Rory Duncan is a man who speaks his mind and makes no apologies for it. The chef in charge at French fine dining restaurant La Petite Maison at The Galleria on Al Maryah Island knows what he wants, what he believes, and, most importantly, how to get it.
“When it comes to their food, I believe pride is misinterpreted as arrogance, and I would definitely say it’s warranted,” he boldly says of the French. “If it wasn’t for their passion, UNESCO would not have declared French cuisine ‘a world intangible heritage’. The French are not obsessed with food but with the quality of food, and I wish more nations were thinking that way.”
It was a conversation stopper. Especially considering I’d imagined a friendly chat with Brit chef Duncan to more likely flutter comfortably around popular dishes, restaurant design and perhaps touch on kitchen heroes.
“Our standards are very high,” he adds. “I have always worked for quality establishments and to be honest, I couldn’t work for a concept where the aim is to be a successful business to the detriment of quality. I work to impress palates, not figures on an Excel sheet.”
La Petite Maison will take Abu Dhabi residents and The Galleria visitors on a journey to the breezy, sun-kissed terraces of the French Riviera, filled with the heavenly aroma of slow-roasted black leg-chicken and snails in garlic butter.
And while he’s happy to give traditional French cuisine a huge pat on the back, he’s also not afraid to be bold with dishes. He did, some might say, the unimaginable and “experimented with snails” in the early days. It was a move that paid off.
“The escargot is probably our bestseller and definitely a typical French dish,” he says. “However, we added anchovies and almonds to the classic garlic butter recipe, and our interpretation of the original dish is always in high demand.”
The local crowd tends to regularly spend time in France and love being able to taste here what they tasted there. We have a lot of French cuisine and culture lovers. The challenge for us is to adapt recipes for the local market but still come out on top.Rory Duncan
La Petite Maison in the UAE brings French-Mediterranean cuisine influenced by Ligurian Italy, direct from the heart of London.
With simplicity as the focus, it’s all about the food at La Petite Maison. The dishes will transport you to rolling hills full of cattle or to olive groves, depending on the mouthful. It’s a meticulously crafted menu that heroes the freshest produce, including artichokes, courgettes, olives, tomatoes, peppers and girolles. It’s premium seafood, meats and homemade pasta. It’s perfect.
The opening of La Petite Maison Dubai brought Duncan (who was working in the London LPM prior to his move) to the UAE.
“I wanted to pioneer quality in a region still very young yet very hungry for high-end restaurants. I wanted to be able to offer to this country the same quality dishes as those its inhabitants are used to when visiting Europe,” he says.
“When it comes to French food, I aim for simplicity, so as to not drown the purity of taste into a mix pot. Sometimes, chefs try too hard to make things different and more ‘sophisticated’. Less is more.”
With French cuisine covering such a vast topic (France being a country offering a wide range of specialties across numerous regions including fine dining, gastronomic, cuisine du terroir), Duncan accepts it’s a big ask to cook French food in a country with so much experience of the cuisine.
“The local crowd tends to regularly spend time in France and love being able to taste here what they tasted there. We have a lot of French cuisine and culture lovers. The challenge for us is to adapt recipes for the local market but still come out on top.”
Giving an example, Duncan explains that in the early days, he imported dry-aged beef from Spain, one of the best quality meats available internationally; but the welcome was not what he was expecting. “It was full of flavour, yet a flavour not understood or appreciated over here. We had to revert back to American meat as the flavours were just too strong.”
Close your eyes and envision each of the ingredients you’re eating. This increases flavours and savours tenfold. Imagine the raw ingredient; feel it, smell it, taste it.
It’s a problem Duncan calls “palate education” and the chef is adamant he can shift a change in the future but accepts it may take some time.
“I recently introduced wild salmon in our menu. This delicacy is only available for a few months, and the feedback we got was exceptional. Diners rarely have the opportunity to be offered such high-quality fish. I guess that’s where we’re unique.”
At La Petite Maison, heirloom recipes passed down through the generations are married with contemporary flair to develop signature dishes. Starters include petits farcis niçois with veal-stuffed Mediterranean vegetables and zesty betteraves marinées.
Delectable mains showcase dishes include pâtes fraîches aux calamars et crevettes (a homemade pasta with squid and prawns) and daurade entière au citron, a whole sea bream baked en papillote with lemon, herbs and olive oil. The famed poulet La Petite Maison — a whole, roasted black-leg chicken stuffed with foie gras — available on special request, will please those with epicurean tastes.
End on a sweet note that draws from the familiar mouthwatering flavours of France with a decadent crème brulée à la vanille or a fruity cassata aux fruits rouges, made with the freshest berries.
“Close your eyes and envision each of the ingredients you’re eating,” says Duncan. “This increases flavours and savours tenfold. Imagine the raw ingredient; feel it, smell it, taste it.”
For more information on opening dates for La Petite Maison, Abu Dhabi, please contact our concierge desk at 02 616 6999.