At La Petite Maison, you are guaranteed a great experience. This unique restaurant which has opened in some of the world's most beautiful cities, including Nice, London and Dubai and recently Beirut, offers a culinary adventure like no other. I've tried La Petite Maison over six times all over the world and after every visit I leave happy and satisfied. The amazement felt, made me think about the right title for my review. What should it be? "The Best Experience this Year?" Or maybe "A Cuisine Like No Other?"
This place, a chic French casual restaurant offering exquisite yet non complicated food is like no other; I decided to give it a section of its own. "NogarlicNoOnions Best of 2013: A Casual Chic French Restaurant... La Petite Maison, Beirut."
La Petitie Maison is the home of Cuisine Nicoise, -whose origins lie in old Genoese cooking- in the old town of Nice where French Mediterranean cuisine has blended and evolved with the influences of Ligurian Italy across the border. Local produce, notably artichokes, courgettes, lemons, olives, tomatoes, peppers and girolles are used generously with seafood, meat and fresh pasta to produce a style that’s light and healthy. Combining the best fresh seasonal ingredients with the culinary influences of the Côte d’Azur and neighboring Liguria, Chef Patron Raphael Duntoye offers an inspired yet simple and delicious interpretation of French Mediterranean and Niçoise cuisine.
It was in 2002 shortly after the launch of London’s now world famous Zuma restaurant that Arjun Waney conceived of opening a La Petite Maison in London. The man who started Zuma because he found it difficult to get reservations at his then favourite London restaurant Nobu, was inspired to create La Petite Maison in London so he could enjoy its food all year round instead of just when he was at his summer villa in St Jean Cap Ferrat.
On the first floor of Hotel Le Vendome, Beirut, a casual chic restaurant with fine dining offerings has opened its doors bringing the best from Nice, London and Dubai for the local picky clientele to enjoy. The elevator door opens towards the entrance of the restaurant... A few plants and two benches decorate this white ambiance separating the hotel’s stairs from the restaurant with glass walls where the famous logo “tous celebres ici” is engraved.
The place described:
- After the elevator a facade of glass separates the hotel stairs from the restaurant
- “Tous Celebres ici” is printed on the glass facades
- Inside is a rectangular space, divided by many columns supporting the building, giving an intimate feeling to each of the tables
- To the left, near the entrance is a long bar where a drink can be enjoyed before dinner
- To the right is a long bar in front of the open kitchen displaying a rich selection of fresh vegetables
- Vegetables usually on display depending on the season: Zuchini, red pepper, yellow bell pepper, pomegranate, broccoli, eggplant, onions, fennel, apple, lemon, tomato and even more
- Behind the kitchen bar, shelves are filled with pickles and copper casseroles
- Each and every table is handled with care, decorated with fresh lemon and tomatoes along a bottle of olive oil. A knife next to them reminds you that you can use them if needed
- The space is filled with square and round tables. Some small and other bigger ones hosting two to 12 guests
- High glass facades let the needed amount of light have access to the place while enchanting you with a beautiful sea view
- The trade mark sauce pans were created and designed by Max Cartier, a Nice based artist, and the sauce pans through out the world contain an image of the male or female part within the design.
- Light musical background is soft, low and enjoyable
- Fine cutlery from "Hepp Exclusiv" with silver salt and pepper mill decorate all the tables
Everyone is smiling and happy around here with the professionalism often missed in town. From the welcoming hostess, to the general manager to Elie our gentle waiter, everyone has only one thing in mind and that is to make your experience, one that will be enjoyed and remembered.
The food is a refinement and expansion of known French menus, emphasizing the elements that distinguish Niçoise food; olive oil, courgettes, artichokes, tomatoes etc. It's a new take on the general perception of French cuisine evolving this Mediterranean micro cuisine. Instead of rich heavy flavors that depended on the use of excessive butter and cream, the restaurant largely uses the elements of Niçoise food, olive oil, tomatoes etc to create a cuisine that is light, healthy and deliciously palatable.
I was so happy and so excited with La Petitie Maison's lunch ambiance, that I asked the manager, to choose food for us... "La Petite Maison, is full of surprises" Mr. Yannick Choloiard tells me with a smile. Lunch was superb! The ritual started with the distribution of bread, crunchy warm baguettes presented in a picnic basket. Exceptionally soft and tender with an outer crunchy crust that doesn’t even scratch your palate, accompanied by an olive oil marination from a local producer up the mountain, Mr. Mahmoud Kaasamani in the Chouf region. It was the first time I feel the real French taste inside the baguettes. After asking around, I was told that the bread is produced in-house which explains the unique taste.
Reminder of the concept: “A sharing ambiance. Each dish is served when ready.”
Good to know before we start:
- La Petite Maison is not a fine dining restaurant, it is accessible to all
- The plates portions are generous and can be shared in the middle for two persons; Sharing is caring. Portions are big enough to accommodate everybody
- Ordering one main course per person is a bit too much especially that the starters are not to be missed
- Menu is the same for lunch and dinner
- I don't believe that the prices are expensive. You'll pay an average of 50-70$ per person, and that's cheaper than all "Bistros" in town and half the Fine Dinning spots that do not provide better quality nor tastier plates
- There is no butter and no cream in any of the plates expect the Gratin Dauphinois
As I sat to start, I asked to have a look at the kitchen. I was welcomed by Chef Johannes Wagner, the second in command, who previously read my article in details and promised to make changes. He was so excited to show me their signature charcoal oven while he prepared a ribeye steak for me. I went back out, enticed with a smile on my face, just waiting for the dishes to make their entrance.
The fine culinary experience:
- Warm Prawns with Olive Oil 35,500L.L: On a beautiful round plate, presented with a metallic serving spoon are some prawns cut in half and majestically lying on a bed of olive oil and lemon. Thick salt and pepper from the mill, season the ingredients offered with thin slices of basil. Warm, fresh, crunchy and enjoyable, those prawns have an inviting light color and melt under your teeth like butter. They are so tasty that you can't but lick your lips after each bite
- Burrata with Tomatoes and basil 38,000L.L: The look of it alone is superb, so enchanting and so inviting. Beautiful exotic colors that make your mouth water. A big burrata, decorated with basil leaves and cherry tomatoes cut in half... here is where the secret lies. The tomatoes are marinated in a secret sauce giving them a sweetness and a pleasant crunch that will burst into flavors in your mouth. Yum! A bit too sweet for my taste, but believe me its unique
- Marinated Salmon with pink peppercorns 38,000L.L: Last time I was here, this plate had a strong and unpleasant odor and bitter aftertaste. This plate has improved and revisited the Lebanese way, using unique ingredients. Do not expect to eat a simple boring plate of smoked salmon but a preparation that will put a smile on your face. In an oval plate covered with thin slices of salmon is hidden below a mashed mix of turnip and crunchy cubes of the same ingredient in its pickled form on top. The salmon is cured with dill and turnip before being ready to eat. Yum! A cocktail of amazement awaits
- Salad of Endives, caramelized walnut with blue cheese dressing 28,500L.L: Just imagine how simple this plate is and how uniquely it can be . A big piece of endive cut in half, presented on a table then covered in a sauce of Fourme D'Ambert cheese that has the same feel of blue cheese but less strength and a subtle pleasant taste. The endives are thick, fresh, crunchy and full of water like a fresh apple that just came down from the tree. Caramelized onions, red apples and olive oil add the needed fines to make of this simple starter a plate worth ordering
- French Beans with Foie Gras 30,300L.L: This signature plate at La Petite Maison, known all over the world, is famous for a reason. Foie Gras, green beans, shallots and tomatoes in a balsamic vinegar reduction. Fresh crunchy green beans with a nice salty after taste provided by the Maldon salt and a sweetness that caresses your palate in style. It's simply awesome. The terrine is baked in-house
- Sea Bass Carpaccio: Isn't the photo enough to describe how majestic this plate is? On a simple glass plate, raw slices of fresh fish are layered and marinated in a green sauce of basil, coriander, mint and parsley. To make things even better, small cubes of pickled cucumbers decorate the plate adding the needed sweetness and texture. Here I would say in Arabic: "7aram yalle ma bi dou2 heik chi".
- Pan Fried Dover Sole with a grainy mustard dressing 97,000L.L: Moving to more serious stuff, the main dishes started to make an appearance. The sole was shown to us before being prepared on the side. A simple piece of fish is panfried then covered with yellow mustard sauce and green capers. What's unique is that the fish is smoked then marinated with olive oil and mustard on strong fire. I loved the crunchy sides, the middle moist part and the overall feel of non-oiliness. This fish is like no other. I recommend it. Remember to add some of the green salt that comes with it
- Green Beans 12,000L.L: Olive oil, lemon, crunchy and fresh. I love it!
I even said "mmmm" for the crunchy broccoli decorated with red chili cubes
- Grilled Ribeye Steak 80,200L.L: Here we are with the 'piece de resistance'. Believe me when I say that this is one of the best pieces of meat I've tasted in Lebanon. The meat is soft, tender, pinkish, soft and tender with crunchy fat on the sides that worth eating. The meat seasoning is really unique. Wow!
I thought that we were done, but of course lunch wouldn't be complete without some rich and mouthwatering dessert.
- Sorbet Selection: Beautifully presented, we received four scoops. Coconut sorbet over a crunchy crumble: So fresh, so natural and not too sweat. Passion fruits sorbet over chocolate biscuits crumble: Exquisite. Pineapple and mint sorbet over grilled almonds: Unbelievable. Raspberry sorbet over lemony sugar: Out of this world! The mix was served with three tiny chocolate cookie bites that act as a transitional stop between flavors
- Apple Tart: Mmmmm... On a crunchy puff pasty dough, thin caramelized apples lay majestically just waiting to be devoured. The aromas and flavors combined are heavenly.
- Pain Perdu: My last experience here was not the best. Taking all my comments into consideration, I repeated the tasting repeated. Yum. A hundred times better. Bread carefully crafted covered with a layer if thick crunchy caramel hiding the soft and tender inside. Lovely!
Today, like every visit to La Petite Maison, I enjoyed a French Mediterranean restaurant set in a casual chic atmosphere featuring classic Nicoise cuisine with a modern twist. Light, healthy and deliciously prepared using the very best of fresh raw materials... It's a must try and I invite you all to visit this unique place before the year's end. If there's no time, put it on your to do list of 2014.