Georgette McCready starts 2017 with a health kick after a visit to new Lebanese restaurant Comptoir Libanais
My first visit to the new Middle Eastern eaterie in Southgate was with daughter and daughter’s BFF, after the BFF announced she’d found a new energy after giving up all meat and dairy. We were hungry and in need of somewhere reasonably priced and offering a healthy menu where a vegan might not feel like an oddity.
Cue Comptoir Libanais with its large contemporary interior and brightly coloured tiles, its shelves lined with embroidered baskets and ornate shiny teapots (all on sale) looked welcoming. A quick scan of the menus outside reassured us we’d all find something to suit taste and budget.
On that occasion we had a mezze platter to share and some falafel on the side, plus a glass of wine each. The only item our vegan had to avoid was the halloumi cheese, so she was happy. The bill came in at about £30 for three people – sated and satisfied on that occasion, we said we’d be back.
My second visit was with that doyenne of the Bath foodie scene, our very own food writer Melissa. On a gloomy winter’s night the staff in their orange Comptoir Libanais t-shirts gave us an enthusiastic welcome. It’s mid-week and the place was buzzing, playing the sort of music that reminds you of being on holiday somewhere reassuringly hot.
The whole mood of CL is geared to re-creating that Middle Eastern sunshine and warmth, of fresh flavours and traditional dishes that perhaps we Brits associate with good times spent travelling. The founder, Tony Kitous, set up the first CL in London in 2008, but in recent months has rolled the brand out and lucky old Bath is one of its newest restaurants.
It’s very much a something for everyone kind of place – unless you’re dyed-in-the-wool pulled pork and fries kinda dude perhaps, although even he might be pleased with a lamb burger, served with harissa mayonnaise and the Lebanese take on chips.
Call in for breakfast and enjoy coffee and pastries, or the Lebanese version of a full English. Take the kids and they can have a healthy plateful of falafel with hommos and vegetable sticks, ice cream and a lemonade, all for £5.45.
I’d recommend the shared mezze platter for two (£15.95). It is plenty for two, with a visually pleasing mix of herby tabbouleh piled high, filling lentil salad, hommos, falafel, grilled haloumi and tomato and – our favourite – some very moreish baba ghanuj, all mopped up with warm sliced pita bread. If you’re in celebratory mood, as we were, a pretty pomegranate pink Cosmo cocktail of vodka, with orange liqueur and fresh lemon juice (£7.95) is a sophisticated treat.
You could stop at that, but that would be a shame as you’d miss out on some more Mediterranean favour. The auberine tagine (£8.95 and served with couscous and mint yoghurt) cooked in a rich tomato and chickpea sauce, the smokiness of the aubergine holding its own. It’s all bringing back memories of sunnier places, of star-filled night skies in the desert and warm sand between the toes.
A generous portion of gently spiced and herby lamb kofta, accompanied by bowls of mint yoghurt and harissa and garlic sauce (£10.45) finally defeated m’colleague’s appetite. And here’s more good news about the new kid on the Southgate block. The staff will happily package your leftovers to take home. This gets a big tick from us, and from the couple on an adjoining table, who looked very pleased to add their doggie bags to their shopping carriers.
Anyone who’s a veteran traveller, steeped in the smoke of the Tuareg fires or a regular in the back-street cafes of Beirut, may need to bear in mind that this is a chain, so inevitably some compromises will be made in bringing Lebanese cuisine to a mass market. But there are authentic imported Lebanese wines and beers here and enough bursts of flavour to evoke memories – what you might call good thymes.
We both enjoyed a palate cleansing organic yoghurt, mine studded with fresh pomegranate seeds and orange blossom water, M’s with a dark, fruity pool of Lebanese fig jam.
Middle Eastern tastes extend to very sweet puddings and mint tea and these are both amply catered for. The fresh rose mint tea is poured with a dramatic flourish from a silver tea pot and a selection of sweet, traditional baklawa, are perfectly sticky pastry treats.
If you’re looking for a taste of summer this winter, you could do worse than visit this sunny corner of the Lebanon.