Located on the first floor of H Queen’s in Central, Asia’s first outpost of the acclaimed French restaurant La Petite Maison is opening in Hong Kong this September.
Chef Patron Raphael Duntoye, who switched gears from engineer to chef and worked alongside celebrated Chef Pierre Kofmann at La Tante Claire, will be overseeing the menu inspired by the original restaurant in Nice, on the French Riveria.
Ahead of the opening, we were given a sneak peek of the new restaurant and spoke to the unassuming and affable Chef/Engineer to find out what he will bring to Hong Kong’s La Petite Maison and what we should expect from Niçoise cuisine.
We hear that it’s not your first time in Hong Kong, have you been able to explore much?
I have been back and forth to Hong Kong for about eight years now looking for the right site [for the restaurant]. So that’s eight years in the making. When I am here, I am in work mode, so not really exploring. But I hope at some point, when everything is settled, to bring the family here to explore properly.
You studied engineering, has your background helped you in your culinary career?
I’m very structured. Every dish is structured. I think you should always have a starting point and an end point. It’s about layers, which bring consistency, so I do think it helped a lot. For example, I’ve always wanted to have risotto on my menu and it took me almost 5 to 6 years to put it on. I think risotto is one of those things that if it’s overcooked, it’s gone, if it’s undercooked, it’s no good. It must be exact. So I had to come up with a formula to cook risotto, and make sure the end point is always the same.
Who has been your biggest influence?
Chef Pierre Kofmann. I’ve always said that if someday I turn out to be a decent chef it’s because I had a great teacher, a master. And if I don’t, I still had a great master, I was just a bad student. Also, Rainer Becker from Zuma. My time there was like when you find the missing pieces to your puzzle, which I brought back to French cuisine too.
Tell us about La Petite Maison Hong Kong, will it differ from other branches?
We will start with what we know first, we are still building our team and our foundation. Later, we can experiment. Hopefully in time, like with every other restaurant we open, something local — something readily available — can come onto the menu. So don’t be surprised in a few months, when there is something in Hong Kong that you cannot find in London or Dubai.
How would you describe Niçoise cuisine?
Niçoise is a mix of Italian and French cuisine. For example, Italians have pesto, in Nice you have pistou and the difference is pine nuts. I think Niçoise cuisine is mainly olive oil-based, less butter, leaning more towards Italian cuisine — which focuses a lot on the produce.
What is your cooking philosophy?
I believe that the best dishes are the ones that chefs have very little to do with. It’s more about the combination of great ingredients. For me, that’s what good food is. It’s also about simplicity. Cooking should be simple, but simple is not easy, it’s more difficult. When I started cooking I wanted to make everything complicated. But the older I got, the more I wanted to simplify things. I’ve been to many amazing restaurants, but the ones I remember are always simple.
What is your favourite La Petite Maison dish?
The Warm Prawns in Olive Oil. Just prawns, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It’s my favourite dish on the menu, but I did not make it, it’s from the original La Petite Maison in Nice. But I was inspired by that dish to create others that would match it.
Our best seller is the snail dish, which took us by surprise. I have a local gentlemen in Dubai that orders half a dozen snail dishes and drinks it with a beautiful bottle of wine and he’s done. Everybody has their favourite.
What do you think about “Fine Casual” dining?
I think we started it; we wrote the book on it! I come from a Michelin background and the skills that I have today come from that, but what I do is “fine casual” — without all the ceremony. The idea is for you to come in and have fun, it’s a place to enjoy and relax.
Are you excited to come to Hong Kong?
I’ll tell you why I’m so excited to come to Hong Kong; in Asia, you share food. When I first opened La Petite Maison and talked about the sharing concept, many said “oh you can’t do that, it’s Western cuisine…” So I had to remind some people that in the past, food was put in the middle of the table and everyone took their bit. What’s all the fuss about? When you’re at home, it’s family-style eating. You break bread together and you share. So I’m excited about the fact that we don’t need to explain this in Asia.
For me, food is like a journey, your palate should have different flavours. It should tell a story and that’s where the idea of sharing comes from. The idea that your palate is never bored. It’s a different plate, different flavour and different story.
La Petite Maison, 1/F, H Queen’s, 80 Queen’s Road, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2887 1113