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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
500

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)

  • Ambience
  • Service
  • Food
  • 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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Facilities

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

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