There are a lot of restaurants around London serving middle eastern food, and my unrefined palate often doesn’t make much of a distinction between them; to me, good middle eastern food is pittas with all the dips, crispy fried parcels of heaven stuffed with meat/cheese, halloumi and various combinations of rice and grilled meats. I’ve eaten at a Turkish place in the city (Haz), a Turkish place round the corner from this place (Sofra) and a few others, but for me Comptoir Libanais stands out .. The mezze platter alone has everything I could want and more! For me it’s an absolute must-order – it has so many elements and each one is amazing – it makes the perfect starter!
It consists of hummus, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, falafel, a lentil salad, cheese sambousek, halloumi, pickles and pitta bread.
The falafel was amazing. I’ll be honest it wasn’t the tastiest I’ve had (I’m obsessed with Chickpea in The City!) but it was a beautiful golden brown; incredibly crispy on the outside with a soft and subtly spiced centre. The dips were amazing, and generous too. The hummus is smooth and creamy and the baba ganoush has a beautiful smokiness to it, balanced with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds for a touch of sweetness. In the centre of the plate there’s a giant lettuce leaf filled with a tabbouleh salad. I’m not usually a fan of coriander but there was the perfect balance of flavours and it was so light and fresh – combined with the saltiness of the halloumi it was a match made in heaven. There’s also a rice and lentil salad which I loved. I’m not sure what the pickles were which came with the platter – there were two types.. one was bright pink and the other was green. The pink pickles were lovely but the green pickles were ridiculously salty – to the point that I found them inedible.
One thing to note is that some of the salad elements are a little watery so the pitta and the base of the falafel went slightly soggy – I’d advise taking the pittas off the plate when it arrives as the part of the pitta breads resting on the plate had literally turned to mush by the time we ate them. Other than that I really can’t find fault with the mezze platter.. I just wish there was more of it – elements of the dish are generous but then there are only a couple of falafels and a couple of slabs of halloumi – I could easily eat about 5 of each!
For mains we decided to share the Moussakhan (roasted half chicken marinated in pomegranate molasses and cinnamon, served with Comptoir salad and vermicelli rice) and the aubergine tagine (baked aubergine in a rich tomato and chickpea sauce garnished with a mint yogurt). The aubergine tagine is the only vegetarian tagine option, and whilst I know that lamb is probably more authentic, I’m aubergine obsessed and I find that I can never make it very tasty when I cook it myself at home (not that I try very often as Marcus hates it!). Most of their mains come with the option of cous cous or rice. Since the chicken came with rice, I chose the cous cous option for the tagine. My advice would definitely be to get rice!! It’s so incredibly tasty. They call it vermicelli rice so I think it’s a mix of rice and thin vermicelli strands (you can see the colour contrast) but whatever it is, and however they cook it it’s bloody delicious. To be honest I’m not usually a fan of cous cous as its just so bland and tasteless, but I do know it’s traditionally served as an accompaniment to tagine. Given how much flavour and spice is packed into the rest of their dishes I wouldn’t really say the lack of flavour in the cous cous detracted from the meal but given how good the rice is I wouldn’t order the cous cous again.. I could’ve eaten that rice all day!
I rarely ever order chicken out. I don’t know why but I feel like it’s not exciting enough to order as a dish, and often it can be quite bland or boring. That couldn’t have been further from the truth here. The chicken we were served was mind blowingly soft, juicy and tender. I have no idea how they cook it to achieve that amount of flavour packed in.. I’ve never had chicken so good before; Nandos need to take lessons from them! The Comptoir salad which came with the chicken had little pitta crisps which were so tasty and added a lovely crunch to an otherwise simple salad.
The rest of the menu is simple but it has everything you could want. There are different sections offering a variety of wraps, tagines, flatbreads, grilled meats and salads. The halloumi cheese and zaatar man’ousha (oven baked flat bread with halloumi cheese, wild thyme and fresh mint) is absolutely divine – another thing you absolutely must order if you go! There was a chef’s special which caught my eye that I’m going to try next time – the halloumi tortilla. I’ll admit that I love halloumi so much that I could have it with anything, but this dish serves up halloumi with crispy onion, egg and potato inside a tortilla wrap, served with their Comptoir salad.
Their desserts is typically Middle Eastern. They serve a range of baklava which is on display at the counter and available to take away. At just 3.95 for five mixed pieces, I think it’s a pretty good deal, though I can’t comment on the quality as I’m not fan of baklava at all despite trying it many times. On paper you’d think it would be my perfect dessert – a combination of pastry, nuts and syrup, but for whatever reason I just can’t get into it (though perhaps a very close shave with a peanut contamination issue abroad has somewhat marred my opinion of it! They also offer yogurt, frozen yogurt or ice cream with a combination of toppings including honey, mixed nuts and fig jam – again I have to be careful and I generally avoid anything with a ‘mixed nut’ description) but I imagine it’s a nice, lighter alternative to end the meal if you’re stuffed full of fried cheese and pastries! On the counter there are a few cakes on offer – rose & pistachio (am I the only person that just doesn’t understand rosewater or any other floral flavour!?), orange & almond and tahini & pistachio, as well as a cheesecake and a brownie if you fancy something different!
Another huge positive about this place is that you can actually book! When I’m meeting friends after work, I almost never choose places where you can’t book which leaves surprisingly few good restaurants, but despite being only a couple of minutes’ walk from Bond Street station, this place does take bookings.
There are a few of these around London, and I’ve also been to the one at Broadgate Circle, but the service at the Oxford Street branch was quite frankly, weird. It was ridiculously hard to get their attention, the service was slow and the waiters were just plain strange. They were half flirty, half creepy and full of awkward dad-jokes, which may have been (slightly) funny for a while, but by the fifth attempt of trying to take a photo of my friend without the waiter sticking his head in the way it was actually pretty annoying!
Creepy waiters aside, I love this place and I’d definitely recommend it for a quick, decent and relatively cheap meal. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to eat here as they’re fairly widely spread now with several locations all over London – they’re even at airports (Heathrow T4 and Gatwick North) but you’re ever near one you can be guaranteed a good meal 🙂
Link to their website: http://www.comptoirlibanais.com