Maxims Casino is quietly tucked away on Palace Gate, just next to Hyde Park, so much so you could easily miss its opulent gating and the tall and slim stately building that houses gambling thrills and fine dining. Entering, it has an understated almost secretive atmosphere; a hideaway for those in the know, leaving one feeling more than a little privileged. We’re not here to try our luck on the tables though, but to tantalise our taste buds. Whilst being escorted downstairs to an intimate whiskey bar, you can’t help feeling a mix of intrigue and excitement.
The Whiskey bar is a far cry from the dingy neon lit American equivalent frequented by gruff men touting reflective sunglasses, hats and powerful horseshoe moustaches. It’s more like a miniature version of the ball-room bar from ‘The Shining’, and in fairness they did have the “best goddamned bartender from Timbuktu to Portland.” Our charming bartender took us through an array of fine whiskeys as well as mixing up a couple of damn good John Collins cocktails and we were well on our way to starting our meal.
Again we are escorted, but this time to the dining room by, almost unexpectedly friendly staff considering the foreboding sense of formality about the place. Waiters and maître ds are very willing to talk about food, and drinks with some general friendly joking. The dining room again captures the running theme of intimacy and opulence with red velvet, golden chandeliers and table centrepieces made from fresh vegetables cut into sculptural ornaments. The three of us sat in curved leather cushioned seats, which made us feel as if we were eating together rather than opposite each other and this, coupled with the fact you are joined by only five or six other tables, creates a relaxed and pampered atmosphere.
The menu here is split into three cuisines; European, Chinese and Arabic which is what it is known for and a specialised team for each cuisine creates authentic dishes from each region rather than the city-wide generic mash-up or fusion approach. No doubt a bonus for the high flying international clientele a Kensington casino would be hoping to attract. As a traditionalist I went for the European section and ordered the Seared Scallops with Crispy Chorizo and Pea Puree (£14), a classic pairing with juicy fresh scallops and crispy spiced chorizo: the flavour of pea puree came through strong and clear but a little more would have been better. It did however look very elegant on the plate. The Chinese starter of Deep Fried Soft Shell Crab (£16) was satisfying with a heap of perfectly crispy whole crabs in a mound but looked less impressive and didn’t have quite the same level of refined flavours whilst being slightly over spiced.
By the time we got to the mains we were starting to get to know our waiter and sommelier and were having a good laugh every time they came over. It really is worth noting you are treated with care here. This care extends to the main courses and the extensive selection of wines to go with them (definitely feel free to chat with the charming sommelier to pinpoint what you’d like).
I went for the rabbit. Rabbit is an extremely abundant source of meat in Britain, although sadly underrated, especially considering the environmental damage and high costs of raising livestock. It was a treat to see it prepared so well with the Boneless Saddle of Rabbit and Confit Legs (£23). Although it may be a bit morbid for some, I thought it looked lovely to see the various parts of the animal on the plate with a miniature rack of ribs, next to the confit legs and a roulade of breast mixed with mushrooms; it made for an artistic display of anatomy