x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

La Maison d'Hôtes, Dubai

La Maison d'Hôtes had a great opportunity to wow with wonderful homemade French food to go with its homely accommodation. Instead it had us pining for five-star hotel food.

A colourful main dish accompanied by lemonade at the La Maison d'Hôtes in Dubai.
A colourful main dish accompanied by lemonade at the La Maison d'Hôtes in Dubai.

When it comes to hotels in Dubai, quaint is an adjective that rarely applies. On the one hand, we have our five-star monuments to overstatement and overindulgence, with their quasi-sub-aquatic fairground rides (Burj Al Arab), prancing troops of golden horses (Al Qasr) and in-house artificial rainforests (Grand Hyatt). On the other hand, there's the raft of opportunistic haunts that sidle up behind fizzing neon in the labyrinthine back alleys of Deira and Bur Dubai. At any of a hundred such dives, you'd be more likely to find a thriving culture of mould than a man-made swathe of tropical jungle. Yet any traveller wearied by such an apparent lack of hospitable-yet-homely options only has to look to Jumeirah and the leafy portals of La Maison d'Hôtes.

One of the few boutique-style guest houses of its kind in the emirate, the French-run converted villa boasts 20 charming rooms, tranquil gardens with blossoming bougainvilleas and a distinctly personal approach to service. It also has a restaurant, which is why I decided to pay it a visit. Surely our hosts at this friendly French haven of cosy congeniality will know how to rustle up some decent Gallic fare?

After a frustrating tour of the local neighbourhood to find the place, we arrived at a little lobby festooned with homespun finishes and cute handicrafts. But despite our reservation, the receptionist seemed lost in the quaintness of his surroundings as he searched his ledger for a sign that there would be guests for dinner. There was no record of our reservation, but the resourceful chap led us to the dining room regardless. The space was simply and cleanly decorated, with neutral colours and understated fixtures. But the place was deathly silent, without either the murmur of a guest or even the soft distraction of background music.

We chose from the "plates of the house", which apparently offered a menu complet of starter, main course and dessert. Little did we expect it all to arrive on the same service tray. It was the kind of meal one might expect if Air France ever decided to open a rustic-and-traditional class in between economy and business. I opted for la gourmande, which presented me with a starter of duck foie gras ballotine that amounted to no more than a piece of cold toasted bread and a lump of pâté. It followed that with a parched duck confit and tomato parmentier - a kind of shallow cottage pie with chewy poultry scattered around a crash scene of dry tomatoes and onions, mashed potato and powdery breadcrumbs. Only the rich and flavoursome crème brûlée stopped me from heading to the emergency exit.

While my dining partner was getting to grips with the la criie plate, a young man — presumably a guest — wearing little more than a towel wrapped around his midriff, suddenly appeared in the dining room. After pausing to pick up some cutlery, he was gone, leaving my dining partner to reflect that her fish and calamari ceviche with coconut milk was a little dull in comparison. Her salad with marinated salmon and prawns lifted the mood a little, before an overly creamy fish cassoulet and a limp citrus fruit gratin brought matters to a disappointing close.

La Maison d'Hôtes had a great opportunity to wow us with wonderful homemade French food to go with its homely accommodation and uniquely welcoming service. Instead it had us pining for five-star hotel food.
La Maison d'Hôtes, Villa No 18, Street 83B, off Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah, 04 344 1838. Average price of meal for two Dh150-200.

jbrennan@thenational.ae