When Woody Allen was asked whether sex is dirty, he replied: ‘It is if you’re doing it right.’ A similar principle applies to eating at Max’s. If you don’t get your hands dirty, you’re not doing it right.
Max’s sells just three sandwiches, all conceived as complete meals. For instance, one combines ham hock, fried egg, piccalilli and miraculously thin shoestring potatoes. Another comprises braised short ribs, sauerkraut, deep-fried broccoli and ‘very slutty gravy mayo’. They are large. They are cheap, £7 a pop. They are deeply complex and tasty. And they are very, very messy to eat.
What else does Max’s sell? Not much. There’s one dessert, a brioche bun encasing ice cream from Gelupo (£5), and a short, well-chosen drink menu of exceptionally low cost. There is also one guest sandwich, and sometimes ‘my Mum’s guacamole’ with fried eggs. The guacamole is great.
The décor is endearingly and artlessly scruffy, apart from some lovely lampshades. The random selection of coffee cups filled with Allpress filter brew (free refills) came from the local charity shop. (On opening day in December 2014, a customer ordered coffee and they realised they didn’t have any mugs.) Everyone covets the World’s Greatest Granny mug, but we liked our X-Files just fine.
The key ingredient at Max’s is Max himself, Max Halley, who has worked at top-end London restaurants including Arbutus and the Salt Yard group. When he opened his own place, he wanted to keep it simple: a small space in a cheap location where prices can be kept low; closed Mondays and Tuesdays so he can have a life; a single employee, his chef, whom he variously calls ‘the Greek’ or ‘the big Greek’. He has even avoided the need for washing dishes by serving the sandwiches on greaseproof paper secured with rubber bands.
And he wanted a place where he can be not just the boss but a part of the scene. If you want a quiet meal, Max will not get in your way. But if you feel like a chat and a laugh, you’ll get one (ask him about money laundering).
Great food, good drink, and prices so low you could get properly full and lightly hammered for around £20 a head – there’s plenty to love here. But the magic ingredient is the personal touch that Max himself brings – literally, if you want it – to the table. You’ll leave happy. And messy.