"It's not much but it's ours"

Friday, June 29, 2007



Despite the best prejudices of both me and my blowsy Glaswegian host, we both came away really having enjoyed our meal at La Petite Maison and, Lord knows it had all the cards stacked against it.

First, neither of us was in the best fooling. She had just come from the dentist where five or so jabs, enough to drop a charging Glaswegian, had left her unscathed save a frozen mouth which meant she fetchingly dribbled water and wine from her mouth until about half way through the meal. Me? I was, and am, still in the grips of a chill accompanied by a , not annoying at all, hacking cough. As I write this, I am trying to deal with it by spending nearly a whole day in bed sleeping.

Next, is the location. In the heart of Mayfair. It’s bound to be an expensive rip off then, right? A thought added to when you hear that it is owned by the people who brought us Zuma and Roka, hardly known as budget option.

Finally, for me at least, it is in the site which used to be Teca ( now relocated to Marylebone) where I had a “ final straw” meal ten years ago with a self absorbed woman of the “oh, I haven’t brought my wallet, I didn’t think I would need it” type. £150 later ( bear in mind this was 1998) I realised she had never had her wallet with her in the two years I had known her, and I went home with a heart just as empty.

So, for different reasons, neither of us was inclined to think we would like La Petite Maison.

But we were wrong. La Petite Maison turned out to be very enjoyable indeed and, while certainly never going to appear in Time Out Cheap Eats, the bill at the end did not make either of us cry. Particularly not me, anyway, as she was paying.

The people here have gone into partnership with the owners of a well liked restaurant of the same name in Nice. The aim is to bring their regarded brand of cuisine Nicoise to ( a hybrid of southern French and Ligurian) to London.

This begins as soon as you sit down and huge chunks of fresh bread are dropped on the pristine linen for you to dip in superb Ligurian oil from frosted glass bottles left on each table. I arrived early and worked by way through the best part of half a loaf, a glass of Rose and took in what was a very comfortable, light and agreeable dining room.

By the time my frozen mouthed friend arrived with drool coming out of one side of her mouth and expletives out of the other, I had already had time to give the menu a good going over.

It will take time to get it right. Not in the cooking, which is excellent ( more of that later, of course) but in the explanation as the nature of sharing any number of small starter plates and then of main courses seemed to be confusing the chinless at tables all around the restaurant.

It was only their second day and the poor staff were having to give more explanations that a man in A&E at 4am with a traffic cone stuck up his arse.

Still, more than luck than judgement, we battled our way through it and were soon presented with a rather dainty version of a Pissaladiere, topped with micro slivers of olive and anchovy which we both adored.

Next, of course, a Salad Nicoise which had everything it was supposed to and, thank heavens, was made with jarred tuna.

Finally, small fillets of fresh sardines topped with chopped tomatoes, grapes and capers. I am not sure my friend likes this so I finished off two of the three pieces. Beautifully fresh fish with the clean, crisp tastes of the grapes cutting through the oiliness of the flesh.

The main courses are not cheap with a veal chop for £40 to share and, our own choice of, a whole roasted Poulet Noir with foie gras coming in at £35. When, however, one sees the quality of the ingredients and the skill with which they have been prepared, it does move from “ouch” to acceptable.

A slight complaint is that the chicken takes a hour from ordering to come to table. Well, of course it does. It’s a chicken, that’s how long a small one takes. But, I am uncertain how many people are prepared to sit around and wait for the end result how ever good it is. We were perfectly happy, the sun had begun to try and break through the windows into the room, there was some great people watching to be had ( particularly when the owner of the place with his fabulous shock of grey hair walked in) and we were happily sipping on something white and Italian. And, let’s face it, we were unlikely to get any better offers in our current less than decorous state.

When the chicken arrived, it was worth every hacking, dribbling moment we had spent waiting for it. It is hard to ruin an ingredient this good, but man, this was fabulous. A whole moist chicken carved into decent chunks served in a cast iron bowl to catch the juices. Juice in which meltingly good foie gras had been allowed to poach slightly as the chicken rested.

Crisp skin, succulent flesh, bones to gnaw on and juices to be sopped up with a big slab of fried bread which had been placed in the bowl.

We, and by we, I mean she, had gone all out of the expense front and we ordered a macaroni with summer truffles to accompany the chicken. The chef, the owner and the manager all came over to apologise when it appeared that their delivery from Italy had not arrived. So, we substituted the dish for gratinated potatoes topped with the same truffles. I am glad we did. This is one of “ those” that happen all too rarely. Creamy, buttery potatoes that, on their own would make someone swoon were topped by a liberal shaving of truffly goodness. Let’s say, when it came to clean the bowl, words were spoken.

We could not finish the chicken and half of it sits now, wrapped in tin foil in the DH fridge. I am very happy at the thought of getting to try it again.

We split a bowl of mixed sorbets and gelato from a standard looking list of deserts and skipped coffee.

Which, brought us to a bill of £120 for two. Now, that is not cheap by any stretch, but for a meal of this quality with this quality of ingredients, two glasses of rose, two glasses of red and a bottle of white, I think it is well within the acceptable level.

Not one for an everyday visit, but well worth a try for that chicken and potato combo alone

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