While there’s always a danger that the quality of the original will be diluted as its name travels abroad, it bodes well that La Petite Maison’s London outlet is held in as high (if not higher) regard as the original, as does the fact that the brand’s first venture into the Middle East has been overseen by the very same people who brought Duibai favourite Zuma to the UAE.
As with Zuma, La Petite Maison has found a home in DIFC, an area that lends itself perfectly to the Niçoise restaurant’s ambience – not only is it tucked away from the constant hum of a main road, amid art galleries and boutique stores, but guests approach its shuttered façade via a leafy courtyard rather than through a hotel lobby. The restaurant’s interior takes the form of a high-end French bistro (a near-carbon copy of the Mayfair venue), its cream walls punctuated with tasteful modern art, its floor occupied by white-clothed tables, while a long, well-stocked bar runs along the wall nearest to the entrance. The effect is marvellous and oozes continental charm without being contrived.
Still, this initial faux-pas proved to be a minor speed bump in what was otherwise a very pleasant dining experience. Drinks at the bar allowed us to take in the atmosphere – the venue had been open for a matter of weeks and the tables were abuzz with sharp-suited gentlemen, ladies dripping with jewellery and continental couples lost in one another’s company.
We were shown to our table by a charming French waiter (most of the staff, it seemed, were French), who duly talked us through the Niçoise concept – food is communal and served when it’s ready. Simple. All we needed to do was to peruse the extensive menu and follow his helpful recommendations.
Service was as swift as it was charming and we were soon confronted by a bowl of glistening green beans dotted with smooth chunks of foie gras (salade de haricots verts au foie gras), and carpaccio of scallops (carpaccio de coquille St Jacques) – a plate of delicate disc-shaped slithers, sprinkled with shavings of almonds, pistachios and juicy cranberries, which lent the dish a perfect sweet-savoury balance. No sooner had we done away with the excellent starters than the dishes whisked from beneath our noses and promptly replaced with the mains. Fears of being rushed through our meal resurfaced, but we came to realise that this quick turnaround was endemic of La Petite Maison’s Niçoise dining concept.
My date’s salt-baked fillet of sea bass flaked away beautifully at the touch of the knife, the texture contrasting with the crisp crunch of fresh artichokes and juicy tomatoes. I’d opted for the lamb cutlets, which were presented as a foursome, lined up on a pristine, ivory-white platter – each glistened with succulent promise, though half of the serving proved to be overly chewy. This wasn’t so much to do with the preparation, which was excellent, but more to do with the quality of the meat (a problem in Dubai). Still, my minor misgivings were quickly drowned by the heady atmosphere of the place as well as the simple pleasure afforded by the side of fresh broccoli and gratinated potatoes.
We’d been both spoiled and sated by the main course, but we were in no rush to conclude our meal, so we opted to sample the desserts. We should have been warned by the size of the vanilla crème brûlée, which was definitely for two. The fresh vanilla shone through, although despite being competently prepared, there was nothing remarkable about it. The French toast with spiced ice cream (pain perdu et sa glace aux epices), however, provided a fitting conclusion to a fine meal.
A restaurant shouldn’t be commended for being ‘un-Dubai’, but La Petite Maison scores points for offering well-prepared comfort food in a setting that provides a certain sense of escapism in a city that, at times, runs short on imagination.
The bill (for two)
1x Salade de haricots verts Dhs70
1x Carpaccio de coquille Dhs90
1x Loup de mer en croûte Dhs175
1x Broccoli Dhs25
1x Pommes de terre Dhs30
1x Pain perdu et sa glace Dhs45
1x Crème brûlée Dhs50
Total (including 10 per cent service) Dhs485