Sunday, March 27, 2011

Thomas Maxwell Bistro - 18Mar2011

Food: Contemporary, french.
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.
City: Johannesburg, South Africa
Address: 140 11th St, Parkmore (behind Benmore Gardens Mall)
Tel: 011-7841575

So, the very expected evening when I would come back to Thomas Maxwell with my favorite company in the world: my husband, finally came. I booked the very morning of the day we were meant to go out as the reasons for celebration came very suddenly. We were fortunate to get a table right next to the kitchen (Perhaps unlike other people, I don't have a problem with that because it allows me to peak on the dishes coming out and to dwell on the tempting aromas).

With such a nice variety to choose from between the Menu and Specials, It was difficult to make up our minds as to what we would order. Our hosts came around though, offering a word of advice that we welcomed warmly. We finally decided for one of the dishes I had previously tried and that had stayed in my culinary memory since: Mussels Napolitano, for starter. We would then indulge in Duck & Porcini Mushrooms Phyllo Pastries and Rabbit Rissotto.

The taste of those Napolitano Mussels is something unlike anything I've ever experienced elsewhere, and I guess one must taste that napolitano sauce to understand. I could feel the garlic, the sweetness of some italian peeled tomatoes, some onion, a bit of sugar and perhaps some parsley and oregano. However, it was making out the secret in this sauce that I couldn't get around and it is just gloriously fresh too! At this point we were keen on opening the Rose Methode Cap Classique that we brought, but it was still warm so we asked for the wine list and proceeded to order something to go with our next meal.

The Wine List is very extensive with most wines priced above the R200 line. We asked for advice and one of our hosts in a Chef jacket -I'm assuming his name might have been Tom- suggested the Slaley Shiraz. We ordered it and one a waiter came promptly with the wine ordered, while he was on the process of opening it, our main meals arrived but he was still giving the cork his best try. A couple of minutes passed, our meals getting colder as we waited for the wine to be poured and another Chef jacketed host appeared to try his luck at the difficult cork. His explanation of the matter was that this bottle, being 2003, had problems with the humidity of the cork, getting so dry at times that the cork would break in one out of every 3 attempts at opening one of these bottles. We had already started our meals without the wine and experimented great flavors, complex and rich flavors though and therefore we where in need of the wine more than before. Now, attempting to open another bottle, our kind host was faced with same issue and our patience was simmering into a boil, we then suggested that he gave us some wine by the glass so we could try to continue with our meal, but when this came and we tried to dig in, the food was already cold. I must confess that they did go out of their way to try and make up for the whole mishap with the bottle that refused to be opened, they took our meals to the kitchen and heated them some more while re-arranging them on the plate for us, it was a nice gesture and I guess it showed their inclination to act quickly when presented with an unexpected situation. Those are the times, I find, when you can really gauge the quality of service, when everything does not go according to plan.

Once the wine was opened, we realized that it certainly was worth the wait and the pairing was just flawless, at least to our palate, now taking in all the flavors with intensity. The rabbit was full of flavors, with red peppers coming through and cream notably involved, very good and tasty although quite consistently rich. My husband's meal was even better in its complexity of taste with the earthy and smoky taste of a porcini mushroom and truffle sauce surrounding delicate pieces of Duck. 3 Phyllo pastry bags filled with this marvelous concoction really took the tasting experience to another level, as I find is usually the case when the Truffle Oil is put to good use.

The whole experience with the bottle that wouldn't open and our meals going cold almost ruined the meal, but I guess our patience, enthusiasm and the fact that the wine turned out to be really good, allowed us to keep the experience positive. Full, but with some appetite for something sweet we ordered a Creme Brulee, probably the smallest one I've ever seen, and not very good either (the caramel layer on top wasn't fully caramelized).

It is a good restaurant, very warm and welcoming service as well as good and not-so-common meals but make sure you order your older wines from the beginning!


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