Can chef Izi Ani match the success of former employer La Petite Maison with his restaurant in the new Vida Downtown hotel?

Several years ago, a French restaurant by the name of La Petite Maison opened in DIFC. It was an instant hit. Packed from the first night, it deservedly won What’s On Awards galore.

The chef at the helm back in those heady days was Izi Ani, a lovely, smiley chap who believed strongly in LPM’s dedication to fresh, high-quality produce, which he used to create unfussy dishes that captured the hearts and bellies of Dubai diners.

Izi left LPM not long after it opened, and we heard very little about him until a few months ago, when a chef friend of ours mentioned that he was returning to open a restaurant in Downtown Dubai.

That restaurant is La Serre Bistro and Boulangerie, a striking two-storey glass cube – casual café downstairs, fancier restaurant upstairs – attached to the new Vida Downtown boutique hotel.

It really is a beauty. With its muted colour palette of smooth concrete greys, white painted woods and cream walls, warmed by perfect lighting and brought to life by the whiff of freshly baked bread, La Serre is arguably the most attractive restaurant in town.

Most important of all, the restaurant was almost full on a Tuesday night, less than a month after the doors opened; and the diners, happily chatting away, looked like they had been eating there for years.

So, Izi has new a restaurant and, seemingly, a new name, but his cooking style, thankfully, hasn’t changed at all. Neither has his generous nature, which prompted him to send us a lot of wonderful dishes that we didn’t order.

‘The restaurant was almost full on a Tuesday night, less than a month after the doors opened’

Burrata and tomatoes, if you have the raw ingredients, is an easy dish to get right, and the version Izi served up to start didn’t disappoint: a couple of glistening handfuls of creamy cheese and half a dozen tomatoes that actually tasted like tomatoes (rare in Dubai). A small bowl of firm lentils spiked with piquant, crunchy pickled vegetables was a triumph of simplicity, but it was the squid, luxuriating in a Provencal (herb and tomato) sauce with a nudge of spice, that we will be returning for. Izi also sent out an onion tart – even better for mopping up that sauce than the freshly baked bread from the downstairs oven  – and a subtle, fruity salad of watermelon, feta and basil.

Our first main of lightly spiced duck was okay, if a little underwhelming, but the kitchen couldn’t have made more of an impression with the second, grilled veal chops, if one of the chefs had run out of the kitchen and beaten us about the head with one. Supple, juicy flesh, pink on the inside but in parts grilled to a sticky, BBQ blackness that was packed with the sort of flavour that causes one to salivate between mouthfuls, it was so good we spent a good ten minutes trying to carve the final morsels from the bone. We also enjoyed picking the impeccably cooked prawns from a dish of orzo pasta in a tomato sauce. The sides were a classic ratatouille and a slightly too creamy potato gratin.

The cheesecake, a small, dainty affair on a thin biscuit base, was nice, but it wasn’t a match for La Petite Maison’s. Fortunately, Izi has an enormous tarte tatin for four – a sticky, apple monster that is sure to become a signature dish – up his sleeve. La Serre is a restaurant that will certainly give LPM a run for its money.

Vida Downtown, Qamardeen District, Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai
Tel: (04) 4286969 Metro: Burj Khalifa/Dubai Mall.