Nouvelle cuisine gets a contemporary twist under the masterful hands of the Maximillien Restaurant’s Executive Chef, Sylvester Nair, who remains respectful to classic French cuisine without losing his personal vision.
Chef Sylvester possesses a wealth of knowledge of different cuisines that he expresses with confidence and flair, but his signture is as distinct as it is subtle. He once created an lasagne with Eastern spices that challenged one to decide if it was an Italian or Indian dish. It was as much both as it was neither, but it was definitely a dish that held its own.
Over time, I have seen Chef Sylvester create dishes that have included equally elaborate presentations and eclectic combinations to stark simplicity that played with taste and textures, but he has always considered the intrinsic quality of his ingredients to be sacrosanct. Chef Sylvester may be the youngest Executive Chef in the country, but his signature style remains consistent through the seasons even though contemporary are presented to reflect the signs of the times.
Last year, and earlier this year, The Davinci and I collaborated to create social media activations that introduced Chef Sylvester’s new menus. I recall the menu at #DineJoziStyleMaximillien being a fanciful flourish of flavours and dramatic presentation, followed by the menu for #DineJoziStyleUnderTheStars which was more elemental and crypic. Both menus reflected Chef Sylvester’s diversity while retaining his signature narrative. I was intrigued to see in which which direction the narrative would continue in the new menu at the Maximillien.
Chef Sylvester invited us to join him for a whisky at the Maxim Lounge before our meal. It gave us a perfect opportunity to catch-up and discuss his new menu. Chef Sylvester is passionate about food and loved talking about his menu as much as I enjoyed listening to him. In the end, I couldn’t decide what I wanted so I asked Chef Sylvester to surprise me. He knows my food choices so I trusted him to make the perfect choice. Ironically, he picked the two dishes that I would enjoyed the most. My partner mentioned that he wanted to try the butter chicken but Chef Sylvester recommend he try the rolled chicken as it is a signature dish – and he offered to make us a butter chicken to take home.
What can one expect for Maximillien Restaurant’s new menu?
Chef Sylvester is courting comfort food – perfect for the season and the current economy. Expect heart French onion soup or seafood chowder, vegetables in a Thai red curry – all priced from R60 to R105. If you prefer an opulent dining experience befitting the Maximillien you can expect Cajun Confit Quail, 200G Aged Wagyu Beef, or Norwegian poached in coconut cream – all priced from R180 to R350.
After we were seated at our table, Chef Sylvester joined us to explain which dishes he was planning on serving. He knows that I am especially fond of French cuisine so I was to have the pan-seared foie gras followed by his signature 200G Aged Wagyu Beef while my partner was to have the crispy calamari followed by the rolled chicken. And, because I was celebrating my return to Radio Today, Chef Sylvester thought that champagne was in order, so Moet & Chandon was mandatory. I couldn’t complain!
My pan-seared foie gras was heavenly. I loved the melting richness of the centre and the delicate caramelised exterior. It would have been perfect if just served alone with the toasted brioche, but it was served with an white truffle oil that was a perfect counterpoint to the richness of the foie gras. The roasted roasted pumpkin & sunflower seeds added a textural element that wasn’t discordant with the liver. I was reluctant to eat the cucumber but it added a fresh element to the dish. Heavenly indeed!
My partner’s crispy calamari was served blackened with Cajun spices – an unexpected surprise, and a red onion, zuchini & wild mushroom rosti with cultured cream. My partner’s go to dish in a restaurant is inevitably calamari; either as an appetizer or entree, or both, so we were both thrilled with Chef Sylvester’s choice for him. The calamari was tender (as one would expect) and the Cajun spices were warm and generous without overpowering the fish. The rosti was a pleasant addition because it bulked up some vegetables and complemented the texture of the calamari. The star addition of the dish was the cultured cream which added a creamy richess both in texture and flavour. Any restaurant that continues to serve calamari with store-bought mayonaisse would be well advised to make a note of Chef Sylvester’s choice.
My 200G aged Wagyu beef fillet was cooked to perfection and the bare minimum of seasoning. For all his flair with flair with thought provoking flavour combinations, Chef Sylvester knows that when working the world’s most prized beef one needn’t do much so the dish speaks for itself because good meat does not need to be smothered under a blankets of bastes and sauces. It was so moist that it didn’t need a sauce either. It was served on a bed of barley risotto – and, I must confess that even though I have never enjoyed rice, pasta, or most carbs in general, I really enjoyed the buttery mushroom flavour profile of the risotto even if I couldn’t be tempted to finish it. Adding some je ne sais quoi were the parmesan pearls which had a zesty element.
Unfortunately the vanilla potato macaroon got completely lost in translation both as a typo on the menu and in execution as a macaron. I would have expected either a coarsely textured potato macaroon or a delicate crisp potato meringue, but it resembled a duchess potatoes dish, which I thought it was misleading. It was enjoyable in its own right but I don’t think I’m being pedantic when I say it was neither a macaroon or a macaron – or even a Macron!
The rolled chicken had all the memories of a home-cooked, childhood favourite: crumbed chicken with peas and a mushroom sauce albeit upscaled a ala Sylvester. The chicken was rolled and stuffed with bacon, wild mushroom, hazelnuts and parsley butter before being crumbed and served a green pea puree and confit cherry tomatoes. It was comfort food up-scaled!
We were hard-pressed to choose between the desserts, but fortunately our minds were made up for us because neither of us had room after enjoying an elegant sufficiency, but Chef Sylvester made an impassioned plea for us to try either his signature chocolate dome with chocolate fondant, homemade ice-cream, and caramel sauce – which are made for sharing, or the brie and white chocolate volcano. He was so visibly excited about his desserts that we agreed to compromise and share a dessert.
I thought that the chocolate dome would be an instant crowd-pleaser so I opted for the less accessible dessert: the brie and white chocolate volcano for dessert.
The lava is a luxurious blend of tangy brie and white chocolate that beguiles the palate with it’s savoury sweet flavour. I’m was thinking it could be a fondue, or it could be dessert, but compounding my thoughts were the savoury elements of the accompanying parmesan shortbread, black pepper foam, and thyme parfait. It’s a complicated dessert to construct, and deconstruct, but it works beautifully to include savoury, sweet, bitter, fruit, and herbal flavours in unison. It might not appeal to someone who prefers sweet desserts, but if you prefer a cheese and fruit platter you can imagine how it appeals.
Chef Sylvester is currently the youngest Executive Chef in the country but his menu reflects a mature sensibility towards creating timeless dishes with his contemporary flourish.
Add Maximillien to your To-Dine list because Chef Sylvester knows the rules well enough to break them.
Listen to the podcast of our review on Radio Today Johannesburg: