petite maison sign

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?

petite maison tables

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 olive, shine mutely with a tealight cleverly placed behind them.

petite maison oilEach 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 tomatoes 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.

petite maison salmon

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.

petite maison salt cod croquettes

For mains I receive the salt cod croquettes – a French staple, and here also, very good. Crispy on the outside, soft and well seasoned on the inside, and partnered with a vibrant and moreish capsicum relish. My husband’s roast baby chicken in lemon is likewise excellent, although presented exactly as he would – taken from the grill and slapped on a plate (garnish is for pussies). It’s split down the backbone and every joint is juicy and cooked through. The marinade is simple, but perfect.

petite maison chicken

We split the dessert. Again, I test this French restaurant by ordering a national dish – tarte au citron. Like the chicken it arrives sans garnish. Are the chefs sending a message? Something akin to: “I taste so good that I dont need to be pretty!” It is the best I’ve had in Dubai, possibly one of the best ever. They have veered slightly away from tradition, and made it more like a lemon creme brûlée with a pastry base. The filling is custardy, room temperature and slightly gooey, with a wonderful permeating essence. The top is crusty burned sugar, which offsets the sweet, sour and creamy flavour beautifully.

petite maison lemon tart

Unfortunately the winelist has only one dessert wine that will partner this dessert, and it’s 150AED per glass (hai carumba!). The waiter steers us towards a sickly drop from Australia that us Aussies know only grannies and teenage girls drink. Against my better judgement, my husband orders a Muscat Beaumes de Venice, which tastes like pure ethanol next to the tarte. He should really know by now that it’s much better just to listen to me and shut up. Should have had another Champagne.

We leave 20 minutes after our cut-off time. La Petite Maison has two sittings, one too early, and one too late. We opted for early, knowing if we spent enough they would let us linger. But there were many empty tables – it appears the French Polish has rubbed off a little since the early glory days of opening, proving that even in Dubai, a restaurant must stay on it’s toes to stay in business. I don’t have any major issues with the place – it is a good restaurant. But I question myself – if you took this out of Dubai and plonked it back on the French Riviera, would it be anything more than a nice little bistro? The experience suggests no, but the prices suggest they have higher amour propre.


La Petite Maison can be found in the DIFC
Gate Village building 8
(good map on their site here)
ph +971 4439 0505
reservations recommended
Opening Hours:
Lunch: Everyday 12:00 – 3:30pm
Dinner: Everyday 7:00 – 11:30pm
Bar: Everyday 1:00 – 12:00am
petite maison menu

6 thoughts on “La Petite Maison – Little house lost”

  1. Really well-written, balanced review. It's sad when good restaurants become snooty, and fail to do the small, easy things like explain the menu well, or update it, or garnish the food (shocking!!). Everything is so hyped in Dubai, that it's refreshing to hear a more critical, not rose-colored view of this place. Thanks for sharing. [ps, love the photos, especially the one of the olive oil bottle, and the one of the tarte.]

  2. hmmm.. i hate it when I skim through the menu and have decided on my choices and when the waiter comes…its not available.. worst of all when my second choice is not available… i just loose my appetite…. especially in a place like this, its disappointing!! and I would think they would know what a carpaccio is… I'm curious to know how they got the whats on award I mean, fairly speaking I know a good couple restaurants serving up a better experience… well I havent been so i shouldnt judge really;Food you described intrigues me quite a bit, almost wish I was there as a ghost sampling all your dishes.. ahhaha; but something tells me I'll be disappointed with all else.nice review sarah!

  3. …I've done a straw poll of people's favourite restaurants in Dubai recently including Time Out staff. PM comes top for many. But is the quality of the restaurant or the lack of competition in Dubai? I think the latter. Everyone does fancy – there is not enough affordable bistro food (done well). Excellent review and lovely pics.

  4. Glad you shared Sarah. I must admit I have always rated La Petite Maison as one of Dubai's best restaurants if not the best – but I must admit I think of late the French arrogance (and just to set the record straight I love the French!) is showing in their service. A sign perhaps that a year into operation they are getting complacent. I hope they take note as despite being an import, it does help raise the dining stakes in Dubai.

  5. Thanks all for the comments – Yes, it's a lovely place, but after a few summers in Provence (yes, I know, poor me!) I was disappointed to get the same thing on the plate for three times the price. You're right Sally, Dubai needs more great affordable bistros, but La Petite Maison are a little too expensive for that. Drop the prices 20% and I'll rave!

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