the UK Restaurant guide

Susie Rowbottom checks out MAXWELL'S - Covent Garden, WC2

Maxwell's is not new. The success of the Maxwell restaurant chain goes back over 20 years, so we were keen to discover their secret. There are two Maxwells restaurants in London, one in Hampstead Village and another in Covent Garden, and a third in Oxford. Their recently opened restaurant Navajo Joe won a top award recently and is reviewed on these pages.

We went to Maxwells in Covent Garden on a Friday evening. You can't miss the familiar art deco logo on the awning outside, and the two-floor interior is dominated by wood, rock music and the US Stars and Stripes flag in neon lights at the entrance. There is a slightly retro feel about the place, a style that's becoming rather fashionable again, and both bar and restaurant were quite busy - it's still a popular meeting place young people, great for parties or a relaxed family meal.

There is a large, comfortingly predictable menu of North American favourites, including hamburgers and country style barbecue dishes. The Happy Hour runs fron midday to 8.30pm, when all cocktails are just £2.95. With tempting names like Sex on the Beach we just had to try one. I opted for a sedately-named Long Beach Iced Tea and my companion ordered an ostentatious Frozen Margarita - both were impressively good value. Maxwell s may not suit oldies who are bothered by the loud music - on Friday nights the party atmosphere is enhanced by increasing the decibel output - definitely for twentysomethings-or-less at heart.

Starters include Deep Fried Brie and Potato Skins (both £4.05), Buffalo Wings(£4.45) and Nachos (£4.75), and we opted for Mexican Crabcakes (£4.05) amd Crispy Cajun Onion Rings (£2.85). I really couldn't detect much that tasted of crab in the crab cakes, and I'm surprised that the spicy tomato salsa that came in a small paper cup beside them was home-made - but it added some flavour. The onion rings were substantial and nicely crisp, but not quite as spicy as one would hope, and the creole mustard dip and garlic mayo with them tasted decidedly manufactured.

Main courses include a range of salads - from £6.25 for a plain Caesar Sala d to £8.75, with a choice of three dressings. From the barbecue menu you can have a real feast for £10.95 (ribs, brisket, sausage and chicken) and their hamburgers are guaranteed to be a sure cure for hunger or heartache. The young couple at an adjacent table were hungry enough to really enjoy Maxwells hamburgers, which looked home-made and pretty good: Six different types, £6.55-£7.45, plus a veggie burger at £6.25 - great value! There is nothing nouvelle about the portion, and the chips are fairly close to heaven.

My skewered lamb pieces (£8.75) looked appetising and certainly tasted as if they had been marinated in herbs and spices, and would have been very good if they had been less chewy ... they came with masses of fairly conventional salad and either french fries or a baked potato. I chose the latter, which can sometimes turn out to be a mistake, but I was relieved to find it was well cooked but not totally leathery. My companion plumped for Blackened Cajun Chicken, which came with stir-fried vegetables and the divine french fries. This was a considerable mountain of colourful food! We both thought the chicken was pleasantly spicy and cooked carefully so it wasn't at all tough, but the vegetables (a mixture of broccoli, cauliflower, carrot and onion) were rather on the bland side.

There is a Kiddy Menu at £4.50 (hamburger, half rack of ribs, fishfingers or chickenburger with fries, baked beans and a choice of soft drink), and Maxwells is a great place to go on a family day out. My children have made me promise to take them soon .....

The Wine List is not extensive, but fairly safe, and well-chosen - house wine is very reasonable at £8.85 a bottle, £2.45 for a glass. We selected Mouton Cadet at £13.95, but hovered briefly over a Grove Hill Californian Chardonnay £12.25. Of course we could have stuck to the milkshakes (£2.45 each, for wild strawberry, Dutch chocolate, vanilla or banana) or a bottled beer.

Puddings are all of the incredibly sweet variety, and cost between £3.50 (Deep Dish Apple Pie) and £3.95 (Chocolate Brownie Sundae) - but we had reached saturation point with the music and couldn't do them justice.

The service was polite and professional, although we were served by a number of different staff. This seemed to go with a slight impression that comes across of fast food, budget dining. A three-course meal for two with a bottle of house wine costs around £40. The verdict is: great party atmosphere and good fun for the young.

Susie Rowbottom, 25 March 1998

MAXWELL'S 8/9 James Street, Covent Garden, WC2 Tel: 020 7836 0303

If you have visited Maxwell's, please let us have your comments:

Back to Dine Online Home Page

Dine Online Copyright Clifton Media Associates 1997, All rights reserved.

Views or opinions expressed by authors are not necessarily those of the publishers, Clifton Media Associates. While every care is taken in compiling this publication, the publishers cannot assume responsibility for any effects arising therefrom.