Maxela opened in late 2012 in the Brompton Road, near South Kensington tube station. The dining room is in two parts. The first room as you enter features a large meat counter with a few tables, so it looks a bit like a butcher’s shop that has added a few seats. Indeed the name of the restaurant means “butcher” in a Ligurian dialect. The second, more conventional dining room is beyond, and has a skylight and tiled floor, with a blackboard picture illustrating the various cuts of meats from a cow. Maxela is a branch of a small chain of restaurants of this format in Italy, which has at the time of writing grown to nine branches. The chef here is Rafaelle Cozzolino, who has cooked at a few London restaurants, most recently the Taverna Italiana in Wimbledon.
What interested me is that Maxela specialises in Fassone beef, which I have eaten several times in Piedmont but never in London. This Piedmontese meat is interesting in a number of ways; It comes from a breed of cattle selectively bred to have a faulty gene that causes the cattle to have less connective tissue than usual, which results in a very tender meat. Fassone beef has much less fat than normal cattle, about one-third the calories of normal beef, and less than half the cholesterol. It looks suspiciously lacking in marbling, and yet is still tender. The menu, not surprisingly, is heavily oriented towards meat, with a selection of cured meats, a few pasta dishes and a number of ways of serving the Fassone beef. The beef is imported vacuum-packed from Piedmont, aged for 25 days. The meat is then aged further depending on the particular piece of beef in the restaurant, typically for a further 4-6 weeks. Only female cattle are used here (the male cattle can have a gamey flavour when aged).
There are a couple of pasta dishes (£9.50) without meat in case a truly short-sighted vegetarian decides to wander in by mistake. A burger using the high quality beef was available for just £6.50. The sliced Fassone beef, offered with various accompaniments, was just £16, which to me seems a bargain.
The Italian wine list starts at £18, going up to £99. It has wines such as Falesco Poggio Dei Gelsi Est Monte Fiascone at £22 for a wine that you can find in the shops for around £9, Antinori Chianti Classico at £36 for a wine that retails at around £23, and Flesco Montefalco Sagrantino at £60 for a wine that cost around £35 in a shop. There is even Antinori Tenuta Guado al Tasso 2007 at £99 for a wine that will set you back around £72 to purchase retail. Given that there are some fairly serious wines on the list, it is irritating that vintages are not listed (I only found about about the vintage of the Antinori wine by asking to see the bottle).
Fresh taglierini pasta was served with a ragu, the pasta having good texture, the tomato sauce with meat having quite full flavour (14/20). I was able to try two cuts of the Fassone beef. The rump steak was offered with rocket and shaven ricotta. Cooked medium-rare this had excellent flavour (14/20), but even better was a rib-eye of the Fassone, which had deeper flavour and was genuinely top class, accurately seasoned (easily 15/20). Unfortunately it was accompanied by some truly dire fries, which were actually hand-cut but were limp yet leathery: really disappointing (8/20). This was quite jarring given the quality of the other dishes that I tried.
Latte dolci fritto (£5) is a Ligurian speciality: thickened milk flavoured with lemon zest and sugar is put into a blast-chiller to solidify, then coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. It was very pleasant, though a bit more lemon would have improved it (13/20). Tiramisu (£6) was nice, though the coffee flavour could have been quite a bit stronger to my taste (13/20).
The bill came to £31 a head, with just water (£2.25 a bottle) to drink. Espresso was very good. With a modest wine the bill would come to around £50 a head for three courses. Service was friendly, the manager in particular very enthusiastic and helpful. It is always tricky scoring a restaurant that essentially does one thing very well, but I will leave it at 13/20 for now given the unevenness. Maxela is clearly a restaurant that has a lot of enthusiasm behind it, and if they can iron out some issues (in particular the poor chips) then they should do very well, especially given the modest price point. I will be happy to return.