The famed French restaurant will open in the capital on October 18, making the UAE the only country in the world to have two branches
From the chef's mouth: what to expect from La Petite Maison Abu Dhabi
La Petite Maison, the famed French restaurant, will officially open at The Galleria on October 18. British chef Rory Duncan, who has been with LPM in Dubai for six of its seven years, will head the Abu Dhabi branch, and says there are a few things that the venue in the capital will do differently. For one, the kitchen will not have a freezer.
“That’s the level of freshness we’re striving to achieve. Not only do we buy everything fresh, but then there’s also the pressure to turn these ingredients out, so the kitchen itself has to deliver,” says Duncan. “There’s a big no-no towards frozen produce in all our restaurants all over the world, but the one in Abu Dhabi will be the first to have only a small cold space for pastry and ice creams.
“La Petite Maison is, first and foremost, ingredient-led,” the chef continues. “We source the best fish we can possibly get, the best beef, lamb and chickens. Scallops come from Norway, alive and opened to order. Same goes for our lobsters. The rib-eye comes from Ireland and is dry-aged for 21 days.” Duncan adds that even the purées for the fruit sorbets are not bought ready-made. “Fruit is chosen and puréed by hand. So, depending on the season, you will or will not get raspberry, blackberry, rhubarb, pineapple, mangoes or clementines, which are in season now, actually.”
While diners in the capital can sample LPM specialities such as the burrata, warm prawns in olive oil, rigatoni with mushrooms, sea bass with artichokes, lamb cutlets with black olive paste, and the famous escargot in butter and foie gras-stuffed chicken, the restaurant will also have a host of new and exclusive dishes, Duncan reveals. “We have certain special and signature dishes in each of our restaurants,” he says. “So in London, it’s the leg of lamb. In Dubai, it’s the signature rib of beef dish. For Abu Dhabi, we’ll have a whole roasted duck, which will be served to order, as well as new pasta platters and different soups and fish dishes. We are constantly tweaking and modifying dishes to make them better.”
There’s obviously a real attention to detail here, which Duncan says is the reason for the brand’s undeniable success; LPM is consistently on best restaurant lists all over the world, and the Dubai branch has managed to remain popular for seven years, even though diners in the emirate are notoriously fickle. “I think it’s down to serving good food and offering polite service, and doing so consistently with every table, every day. We welcome kids and adults of all ages, and the minute you walk through the door, you’re made to feel relaxed. At the same time, the kitchen is all about finding good ingredients and cooking them with respect. We take a huge amount of care and pride, and put in many, many hours doing what we do, which might account for our success story,” says Duncan.
It’s quite a story, too. Frenchwoman Nicole Rubi founded La Petite Maison in the late 1980s on Vieux Nice, and counted the glamorous holidaymakers of the French Riviera as her patrons. One customer, Bob Ramchand, was so taken by the bistro and its simple but delicious dishes, that he and his partner Arjun Waney (the Indian-born, London-based businessman behind Zuma, Roka and Coya) acquired the rights to open LPM outfits anywhere in the world, except – at Rubi’s insistence – France. LPM has since launched in London, Dubai, Beirut, Istanbul and Miami, while the Abu Dhabi venue marks the first time that the restaurant has opened two branches in the same country.
The restaurants also often host one-off performances, a trend that Duncan says will continue in Abu Dhabi. “For the Dubai restaurant’s seventh anniversary later this month, we are deciding between getting the Gypsy Queens or The Troubadours, who will come to the Abu Dhabi venue the next day,” he says. The end game is to provide an experience that Duncan equates with “going out with your parents for a nice meal” – which is a far cry from the often intimidating connotations associated with a fine-dining French restaurant.
“A great lady chef once said that fine dining is simply about fine food, about dishes done well,” says Duncan. “We had one guest recently, who described her experience as cosy. What term could be further from intimidating? Yes, there are a lot of people who think they would not like to go through the doors of a ‘fine-dining’ restaurant, but our aim is to create a relaxed and comfortable environment, and to reassure our guests from the moment they walk through the doors. And here everybody is treated the same, hence our motto: ‘Tous celebres ici; we are all celebrities here’.”