Over 130 years, Maxim’s in Paris has played host to everyone from Proust to Piaf, Cocteau to Callas, Delon, Gainsbourg and Birkin. Now the legendary restaurant off the Place de la Concorde has been given a makeover. First installed in 1893 and renovated six years later in anticipation of the 1900 World Fair, its historic interiors promise an art nouveau jungle of red velvet banquettes, sinewy mahogany panels, stained-glass windows, floral motifs and murals. Until recently, the idea of going to Maxim’s for dinner would have struck most as naff and its days as a celebrity hotspot had long gone cold.  

Maxim’s restaurant, photographed c1967
Maxim’s restaurant, photographed c1967 © Getty Images
One of three dining areas
One of three dining areas in the renovated interior © Maxim’s/Romain Ricard

After its previous owner Pierre Cardin died in 2020, his great-nephew Rodrigo Basilicati-Cardin entrusted the lease to hospitality group Paris Society, whose founder Laurent de Gourcuff is known for reclaiming old buildings and making them relevant again. He is the man behind the newly reopened fine dining restaurant Laurent in a pink and white pavilion just off the Champs-Élysées, and Abbaye des Vaux de Cernay, a country hotel about 45km outside Paris housed in a former Rothschild summer residence, which lately featured in HTSI.

At Maxim’s, he hasn’t lost his touch, partly because his touch isn’t always obvious to see. Minor adjustments to the decor – overseen by Paris Society artistic director Cordelia de Castellane – have served mostly to underscore the wonders that were already here. Step through the doors and up the mirrored stairway to the bar, and the place gleams and shimmers like Christmas after two Martinis. When the bartender offers an absinthe cocktail known as a Corpse Reviver, it feels like a wry commentary on Maxim’s return to grace.

The mirrored stairway leading to the bar
The mirrored stairway leading to the bar © Maxim’s/Romain Ricard

De Gourcuff has brought in a platoon of young staff and drawn a soigné crowd. Downstairs in the Grand Salle – one of three dining areas you reach by passing through the grill room and omnibus, a narrow passage lined with banquettes – I find a room filled with affluent Parisians, from greying Chevaliers in black turtlenecks to younger socialites, fashionistas and financiers. Under De Gourcuff’s charge, Maxim’s has once again become a scene.

Maxim’s in the 1940s
Maxim’s in the 1940s © Getty Images
The restaurant’s façade on Rue Royale
The restaurant’s façade on Rue Royale © Maxim’s/Romain Ricard

Perhaps more impressive is Maxim’s ability to sell the cliché of Paris to Parisians and non-Parisians. Our waiter is named Renault. Like the car, he says. Dressed in a dinner jacket and bow tie, he’s a figure straight out of central casting. I adore him. On the small stage at the side of the room, a singer appears at a vintage microphone wearing a 1940s gown. I half expect her to launch into the “Marseillaise”. She opens instead with “La Vie en Rose” followed by “C’est Si Bon”. 

The restaurant’s lobster salad
The restaurant’s lobster salad © Maxim’s/Romain Ricard

The menu is a roll-call of classic French dishes. It includes cheese soufflé (€18), Henry IV-style roast chicken (€120 to share), lobster à l’Americaine (€78) and scallops in white butter (€41). Among the starters, you can order frog’s legs (€25). You should. They are outstanding. Neat buds of meat-on-the-bone in a garlicky parsley sauce. 

The bar at Maxim’s
The bar at Maxim’s © Maxim’s/Romain Ricard

Other dishes aren’t quite as delicious. The VGE soup (€33) – a nod to chef Paul Bocuse, who invented it and dedicated it to former president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing – is an oddly humdrum chicken broth with truffle and foie gras under a flaky pastry dome. Similarly confounding is the Sole Albert (€66), which releases a deluge of jagged crumbs that I’m perplexed by. The tournedos Rossini (€60) – beef tenderloin on a crouton topped with foie gras – promises much but delivers dull.

The chocolate mousse soufflé
The chocolate mousse soufflé © Maxim’s/Romain Ricard

Maxim’s has brought in revered pastry chef Yann Couvreur to reimagine the desserts, which offer redemption. A purr-inducing chocolate mousse soufflé (€22) and crêpes Suzette (€22), finished tableside by Renault in a kiss-curl-dislodging show of exertion. On goes the Grand Marnier, up go the flames, resulting in thinly folded pancakes in a beautifully tuned sweet/tart marmalade liquor.

Does it matter that not every dish hits the mark? At these prices, you’d think so. At Maxim’s, you’re tempted not to care. At least not too much. The place is fun. The mood is infectious. It’s a piece of history, sure. But also a spectacular space to see and be seen in a version of Paris that still feels like a fairytale.

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