With elevated ethnic cuisines reigning supreme over legacy cuisines, experiential concepts trumping traditional, and in a city that has the most restaurants per capita in the world, it takes a confident man to launch a traditional French bistro in Dubai. Especially with so many excellent French bistros available in high profile locations across the city.
Brave or reckless, it’s hard to determine what La Môme is. According to François Simon, food critic for Le Figaro, “French cuisine is in crisis,” and Spanish, Peruvian, Turkish and even North American are the cuisines of choice these days.
La Môme Dubai is the latest homegrown concept to try and steal some of the F&B spotlight and is located in the old TRE location on the 49th floor of the Nassima Royal Hotel on SZR.
La Môme claims to be inspired by 1950’s vintage France, based around Edith Piaf, and more specifically her song La Vie En Rose. Unfortunately, you would need rosy glasses to make that connection. Although the room is cute and has a warm feel to it; faux exposed brick, leather booths and Edison light bulbs above each table are not Paris Circa 1950. It is Everywhere Circa 2012.
I was aghast to see the use of filament lightbulbs; they are the bane of every new restaurant since early 2010. Yes, they were cool back then, and i used to like them. Now they are just overplayed, like that song you loved the first time you heard it, but thanks to uninspired DJ’s overplaying it on the radio, you have learned to hate it. Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’ springs to mind.
However, remove the dubious connection to the Little Sparrow and the roses, and you have a pleasant room that when busy, has a great atmosphere. Also, the Serb told me she rather liked the restaurant, and I was to stop being such a snob. In protest, I raised my little pinky even higher as I took a sip from my glass.
Our waitress was young and adorable, with a thick French accent that made you want to say “Oh là là.” She carefully recited the specials, checked the English translation in her little notebook and informed us that the kidneys were not available.
The menu is a single card with a concise and deliberate selection of mainly meat and fish and is, surprisingly, poultry free. It is conventional, safe and authentic but in danger of becoming a touch boring. However, if the food is done well, then “a touch boring” can become iconic. Take La Petite Maison, for example.
For the first time since I was a 34 waist jean size, nothing on the entrée list enticed me. Out of the ten starters, one was snails in garlic; the other was homemade Foie gras, and there was a salad. The rest are seafood based – scallops, shrimp, salmon, prawns and more scallops. Oh, and a token soup as well.
So with significant regret, we went directly onto to mains, which disappointingly also followed the same traditional pattern. Beef tartare, rib eye steak, lamb rack, and cod filet were as good as it got under the Plats section.
The signature dishes did a little better, and I ordered the Boeuf Bourguignon, and the Serb ordered the filet of beef. My apologies for the lack of imagination in the choices, but this was a very traditional menu, and I’m not a big fan of pigeon and didn’t fancy seafood. Plus, you already know by now that the Serb is cattle crazy.
With it being mid-week, it was a quiet night in La Môme, and as such, the team struggled to find things to keep themselves busy with. They ended up congregating in small corners of the restaurant, like little French revolutionists talking about existentialism and the purpose of life. In truth, I don’t know what they were talking about, but it was probably to see who got to leave early. However, they were polite, engaging and very smiley whenever they came close to the table.
The mains arrived and surprisingly they were plated with hints of expression and creativity and certainly strayed from nostalgic authenticity. The filet arrived with pan fried cherry tomatoes on the vine adding a splash of colour, and the Bourguignon was served with a styled quenelle of creamy mashed potato.
The filet came with a side of potato gratin, which was a delightful dish. Piping hot and creamy, drawn together by the starch and with just enough bite left in the potatoes to keep thing interesting.
The bourguignon was also delicious – sweet, rich jus coated tender, slow cooked meat that could be eaten by fork alone. The baby onions brought a sweetness to the sauce and the beef stock added the umami that was needed to balance it all out. However, it would have been even better if it wasn’t served almost cold.
Thanks to not having any starters, we ordered desserts with an unusual enthusiasm. I went for that traditional French dessert – the tiramisu and The Serb ordered the chocolate mousse – to share.
The tiramisu was good, but unfortunately, couldn’t hold a candle to the chocolate mousse that is French served to you from a large copper pan directly onto your plate. It is then topped with freshly whipped cream and is utterly heavenly. It is like eating a cloud of Nutella – airy, light, decadent and delicious. Easily the best dish of the whole meal.
It is clear that La Môme is trying to be a nostalgic throwback to the 1950’s, but the challenge with that is anyone who remembers the 1950’s is probably over 70 years old. Although I’m not totally convinced by the concept, it is a pleasant, quaint little French bistro that shows flashes of superior cooking skills. Additionally, it is also a homegrown concept which I am, of course, a big supporter of and the staff are friendly and attentive.
The big question is, is that enough to make a difference to the restaurant landscape of Dubai. With La Môme only a month old, that remains to be seen but for now, take your 70-year-old grandmother and go check it out, if only for the chocolate mousse and the staff.