With its sister restaurant in Nice a popular celebrity haunt, La Petite Maison in Mayfair was always going to be a place to be seen. But how does its menu hold up? Tom Vaughan pays a visit
It was of little significance, one might argue, whether new Mayfair eaterie La Petite Maison suffered at the hands of the critics when it opened last month. The reputation of its celebrity-studded sister restaurant, the original La Petite Maison in Nice (opened in 2000), and its own trendy location round the corner from Claridge's meant that it was guaranteed to be full from day one.
The 78-seat venue was set up as a franchise from the original by Arjun Waney, principal owner of Zuma and Roka. Duntoye crossed over from Zuma, where he was second chef.
Inside, the corner building bears a striking resemblance to its airy French counterpart, as the triangular shape lets light in across two windowed walls. A pair of fresh tomatoes and a lemon adorn each table, alongside a bottle of Italian olive oil.
Half of the dishes in the London franchise are based on the original Nice menu, while the remainder are the creations of Duntoye. The concept, he explains, is that dishes should be shared, so each diner is presented with an empty plate while the starters and mains are lined up in the middle of the table.
"Light and fresh" is how Duntoye describes the menu.
For £7.50, a temperature-perfect niÁ§oise salad is thrown together in what seems like a glass vase - tuna, sardines, tomato, French beans, broad beans and salty, deep-purple olives, all wrapped in olive oil.
Like the niÁ§oise salad, French beans with foie gras (£9.50), mixed with finely chopped tomatoes and shallots, is taken from the Nice menu, as is thinly sliced octopus in lemon oil (£12), topped with radish and a small sprig of astina.
Sweet peppers in olive oil (£5.50) are peeled before being marinated in smoked garlic, smoked paprika and white balsamic vinegar - ideally, says Duntoye, for a week. "The marinade doesn't kill the flavour at all," he explains. "It enhances it."
Warm prawns with olive oil and lemon (£12.50) is one of Duntoye's own dishes, and, he says, stands or falls by the quality of the lemons and oil. "With the right sweetness of lemon and the right oil it can de great," he says. "If not - disaster."
The most popular dish on the main menu is whole roast blackleg chicken with foie gras (£35), which is more than enough for two people and can take as much as an hour to prepare. Sea bass baked in salt with artichokes, girolles and tomatoes (£28) seems run-of-the-mill in print, but when the woodland flavour of the girolles mixes with the clean sea bass and the fresh wash of tomatoes, shredded courgette and a side of beetroot salad, it becomes apparent why it's the restaurant's signature dish.
Other mains include grilled veal chop (£29), fillet of wild salmon with beetroot and crème fraÁ®che (£24) and grilled tiger prawns (£18).
The dessert menu also offers items to share, so a crème brÁ»lée harbouring half of Madagascar's vanilla crop at the bottom comes served in what appears to be a bathtub for only £7, while melon and strawberry soup with vanilla ice-cream (£7) and upside-down cooked apple tart (£7) also feature on the select sweets menu.
At present, the seven-strong brigade is preparing 80 covers at lunch and more than 100 at dinner, with average spend about £50.
With the climate in Nice a far cry from London's autumn, Duntoye says that the biggest challenge is yet to come for La Petite Maison. "The winter is something I'm really looking forward to," he says. "I'm already thinking about it and what I'm going to do with all the game and mushrooms. It's exciting, but I want to keep this menu light and fresh - and that is the challenge."
What's on the menu
Onion tart with anchovies, £4.50
Sardines with grapes, tomatoes and capers, £8.50
Deep-fried courgette flowers, sage with anchovies and onions, £8.50
Turbot with artichoke, white wine and olive oil, £23
Roast baby chicken marinated in lemon, £16
Grilled fillet steak with shallot and tarragon mustard, £25
Dark chocolate tart with orange cream, £7
Orange and Grand Marnier sorbet, £5.50
Lemon and vodka sorbet, £5.50
La Petite Maison, 54 Brooks Mews, London W1K 4EG. Tel: 020 7495 4774. www.lpmlondon.co.uk