It's an inspirational place in the heart of London, a restaurant called Comptoir Libanais, a place you'll identify with as soon as you walk in, a colorful piece of enjoyment where Lebanese and Middle Eastern culture meet in a trendy and funky way. It's called "Libanais" and I was proud to be Lebanese.
I've been wanting to come here for a long time and I follow their Instagram account and social media channels. I passed by for a sneak peak before, it was after eating hours, but this time I made it a point to visit.
The place is fabulous. Rana Salam has really created a piece of art. A dark floor, a concrete ceiling and in the middle a cluster of colorful fun. Shining golden colors, an open kitchen and Comptoir, Lebanese products filing the walls, the Comptoir book can be seen everywhere and some designer products you'd love to take home sit here and there.
Cortas, Mymoune, Chtaura, Almaza, Cafe Najjar, Ksara are just some of the Lebanese brands on display with others from the Middle East and Mediterranean area.
Inspirational, colorful, fresh, homey, oriental... That's what the place is all about. My excitement faded as I started eating.
We were approached by the waitress who explained the menu and concept. The hospitality and attention are good around here.
- A welcome note from the owner
- Meet Sirine, the face of Comptoir
- Symbol guide
- Desserts cocktails and wines
The food is not really Lebanese, it's more of a collection of influences from the Mediterranean, or at least this is what I felt.
- Plates look full but don't have an appetizing feel. They are filled to the top, the bread is cut in small triangular pieces, there's some hummus, falafel and sandwiches that have been prepared in advance.
- The bread is heated in a microwave and served half hot half cold and I couldn't open it up. An unpleasant crunch or chewiness, it didn't look fresh.
- The hummus is good. Tahina, lemon, a pleasant consistency.
- Not my kind of moutabbal, the texture needs to be smoother, but the taste is good.
- The falafel are Europeanized, but fair enough.
- Cheese sambousik served warm, a tender dough and heart.
- The cheese mankoushe uses a sweet dough like a brioche. Not the best of combinations.
- The tabbouleh is fresh but I'd use fewer onions and fewer sweet notes.
- The Labneh is close to the one we have in Lebanon.
- The sandwich was prepared in advance, two layers of chewy bread placed one on the other without being squashed down and that's important. The filing is flavorful.
Not what I expected from the food. Everything needs a fix, all the plates need tweaking. That's not what real food Lebanese food is all about and I believe that we Lebanese should show the best of our cuisine, not a revisited, modernized version that has lost its soul.
Trying to give it another chance I returned for dinner at the Duke of York branch. A fully loaded restaurant with thousands of colors and items filling the walls, Chiclets and Ghandour photos, wine bottles, a low ceiling, the Comptoir books and artisanal items for sale, not a square inch of any of the walls was empty. The spirit is Lebanese, but the music isn't. What freaked me out was seeing those pre-rolled sandwiches. A place as beautiful as this turns into a cheap fast food joint when you see readymade plates.
Now for dinner... The food:
- Lamb kofta balls served with sauce mixed with carrots, peppers and zucchini and garnished with mint yogurt. A well cooked rice, a flavorful sauce and some meat balls that were a bit hard and chewy. A generous plate that's not too bad.
- The fattouch is fresh. Crispy bread, fresh greenery and pomegranate with sumac.
- Moussakhan: Roasted half chicken marinated in pomegranate molasses and cinnamon. Served with fattoush and vermicelli rice. Tender, juicy chicken, rice and a salad. A full meal for a lunch or dinner. It's well done.
- The lentil soup is nothing like lentil soup, or even close to the one we do in Lebanon. A spiced up peppery lentil soup, loaded with garlic.
And now dessert:
- The Mouhallabiya's presentation is not appetizing at all and the texture is even worse. Very gooey and sticky for a Mouhallabiya.
- Oriental rolls: They will follow you all night... Way too sweet and heavy.
- Service: Impeccable in both locations.
- Ambiance: Fantastic, despite the low ceiling at the Duke of York.
- Food: It's not Lebanese and it's bad
I loved the sparkles of enjoyment Comptoir offers, but the food needs some serious attention.