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La Petite Maison – Little House Lost

It’s just won the What’s On 2011 “Best Restaurant”, “One restaurant has ruled this city, providing one of the most pleasant atmospheres you could ever wish to dine in and some of the most consistent and delicious dishes in town” they say. It also took out Time Out Dubai’s 2011 “Best Newcomer”. It’s been in the city for a year now, and I have only finally made it in.
It’s an off-shoot, like many restaurants in Dubai. The parent is in Nice, and the first offspring in London and New York. The sign says there is also one in Moscow, but according to the world wide web, it has disappeared. A couple of blogs said it closed for renovations, but there is nothing new to report since then (please give me a link if you have one). If you have read previous reviews here on the Hedonista, you will see I’m not a fan of franchised restaurant ideas, but it’s been so very well reviewed, I’m convinced this place just might turn me.

We want to eat outside – the weather in Dubai is divine right now. And although the spindly glittering towers of the DIFC and the rattle of helicopters to private helipads is a far cry from the bobbing cabin cruisers, sparkling Mediterranean and whitewashed antique buildings of the Côte d’Azur, the provincial rattan-look chairs make us remember our holidays of the last few years. We are advised – no alcohol outside. Let’s dine inside then, shall we?

The interior is a little contrived – as new made to look old always is, but it is light and pretty, with whitewashed wood-cladded walls, primary splashes of art, and the lovely wall of booze behind the sweeping bar. The kitchen is open, stainless steel, and bustling. The olive oil bottles, a suitable shade of ahem, olive, shine mutely with a tealight cleverly placed behind them.

Each table has two plump tomatoes, complete with stalk, and an accompanying lemon. So as an added extra, you don’t get an amuse bouche, but a self-made salad of excellent olive oil, and unremarkable fruit. Perhaps this would work where produce was fresh, seasonal and flavoursome, like Riviera tomatos are in summer. But it’s not romantically rustic here. I probably shouldn’t complain about complimentaries, but why bother if it doesn’t provide a unique doorway into the room that is the restaurant experience. (like that lovely little seedling at table 9)

The menu is huge. There are about 25 entrees and 20 mains, with 5 of each boxed in the centre of the page. After we have mused this unexplained box for 5 minutes or so, our waiter comes to advise us that they are restaurant signature dishes, but only available when in season. The zucchini flowers are not (understandable) as is the endive (even though I saw them in spinneys this morning), the sea bass carpaccio is not (although interestingly the baked sea bass main is), and neither is anything with truffles in it (despite it being truffle season), knocking about 6 more items off the menu. This leaves us with a more practically sized menu, but it’s a pain having to reassess after finding out both my choices are absent. It’s also disappointing – the menus are paper stuck in a card sheath. Surely they could take one of these many idle waiters off the floor, and send her to the office to run off a couple of more accurate versions?  It’s not rocket science, and it would save a hellova lot of confusion and frustration.

We start with a cured salmon and tuna carpaccio. The waiter has told us that the food is served as soon as it is cooked, therefore it’s unlikely both entrees will arrive at the same time. Personally I don’t mind this, as I am a pro at helping myself to other peoples’ food. The tuna comes first, and I attack Hambone’s plate. It’s seared nicely and in 5mm thin bricks (so not strictly carpaccio), blood red on the inside, dressed with a zesty sauce and toasted hazelnuts. It’s a nice combination and cooked well. The salmon has a smell to it – quite common when curing, but usually covered with the scent of dill or lemon. Here, it unfortunately rises above the delicate sweet pink peppercorns. The other factors however are ideal – oily flesh, soft, silky, a full and lingering finish. I get over the smell and gobble.

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