Fresh and affordable Middle Eastern food comes to London’s Soho courtesy of a new branch of the popular Lebanese canteen Comptoir Libanais. Jonathan R Jones checks it out.
The brainchild of chef Tony Kitous, Comptoir Libanais now boasts eleven branches in London. They have developed a reputation for fresh and healthy(ish) Middle Eastern food inspired by the spicy, lemon- and herb-infused dishes of the Lebanon. They offer full breakfast, lunch and dinner menus which all include some great vegetarian options. And the extensive cocktail list includes their now renowned selection of boozy ‘lemonades’.
Food and Drink
We started with a selection of four hot and cold mezze to share. The baba ghanouj was the stand out here but the falafel were also good. The lamb kibbeh were dense and satisfying but the Batata Harra (Lebanese spiced fries) could have used more of a chilli kick!
Stuck for what to choose from the selection of mains, I went for the mixed grill – a three skewer selection of lamb kofta, chicken kofta and chicken shish taouk. It came with garlic and spicy tomato dips and a zatar spiced tomato as well as rice (which you can swap for batata harra or salad). My companion tried the lamb and prune tagine which was delicious if a little dry.
If you have space, the delicious milk pudding (heavy on the rose water and pistachio) comes highly recommended. If you can’t handle a whole dessert, the Lebanese Spiced Hot Chocolate makes a great alternative. This divine autumnal treat even comes topped with chucks of halva for extra indulgence. The rose mint tea (a blend of green tea, mint, rose water and sugar) comes in a cute silver teapot for pouring from a height.
With our mains we tried the Lebanese house red – a rich a fruity blend with a hint of spice. In the cocktail list the Rose and Rum Daiquiri is a real crowd-pleaser. It comes in a campy, old-school champagne saucer and tastes like a boozy Turkish-delight-infused Slush Puppy. Or for something a tad less sweet, try the Toufaha. It’s a fresh lemonade with apple, mint and a serious punch of ginger, blended with vodka.
Look and Vibe
The interior is Baz Luhrmann does Lebanon. The shining samovars and sparkly totes (all for sale) recall sunshine holidays but (despite the promises of the press release) it’s not exactly a ‘souk’. Vibrant geometric mosaic flooring, industrial seating and mismatched vintage light-fittings make for a quirky take on the modern restaurant interior. The images of movie star Sirine Jamal al Dien which have become synonymous with the chain are repeated on the walls and menus – and even on the house wine.
It’s bustling with shoppers from nearby Oxford Street collapsing with their bags and there’s a seemingly constant queue of Deliveroo drivers ready to whisk tagines to late-working Soho media types. And its proximity to the famous King’s Arms pub means that it’s bound to attract a hungry bear or two who won’t be disappointed by the generous portions!
Around £40 per person (based on two cocktails, four mezze, two mains, bottle of house wine, tea, hot chocolate and a pudding to share).
The bottom line
Beat the winter blues with slice of Lebanese sunshine in Soho.
Comptoir Libanais, 52 Poland Street, London W1F7NQ, 020 7434 4335, comptoirlibanais.com