Funnily enough, I was recalling my best ever meal to a friend only the other day. For me, a great meal has to be a combination of perfect setting and incredible food. And one place that never fails in that regard is La Petite Maison in Mayfair. I go there regularly - at least a couple of times a month. It’s honestly one of my few havens in London, somewhere I like to escape to with my wife and family, enjoying heavenly food and service.
This one meal in particular was about four of five years ago. It was a lovely day and my wife and I had been shopping around Knightsbridge, strolling and lazing around Hyde Park, and enjoying London for what it is – a fabulous city with so much variety. By the time it came to dinner, we had worked up a real appetite, and I always think that’s the best time to eat – when you’re really craving flavour and energy.
The starter was a lovely burrata cheese with fabulous Italian bread. It came with a dense mozzarella cheese and baby tomatoes – the combination was quite amazing.
Next was sea bass, whole, which I love because I hate any fillet of fish. I like to have it whole - I like to see everything. And it needs to be slightly well done. There was a delightful herby, butter-based sauce. It’s hard to say what was the main composition, but it complimented the fish perfectly. It was so wonderfully delicious.
This was one of those meals that you actually want to end midway through, just in case what’s coming afterwards doesn’t live up to the heights of what went before! But the dessert was the final piece of the jigsaw - amazing French toast with a lovely coconut flambé ice cream accompaniment... so delicious.
I eat at La Petite Maison all the time and, to be honest, it’s one of many fantastic meals I’ve had there. But that one stands out for me as the best. And I washed it down with some virgin mojitos as well!
That kind of dining is a far cry from my Pakistani background, but no more special. My mother used to cook very authentic Pakistani dishes. There were always so many spices and smells, it was a home with a fabulous aroma, and it would hit you as soon as you walked through the door. Mealtime was very important - if you were late, you were in trouble.
Thoughts on the restaurant business
Putting on my business hat, I think the one thing I’d say about restaurants today is that the concept of service has disappeared a bit. I think restaurants are very driven by location and very driven by food, but as I said earlier, when you go out for a meal, it’s not just about the food. It’s also about the ambience. If all I wanted was just good food, I’d stay at home.
It’s all in the detail
And I don’t think restaurants pay enough attention to detail. If you want to stand out in today’s market, I think you should put as much emphasis as you can on your customers, particularly your regulars. Address them by name, and embrace technology. Even simple stuff... these days you can have a customer’s favourite meal, favourite drink and favourite table on record. And those touches really set you apart.