If you were to ask most people what their favourite Indian food is, you could expect them to reel off a list of their favourite curries. Even the those with the least adventurous taste buds will realistically enjoy a korma! The same goes for their favourite Chinese food, Italian food, even their favourite Mexican. But, I will bet you now that most people would be stumped when asked for their favourite Lebanese food, myself included, which is why I took the trip down to Comptoir Libanais. Located in the heart of Spinningfields, Comptoir Libanais specialises in Lebanese and Middle Eastern food, with a menu comprising some more familiar dishes such as hummus and tabbouleh along with some less familiar dishes such as kibbeh and lahme man’ousha.
If you are someone who likes to go to a restaurant, order their own food and eat only their own food, then this is not the place for you. The whole essence of Lebanese cooking is about grabbing a little bit of this and that and sharing, creating an immersive experience for the whole family to enjoy. Grab a pitta bread and try the hummus. Try some tabbouleh with the baba ghanuj. Try mixing the batata harra with the moudardara and the shish taouk – That’s small cubes of fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce mixed with grilled chicken and lentil salad to you and me.
With so much on offer, it is hard to imagine even the fussiest of eaters not finding something they like here. The cold mezze plate arrived first, with a rich, thick hummus, smoky baba ghanuj, fresh and zingy tabbouleh, lentil salad and pitta bread. It has to be said the hummus was thicker and stronger than most people will be used to, but after the shock of the first taste it goes down a treat. The strong citrus flavour from the tabbouleh cuts perfectly through the richness of the dips and the pitta bread provides the perfect plate on which to pile mouthful after mouthful. Quickly after the arrival of the cold mezze came the mixed grill. Containing a lamb kofta, chicken kofta, and shish taouk (grilled chicken pieces) this provided the perfect way to sample the best of the grilled meats that Comptoir Libanais has to offer. All served with vermicelli rice, the shish taouk stands out as the pick of the bunch. Succulent chicken pieces that require very little flavour other than the method of cooking, grilled over a charcoal fire, this is an excellent dish I would happily recommend to anyone. The lamb kofta was soft and flavoured just enough with cumin and mint so as to stand up against the flavours of the dips with which it went so well with. The only disappointment in the mixed grill was the chicken kofta, somewhat limp and lifeless it did not do justice to either the grill on which it was cooked or the collection of mezze ingredients around it on the table.
To complete our table we ordered batata harra, cubes of fried potato in a tomato sauce (think of a sort of Lebanese patatas bravas), lahme man’ousha, a flatbread topped with lamb mince fried onion and fresh herbs, kibbeh, small balls of deep fried bulgur wheat and lamb mince and finally a small salad. The batata harra were lacking the touch of spice and a couple of minutes extra frying which would have elevated them from pleasant to excellent, but they added some much-needed texture to the meal as a whole. The flatbread was a somewhat acquired taste. That is not to say it was unpleasant but let’s just say there was more flatbread left than anything else when the waitress cleared the plates…
Overall, with its modern street food-inspired décor, friendly service and convivial approach to food, this is a restaurant I would highly recommend. Each individual item of food was enjoyable, but the meal came into its own when eaten as a whole. The various elements all worked together extremely well and when all washed down with a bottle of Almaza, a thoroughly enjoyable Lebanese lager, made for a delicious and enjoyable meal.