In the short time that it has been open, La Petite Maison has gained an impressive reputation.
The restaurant comes from good pedigree, with established outlets in London and Nice, and sure enough, when we visited on Friday evening it was heaving. Heaving in a good way that is; in a chatty, atmospheric, weekend kind of way.
The look of the restaurant is that of a traditional French brasserie; albeit one that has been given a makeover. Gone is the slightly stifling fug often associated with such a place, and in its place are cream walls displaying colourful modern art and white tablecloths. The room is full of light.
Mere minutes after we took our seats, my friend sent his starter fork careering across the floor. Rather than being caused by clumsiness on his part, this was due to a space issue. The round tables intended for two are very small. They struggle to contain the salt and pepper, knives and forks, olive oil, water glasses and bottle at the best of times. Ask them to accommodate three starter plates and you're in a fix.
Also included in this table medley are a couple of tomatoes and a lemon.This struck me as pretty bizarre. While you are provided with a serrated knife, there is nothing to cut the fruit on and it is unclear when you're supposed to eat them. As a self-constructed amuse bouche? With a slice of bread? I could understand this more if it was the height of tomato season and we lived in a part of the world brimming over with fresh produce. Alas, we don't and given that both the tomatoes and the lemon looked a little tired, we left them alone.
We stayed true to the classic brasserie theme for the duration of the meal. Starters included French beans with foie gras and two types of carpaccio: beef and scallop. The French bean dish was excellent. Nicely seasoned, well dressed beans were just the right side of crunchy and cubes of foie gras were rightfully rich and melted in the mouth. The first carpaccio to arrive offered near translucent slithers of fresh scallop, doused in a grassy, good quality olive oil and scattered with almonds and chopped chives. Very nice indeed, just not a dish to make your taste buds jump for joy.
The beef carpaccio was the starter that I enjoyed the least and it took me a while to work out why. When I said to my friend that the meat tasted ever so slightly of fish, he scoffed at my suggestion. After a few more mouthfuls, he began to agree - not an admission that was made lightly. Perhaps the same slicer had been used for both beef and fish somewhere along the way? Or perhaps the two had been stored close together in the fridge and the flavour of one had permeated the other? For whatever reason, the flavour was unmistakably there and this made it truly difficult to enjoy.
The main courses, like the starters, are supposed to be shared. I'm not entirely sure why because the dishes would work perfectly well on their own and aren't particularly easy to split between two, but we followed the rules. In any case, an order of turbot lived up to its moniker as the king of fish. Cooked perfectly on the bone, the fish was moist, meaty and white. This was accompanied by a few pieces of braised artichoke, fennel and carrot and was served in a vinaigrette-style sauce - all in all a tasty, summery dish.
Spatchcocked baby chicken arrived with lovely yellow skin, thanks to a lemon marinade. As we cut into it, the citrussy, meaty juices that had gathered at the bottom of the plate became tinged with pink. At this point, I began to worry. Whilst others may differ, I find it difficult to get my head around a piece of poultry served on the pink side. We spoke to our very accommodating waitress and she dealt with the situation in exactly the right way: offering us an alternative and later removing the chicken from bill. Such an efficient response goes a long way towards salvaging a situation like this.
The genial atmosphere in La Petite Maison prevents you from dwelling on anything for too long, and soon we were happily picking out our desserts. The base of my lemon tart was nice and crumbly and underneath a layer of caramelised sugar lay a delicious, wobbly, sweet-sharp filling. Pain perdu, meanwhile, was warmly spiced, with a crisp, sugary coating and a soft, deliciously rich doughy centre. Definitely not a lost piece of bread.
Our meal here wasn't glitch free by any means, but it was nonetheless very enjoyable and a place to which I will return. If when I did, the tables were just a little bigger, then the experience would be all the better.
Ÿ A meal at La Petite Maison for two, including service but minus one main course, costs Dh575. Reviews are conducted incognito and meals are paid for by The National.