Comptoir Libanais radiates onto the street, the bright cheerful sign and joie de vivre lures you in to experience the Lebanese food and join the fun. The restaurant, which now has three branches in London is a canteen / delicatessen, a kind of Middle Eastern version of Carluccio’s! It is an expansive space, and gloriously lively inside. Shelves are lined with imported goods – boxes of food and delicacies to try and buy.
When I visited on a Thursday evening every colourful table was filled, the staff were efficiently clearing to enable second, third and fourth sittings, avoiding what could have become a shambolic scenario. There is plenty to choose from but when we ate there, due to menu revamps, much of the main dishes were unavailable. More disappointingly the desserts on offer were sparse. We chose a selection of dishes for starter and main as the plates are ideal for sharing and this way you can get a proper feel for the cuisine.
I adore fresh lemonade, Comptoir offer several interesting varieties, we tried Pomegranate & orange blossom and Rosewater, lemon & lime flavour. Both were very strongly perfumed and a bit overwhelming with the intensely flavoured food, but I can imagine these drinks would be lovely and refreshing on a summer’s afternoon.
To start we tried a selection of falafel and kibbeh, warm and deliciously flavoursome. The lamb kibbeh was my favourite, seasoned minced lamb mixed with spices, crunchy pine nuts and onion, the parcels were accompanied by an organic yoghurt sauce, a cooling dip with the spiciness of the kibbeh. The Mezze Platter is a great way to experience all the Lebanese ingredients: Baba ghanuj, hommos, tabbouleh, falafel, organic lentil salad, cheese sambousek, pickles and warm pitta. Many of these recipes are familiar to me from my childhood when we would often munch on Lebanese snacks. The Comptoir delivered a platter of colour and aroma, all the elements tasted homemade, made with love, expertise and attention.
For mains we ordered a Mixed Grill of lamb kofta, chicken kofta, chicken shish taouk and organic rice. The meat was succulent, marinated in a herby piquant sauce, the lamb was particularly good. Then came the Halloumi Salad, with grilled cheese, baby gem, cherry tomatoes, olives, radish, olive oil and lemon juice. I am an expert halloumi eater, and will admit this was the best I have ever tried, soft and creamy and incredibly moreish. I couldn’t visit a Lebanese restaurant without trying a Tagine… but with enough meat on the table to feed a small family we opted for the Baked Aubergine with rich tomato and chickpea sauce. This was extremely comforting, I find tagines quite heavy, definitely more of a winter option. The tangy tomato sauce and aubergine are a great pairing, however the aubergine had a slightly bitter aftertaste.
I have never liked Baklawa, the popular Lebanese pastries, finding them unbearably sweet… my dad always bought them as an excuse for pudding. Determined to try the Comptoir variety we ordered a selection… and, dare I say it, they were delicious, light and nutty and very fresh. Accompanied by vanilla ice cream and fresh mint tea, it was a lovely conclusion to the meal.
Comptoir Libanais is the perfect place to get a quick bite to eat in a relaxed environment… the food is lean and light, quick to arrive and very fresh. I am visiting Beirut in Lebanon later this month and I can’t wait to eat delicious Lebanese food in its natural habitat!
Visit the Comptoir Libanais website here.