Review: La Petite Maison
La Petite Maison is one of the select number of restaurants in Dubai that I visit on a frequent basis. As with Zuma, which I wrote about last month, it gives you comfort, warmth, a sense of belonging and is always excellent. This consistency is so important to me and is the reason I write this column. My purpose is to focus on restaurants that offer their best product to the paying customer every single time.
So let us get down to the matter at hand. La Petite Maison serves Mediterranean food and I'll start with being precise about what constitutues. By this I mean southern French and Italian cuisine with its fresh produce and the influence and evolution of old Genoese cooking. This is what LPM gives us; the best of this all in one charming little restaurant that encompasses a feeling of chicness comparable to that of the Cote d’Azur.
Situated in the heart of DIFC, it lies behind a little door adorned by red neon sign that reads “La Petite Maison”. It’s all very unremarkable, but what you get is beyond it is much more than you might expect. Past the vestibule of metal and glass doors you get a square room, held in place by an enormous centrifugal concrete pillar, strong enough to hold all the character, personality and confidence that LPM brings to Dubai’s F&B scene.
It’s up there, way up there, in terms food, quality, service and price point. But it’s worth every penny, and in any case it caters to people who can afford it: the business elite who power lunch, the ladies who leisure lunch, the trendsetters, the discerning traveller, the gentleman who decides to impress and prosperous families who like to gather over a great meal such as this one.
This all is if you are able to snag a table for lunch or dinner, of course. If not, then the bar counter acts as a great conversation builder if you are dining solo, as you never know who you will be sharing a few minutes with. I personally never need a reason to visit LPM. I’ll go solo or with friends; whether I’m famished or not even particularly hungry. There are times when I’ve walked in without even having a reason to be there. It’s like a magnet that pulls me through those doors.
Let’s get into a few reasons why it does that. You are greeted with genuine European flair as soon as you walk through the door. The host team will either guide you to the bar for a drink while you wait for your table or usher you right in if it’s ready. Walking through the maze of diners you will notice the signature touch on every freshly pressed table cloth: two bright-red tomatoes, a juicy lemon and a bottle of cold pressed olive oil. This is not decoration. Slice that tomato up, half that lemon, squirt it over the tomato, add a little salt and pepper and a lot of that olive oil. The fun is doing it yourself and it opens up the appetite perfectly.
The lighting is just bright enough for you to see the entire restaurant, from the open kitchen to the bustle at the bar. The background music is well chosen and will make you sway slightly, while still able to enjoy a proper conversation. What I love is getting all of this and yet being able to hear the clatter of cutlery and the clank of ice at the bar. The acoustics are perfect.
Having dined here many times, my partner and I decided for this review to try some dishes that we don’t have too often, coupled with some old favourites. We started off with a cold crab-and-lobster salad and the endive salad. The crab and lobster is the lighter of the two, with a subtle, citric flavour and a freshness to the shellfish and its marinade. The endive salad was a perfect example of the term “don’t judge a book by its cover”, because, although it doesn’t sound particularly interesting, its crunchy, crisp, endive stalks are smothered with some of the finest salad sauces you can taste. It's like a glaze of sweetness with an aftertaste of a flavourful cream, served up with a powerful Stilton cheese and an abundant portion of caramelised walnuts. The trick here is to make sure you get some endive and cheese and walnut and some sauce all in one bite. Bite slowly and you will feel the crunchy splatter all over the inside of your mouth. Every thought a salad would be so good? Not me.
We continued with the burrata and cherry tomatoes. Since being introduced by LPM to Dubai, almost every restaurant that has a burrata offering has tried to ape this one, and they have all been unsuccessful. Everyone I have brought to LPM who has tried this dish has claimed that this is some of the finest burrata they have ever eaten, and these are people who come from some of the world’s biggest metropoles. I usually ask for extra cherry tomatoes and the freshly-baked homemade multigrain bread. This was followed by some fried calamari arrived that was warm and spicy with fresh-cut jalapeños over it.
The question then was what should we have next?
It had to be the escargot. We received a piping-hot Staub cast-iron dish, its six holes filled with six caramel shells barely able to contain the flavour within. These escargots were drowned in a sea of garlic butter and topped off with fresh parsley. They looked like mini volcanoes, each slow-cooking the alien-looking forms within, and they tasted heavenly.
This was accompanied by a white wine from South Africa. Usually I usually choose, but the sommelier was so passionate about one in particular that we allowed her to bring it out. She did say that if we didn’t like it she would take it back but her choice was spot on. It was cold, crisp, dry but not too dry, with hints of vanilla and elderflower that complemented our starters perfectly.
While we pondered what to eat for our mains we also had to decide whether to stick with the white or move to red. We opted for a silky-smooth Italian Barbera. The versatility of this light to medium bodied wine was perfect, as it allowed us to order a variety of dishes, including fish.
We ordered two pastas: an arrabbiata and a mushroom risotto as our bases and then a Provençal seabass and a tender grilled rib eye steak. This was rounded off with gratinated potatoes and some out-of-this-world, olive oil mashed potatoes, made without cream and butter and all the other stuff that clogs up your arteries, and infused instead with some of the finest cold-pressed olive oil this side of Tuscany.
Both the pastas were cooked perfectly al dente. A literal translation means “to the tooth” and they were neither too soft nor too raw. The arrabbiata coupled with the rib eye was a perfect pairing, with the red tomato sauce and intangible spiciness working in harmony with the slivers of fat along the medium-cooked rib eye. The rib eye is a very special dish because it gives you just the right amount of fat to enjoy its juices with the meat. However, there is a part of the meat that is quite lean, so it’s perfect for sharing with those who like a leaner cut. I would argue that it is one of the best dishes on the menu.
The mushroom risotto, meanwhile, worked perfectly with the seabass. The juices of the abundant girolle mushrooms and the buttery, clean fish were presented perfectly atop a bed of tarragon-infused Provençal sauce, which sucked in all the flavours of the ripe black olives and the withered capers that were used to prepare it with. The two dishes complemented each other perfectly, though I also enjoyed eating the fish with the mashed potatoes. Actually I loved it, thanks to the potatoes being prepared in such a way that they hold the flavour of the oil. I could eat these potatoes by themselves; it’s like a moment reminiscent of a beautiful childhood memory.
A break from eating was required at this point, but we weren’t finished because dessert is always a must, especially if the meal has been this delicious all throughout. I think William Powell imparted the greatest advice of all time, which LPM has clearly taken to heart: “Dessert is probably the most important stage of the meal, since it will be the last thing your guests remember before they pass out all over the table.” So my advice: don’t not order dessert and regret it later. Life is too short, live it one slice of cake at a time. It will be a fine end to a wonderful experience that you will want to repeat.
And when you do go again you may well find me there, alone, with friends or clients… really, just any excuse to visit is fine by me.