Restaurant Review: La Petite Maison
La Petite Maison
Address: DIFC, Gate Village 8, Dubai
Tel: 04 439 0505
Dress code: Smart
Times: Noon to 3pm, 7pm to 11pm
Price Range: $$$
Tous celebres ici – otherwise translated to ‘Everyone is famous here’ is the greeting on the glass door as you step into La Petite Maison. “That’s our logo, created by an artist for our first restaurant 15 years ago in Nice. We don’t differentiate between anyone. Everyone is a VIP. The service and the food is the same for everyone. We won’t do more for one person than another. Everyone comes in and leaves feeling famous,” explains Cedric Toussaint, General Manager, La Petite Maison at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).
A Frenchman naturellement, Cedric opened La Petite Maison’s first restaurant in Dubai in October 2010, moving across from the London Mayfair location. While we chat, he comes across as relaxed, humble and slightly jaded but that’s thanks to 250 plus covers the evening before. The norm, he explains.
“We have been very successful because we are consistent with our food and service. We see a lot of customers return three, four, even five times a week. We don’t use any butter in our cooking, so they can come without suffering indigestion! On average we do 150 covers for lunch and another 240 for dinner. We work on a two-hour turnaround time. Why? We have been in the business for 15 years and our analysis tells us on average that’s the maximum time. It’s not because we want to push everyone out. We tell guests on reservation and if they want (a more leisurely dinner) they can come for the later seating at 9 or 9.30. Many restaurants do not have the two-hour seating arrangement, but we want to create atmosphere. People need to see it busy. People attract people.”
At La Petite Maison, dishes are served in the middle of the table, designed for sharing. Simplicity is its forte whether that’s food or service. This is no fine dining establishment, but a brasserie with a line of intimate banquettes and plenty of round tables – the latter unusual for Dubai – along with a bar that allows smoking. The customer base is mostly residents – heavily Lebanese and Emirati – and that’s why the sharing concept works really well. Europeans also love frequenting the eatery as it “reminds them of their grandmother’s cooking.” Furthermore, the travelling banker familiar with the brand in London and Nice, as well as those visiting DIFC make up the remaining client mix.
La Petite Maison serves cuisine Nicoise from the old town of Nice, where French Mediterranean cuisine has evolved due to the influence of Ligurian Italy across the border.
The menu must be one of Dubai’s largest as it boasts 28 starters, 24 main courses and 10 desserts. That’s no mean feat for the kitchen. The quality of the produce is paramount as it’s producing a cooking style that is light and healthy. “Nice used to be Italian. That’s why we have a big Italian influence. Gnocchi, burrata and so on. Italian food tastes better when simpler – unlike French food which has to be complicated to have taste.”
The burrata, basically mozzarella oozing with fresh cream is the best-selling starter, not the salad Nicoise as you might expect even though it is a popular choice. Ask anyone who has dined at La Petite Maison and burrata will always be top of the list. “Our chef went to Italy to find the best burrata. You cut the burrata, and allow it to breathe until it reaches room temperature. It shouldn’t be too cold so the flavour can come out. Served with ripe tomatoes and a little vinaigrette, that’s it.”
For mains, the rib eye is the most popular thanks to a steak-loving city. Otherwise, the sea bass en croute de sel, baked in a sea salt crust is also a firm favourite. As for desserts, it’s the crème brulee, a French classic. “People love it. Now this is one dish with a lot of fat – but that’s the only one. It’s a large portion meant for sharing. I can’t describe it. You need to try it.”
Apart from vegetables and fruit sourced from Mazaraa, the Abu Dhabi organic farm, most produce is imported to maintain the consistency that is a trademark of La Petite Maison, and any good restaurant in this town.
Now it’s not food alone that keeps La Petite Maison in business. Sixteen months into its opening, the majority of the initial waiting staff is still here, and most of them are French, and that’s in a city where it’s not unusual for international restaurant brands to fly in staff for the opening period and ship them back soon after. “Roughly half of our staff are French – the rest are from Italy, Hungary and Portugal and 80 per cent are still here from the opening. The reason we retain staff is because we operate by European standards, so even though we are open daily for lunch and dinner, they work five days a week, 48 hours. We want them to have time to explore Dubai and have a life. We started with 60 people at opening and now we have 90 in the kitchen and front of house. Every staff has six tables every evening. Service is very important. When you are home, you are the host and that’s what we want to replicate. The waiter is the host. I am the host most of the time. We want the customer to feel the service. Here each table has one waiter, maybe two with the sommelier.”
A new recruit starts as a commis, and is trained from scratch – from how to set the table and polish a plate, right through to walking into the kitchen and of course understanding the menu. “That’s one of the most important things. If anyone has allergies, they need to know the ingredients. They try the menu. For me it’s very important they have a feel for the restaurant. The first three months, they have lunch or dinner in the restaurant every day.”
Competition is rife in the DIFC and Emirates Towers vicinity, with different cuisines and dining experiences on offer, but La Petite Maison in its second year of operation still retains its core customer base despite a hefty price tag. Expect a bill of Dhs300 for lunch and Dhs500 for dinner with wine per person – largely because premium products are imported. “We have a niche. We want to provide the best food to our customers, because we have a returning clientele. If someone does not like a dish we will remake that dish. We listen a lot to our customers. We want our customers to be happy.”
Having conquered the Dubai market and its demanding Lebanese clientele, La Petite Maison is readying itself for a Beirut opening later this year at Le Vendome Intercontinental. But in the meantime, why does La Petite Maison deserve Gourmet’s Restaurant of the Month accolade? Simple food where the quality of ingredients shine through, consistently efficient and knowledgeable service, with a buzz like no other restaurant in Dubai. Yes, all this does come at a price, but you most certainly get value for money. “We’re a simple restaurant. You can come anytime and just have the burrata and a dessert. Food and service will always be the same.”