabulous atmosphere and classics with a twist. Stand-out dishes: rabbit risotto with mustard, lemon and turmeric; rabbit ragout with spicy lamb sausage; mussels and chips. (EO mag 2014)
  • Food
    There’s a small menu with daily specials and a couple of signature dishes that owner Tom Barker cannot remove from the menu, including the steaming bowl of mussels in a creamy white wine sauce, served with crispy pommes frites. One of the specials is the decadent crayfish pasta with truffle oil, caviar, crispy prosciutto and a delicate thyme and chardonnay velouté. It may be pricey but it is worth every delicious mouthful.

    Wine
    A good wine list with some interesting finds as well as suggested wine pairings.

    Service
    Knowledgeable and friendly. The owner is one of the star attractions.

    Ambience
    It has grown up and expanded over the years, but it still oozes quirkiness and charm.

    And...
    The cupcake you take home with you will rustle up happy memories the following day. (JW, October 2012)

User reviews

  • To clarify, the service of the server/s was impeccable - unobtrusive, but always available, friendly but not overly familiar. The service of the Maitre d' however was abrupt to the point if being rude. I ordered the mussel starter and the fillet with truffle and fois as a main - having read earlier on the website that the fillet was served with fois gras, that is what I stipulated. The maitre d' then launched into an unseemly and frankly uncalled for rant at the fact the the fillet was in fact served with duck liver and NOT goose liver and that they are completely different. Ummm, ok, if you are going to be a pedantic @ss about it, then please stipulate on your menu that in fact you use salmon roe and NOT caviar and should one of your guests refer to the local bubbly as champagne, then let them know (as well as the rest of the restaurant) that they are in fact ordering an MCC - also, please ensure that they feel like complete idiots in front of their friends and colleagues. As to the meal itself - mussels were perfectly cooked, succulent and plump with good texture, the sauce however lacked depth and flavour which was disappointing, the chips were perfection. On to the main - the fillet with DUCK LIVER, was perfectly cooked as requested, the truffle was generous but the fois was not particularly evident, the roe didn't necessarily enhance the taste but was a nice textural component to the dish. The vegetables for the table however were confusing - why on earth, in an upmarket bistro, serve bog standard chain staples like pumpkin and creamed spinach? Both were seriously underwhelming vegetable dishes with very little to recommend them. Finally, the table shared a couple of the dessert tasting plates and beignets. The macaron's were exceptional, the lemon tartlets were a delight, the beignets were a little heavier than anticipated but tasty nevertheless. Would I eat here again? Unlikely - abrasive, rude service will leave a bad taste in the mouth that lasts far longer than any meal.
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  • Another disappointing dinner. We booked for 4. We waited for our friends who were running late and at no time were offered menus to look at. Of course the drinks came immediately. The acoustics were quite bad and we had trouble hearing eacho ther due to a party of around 10 pax at the next table. Once our friends arrived and we had chosen our dishes the maitre d turned up to tell us about the specials. Restaurateurs note... please, give us the specials when you give us the menu so we do not have to go back to the drawing board. Another 15 minutes later we ordered. Bread rolls have been given to us much earlier but with no tapenade or anything tasty. My opinion of white bread with butter as an amusee bouche is not high, however if you like bread and butter you will like this. Two of us ordered the tomato tart. It looked gorgeous, only drawback was neither of us could cut through the pastry. I ordered a steak knife, still couldn't cut through the pastry. The waiter asked if I want the kitchen to cut it for me. I had to laugh. I declined and asked him to ask the chef whether his pastry was supposed to be this 'crisp'! We immediately received an apology but as it would take another 20 minutes to make another tart - I left it..they did not offer to replace my husband's tart. We waited a long time for the mains. I had the very somewhat pricey fillet mignon with the truffle sauce etc. The meat was pink as asked but dry as a bone - no juices running there. The infused truffle oil or whatever it was had been too liberally applied and was rather cloying. Well, I was looking forward to the chips which are normally reliable here, alas they were under cooked, appetizingly white and greasy, not crisp and golden as expected. And while I am having a good complain, please explain to me how side dishes of sweet pumpkin and run of the mill creamed spinach can enhance my fillet mignon dish or my friends wasabi Sirlion? The flavours are just completely uncomplimentary. My husband also had a disappointing meal (and he is a boarding school boy and not given to complaining about food - ever), first the tooth breaking tart and now his mussels in the cream sauce. The mussels were tragically overcooked and dry and grainy instead of shiny, juicy and slippy (or they could have been frozen). Why can restaurants in general not cook mussels properly? We decided against puddings. What I did like (as I was hungry not being able to eat the first and not much of the main) were the free cupcakes with coffee - so I ate 3.

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  • I visited the bistro last night after a six month break. i had the tomato tart with a base so hard it shot off the plate. Very difficult to chew.
    But what really distressed me was the mussels and chips. The mussels were so old and dry and tasteless. The mussels had been in the deep freeze for a long while! The service was slow and uninspiring.
    It was sad to have such a poor meal at a supposedly good eatery.

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  • The crayfish pasta is the most heavenly dish I have ever tasted - worth every cent as far as I am concerned! The signature starter of mussels and pommes frites however, was a disappointment. The sauce was watery and tasteless. Would definitely return time and again for the crayfish pasta!

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  • We returned to TMB last night after quite some time, and it was a great re-aquaintance. The bistro fare (the chicken pie special was a winner) is still very good and the (yet again expanded) venue still has its vibe in tact! The service had its ups and downs, but if you are relaxed, there is nothing to worry about...

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  • I took my wife to Thomas Maxwell Bistro for her birthday last night. We enjoyed the evening, but there were some low points. When we arrived we were seated quickly and comfortably and they handled the corkage of the wine I had brought with grace. Our starters arrived fairly swiftly, the Duck and Porcini Pietettes for her and Tomato Tart for me. The word sublime is over-used, but in this case both dishes were just that - faultless. After giving us a respectable break the mains arrived - Wasabi Sirloin for the Mrs and Queen Prawns for me. From the art of the starters we were now heading for typical land. The prawns were lined up side by side on a plate with just a half of lemon next to them. They were perfectly cooked, with a nice garlic sauce, but not exciting. The steak was cooked right, but bland. When my wife tried to spice it up with some of the wasabi cream it almost took her head off! She was not expecting it to be that hot. Vegetables were presented on the table in bowls - "vanilla" pumpkin, Parmesan spinach and "crispy" chips. The pumpkin was undercooked and we couldn't taste the vanilla. The spinach was good, but the chips were the biggest let down - oily and limp, almost inedible. The service, starters and setting of this lovely restaurant made up for some decidedly disappointing mains - especially at the prices they're charging. We will go back, but next time will have one of their specialities (mussels or prawn pasta).

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  • We used to be really big fans of the bistro, first having had a meal there some 7 odd years ago when it occupied a single shop.

    Sadly our last experience was very disappointing. After waxing lyrical about the bistro and the crayfish pasta to some out of country friends, the evening abruptly ended when the prawn pasta she ordered triggered an allergic reaction to peanuts. Peanuts that were used to "bulk up our pesto".

    If you're going to be cheap and substitute ingredients, at least have the sense to not use something a fair amount of people are allergic to.

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  • I can second Yeta's review! This was my second visit to Thomas Maxwell - lovely experience! The specials are worth trying - we had French onion soup and chicken pot pie, as well as prawn pasta and mushroom risotto. Yum! And the cup cakes are special. Highly recommended!

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  • My boyfriend is rather fussy about eating out and doesn't like uber upmarket restaurants. Trying to find something that we can both enjoy tends to be a challenge at times so when I found the Thomas Maxwell Bistro, it was a heaven sent! We had a lovely romantic dinner. The food was delicious and I would highly recommend this to anyone, anytime! What are you waiting for? Book now!

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  • Absolutely amazing restaurant.

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  • Excellent food! The mussels were absolutely delicious, they must be included in your meal (starters or mains). Large wine selection, but a little heavy on the wallet. Service was pleasant and unobtrusive. Great ambience. Definitely going back!

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  • This restaurant came highly recommended and I am sad to say it was thoroughly disappointing.
    I had Warthog carpaccio to start and it was more like warthog roll mops than carpaccio - it tasted more like raw smoked bacon than anything else. My wife had a tomato tart - the pastry case was well over cooked, brittle and hard and the filling consisted of three huge tomato halves that were largely tasteless.
    The main was not much better unfortunately. I had two starters as a main and my lobster bisque was more like a fishy flavored cream soup. I don't recall a lobster bisque having that much cream in it and I have had bisque many times. I ate half and then moved on to the second half of my main which was a salmon tartare, which consisted of big chunks of salmon sashimi, the odd piece of avo and no dressing I can recall. Also not what I expected. Only ate half of that too and set it aside. My wife had a poached Scottish salmon dish which had good flavour but the salmon was well over cooked.
    The espresso cup of creme brulee we had for dessert was the highlight for both of us.
    The service was disjointed at best and I found the prices expensive for what we got.
    Never good when a restaurant over promises and under delivers. Sadly, we won't be rushing back soon...

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  • After not giving this restaurant more than a cursory glance as I drove by, I decided to visit it with my husband last night - it was an absolutely delightful fine dining experience! The service was excellent, the menu wonderfully descriptive and enticing, and the food and wine just topped off the evening. As new residents of the suburb, this restaurant will definitely be seeing more of us.

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  • Food, Contemporary, french.
    Wine, Extensive. Menu not easy to browse.
    Service, Good. Still room for improvement.
    Ambiance, Smart Casual, relaxed and warm.
    In a Nutshell, Good food, good wine and good service. Budget required is a bit above the average dinner out, but fits int with other fine-dining establishments and the tastes and experience are worth it. They just need a bit more planning for awkward and unexpected situations as it all becomes part of the experience (i.e. Do not recommend a wine that you know may refuse to be opened right before the food arrives). Bookings are necessary and corkage is allowed for a fee.
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  • In a city where drab franchises reign supreme, Thomas Maxwell is a breath of classy, french air. Great decor, excellent service and an interesting menu. Very good wine list. If you havent been, book now.
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  • After 5 and a half years, this is still my favourite restaurant in the country. We went to TMB on Saturday and had a magical evening from start to finish. I had my all time favourite ostrich and goat starter, which never disappoints, followed by the duck and berry pie (a first) on the specials menu and it was the most insanely sensational thing I have eaten in a while and, unfortunately, I have craved it everyday since.
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  • Having dined at Thomas Maxwell Bistro a year and a half ago I expected great things for my dinner on Saturday evening 10th April 2010. What struck me as we got comfortable and began perusing the menu was that it has hardly changed since my last visit. Looking at the prices (although not a lot different to 18 months ago) I realised why. TM must be the most expensive “Bistro” in SA and personally this simply defies what a bistro is all about, well to me it does, but clearly there are hordes of fellow ‘burgers whom disagree. The wine list is extensive but by George its dear - R340 for the Whole Berry cab sav that retails at under R80 is quite a markup. Let me say it up front - be under no disillusions – you are at one of the most expensive venues in JHB and by virtue ones expectations are a whole lot more.As food fanatics our small party tried to cover as many bases that the menu had to offer. As a big lover of mussels I ordered the “main” portion to start, but be warned for R110 you don’t get too many mussels. Flavour wise, no problems here. Guests ordered the mussels (also a “main” portion, this one was more skimpy than mine) and the Pietettes – tasty, without being superlative.On the mains I opted for the duck livers with foie beignets. Nice dish but my livers were not cooked as rare (some weren’t even pink) as they should have been, however the beignets were akin to a vetkoek with a smidgeon of foie gras inside. At R135 that’s just not good enough – duck livers are not expensive and they should be cooked to perfection. Although I wasn’t expecting a hand grenade of foie gras, a little more generosity would have go a long way. The accompanying sauce was very good.My guests had the wasabi sirloin – not very nicely trimmed – parts were inedible fatty but otherwise “OK” and the penne with rabbit and merguez sausages. The “rabbit” here is a misnomer – it can be described as a small breast rib with no meat at all. This wasn’t edible, unless quite frankly you enjoy eating tiny bones. The sauce with the pasta was rich and very tasty so it was a pity.The mains were accompanied with the veggies of the day – spinach and wait for it – pumpkin. Nothing special here – the spinach was introduced to some hot water, served with some grated pecorino? The pumpkin wasn’t terribly exciting and didn’t look out of place on an aircraft food tray.Desserts arrived in the form of the double pancakes – a sweet version of the beignets perhaps? The small doughnuts with chocolate sauce (another sweet version of the beignets?) and the conversation killer - Kevin’s Rocky Road – which in disbelief was, and without poetic license, simply warmed marshmallows served with melted chocolate.The venue and décor is eclectic and “quirky” although I am not keen on the smokers sitting outside right near the entrance (with the smell of cigarette tobacco competing with my food), toilets are outside – take the route through the kitchen and on our evening we had to negotiate a moat of water (I hope) before the outhouse.Service can be described at best as mediocre – our drinks orders at the start of the meal (taken by the Maitre D) and dessert orders had to be repeated – somehow the old pen and pad is no longer fashionable. Food came out pretty promptly, and be aware that here is not a big time gap between the starters and mains...but most importantly and unforgivably not once were we asked once how our meal was; we didn’t get the feeling anyone was really that interested in our R1000 (R333 a head) spend.To sum it up and comparing it directly to Bizerca in Cape Town and 9th Avenue in Durban – it doesn’t hold a candle and in locale JHB comparison – one can eat at Assagi (like we did the evening before) or DW Eleven-13 for less with better food and service to boot. I don’t know what the big fuss is – from a culinary perspective the menu clearly isn’t moving forwards, the dishes are in dire need of some refinement and re-perfecting, the cooking was adequate at best and the service for the evening impersonal. Factor in the prices, and in three simple words – Expensive and disappointing.
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  • We were so dissapointed with Thomas Maxwell Kitchen, we will simply never go back. We found the food very average and totally overpriced for what we got. The fishcakes tasted like fishpaste from a bottle, the crab salad was a huge dissapointed, it might as well have been tined crab with mayonaise. The only nice thing we had that evening, were the mussels. They were stunning, but not enough to make me go back.
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  • The only thing I could seriously complain about when thinking about our meal at Thomas Maxwell was that the best mussels in JHB were out of season. Every time we go there I appreciate the food more. This is probably not the best choice if youre in a hurry, as the whole ambience suggests a slow meal enjoyed with excellent wine and even better company.
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  • My husband & I had dinner at Thomas Maxwell last night. What a fantastic evening! Service was great, wine recommendation was spot on, and the food was awesome. The only criticism I can give is that the portion size for the rabbit risotto was too big for me after the warthog carpaccio starter, but this is hardly a bad thing!Well done to the chef, staff & owner!
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  • Thomas Maxwell Kitchen a HUGE disappointment - kicked out for complaining about over-cooked steak! On Friday night we went to eat at Thomas Maxwell Kitchen with another couple. Of the four of us, two of us ordered steaks, both of which were over-cooked. When we called the chef about the steaks, instead of admitting that the steak was over-cooked, he implied that we did not know what medium rare is. Both steaks were not even pink, which anyone could see. The chefs attitude was completely inappropriate and defensive, when he could have graciously admitted fault. In addition, the vegetables were served cold, and upon getting cold vegetables a second time round, he was asked to tell us if he thought his food was up to his usual standard. At which point his ego got the better of him and he threw us out of this restaurant for complaining about the food. Over and above this, the service we had received beforehand from our waiter was completely lacking and neglectful. Shocking behaviour from the chef/owner and terrible food. Its a place to which we will never return.
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  • aweful terrible - these are words that spring to mind of what was the events of friday night when our food was sent to us freezing cold and not to appealing. when our rude waiter was asked to get the kitchen to fix it politly the chef appeared and we were told to leave his establishment. i find this almost comical and bizare. who does this person think they are?
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  • I had my first visit there on Friday. The food was incredible, I had the ostrich carpaccio which was lovely.Main was the crab, also great. My biggest problem was the service. We had a large table and were forgotten for long periods of time, were constantly told to shut-up and no one said good-bye or thank you when we left. I certainly wont be recommending this to any of my friends or colleagues.Great food though.
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  • Had a particularly disappointing meal with you in late January. A first - and only - visit based on a complimentary Eat-Out Guide review. Tomato tart to start lacked flavour and presentation. Steak was very tough. The cream served with dessert was sour. What should have been a fun evening out was marred by a very mediocre meal.
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  • Really such a great find! One of our favourites, a great place to get away from it all and have a delicious meal with a smile! The ostrich carpaccio and prawn pasta is a must!
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  • Best restaurant in joburg! Intimate and cosy with a fantastic menu! Owner Thomas Barker adds a personal touch. An experience not to be missed!
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  • Stunning Menu! Food certainly interesting, very rich though, and big portions, so come hungry. Lovely little touches (cupcakes).
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  • Food is incredible! Quaint and cosy atmosphere, all in all a delightful experience.
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Facilities

  • Accepts credit cards
  • Beer served
  • Booking required
  • Cocktails
  • Dinner
  • Dress code
  • Licensed
  • Parking
  • Vegetarian
  • Wheelchair

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