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Ultimate Lebanese Table – Chateau Ksara and Comptoir Libanais, London Bridge.
We are big fans of Comptoir Libanais and went to the launch of Comptoir Libanais London Bridge where we were headed back to a week or so ago. A second invitation to meet the team behind Chateau Ksara and Tony Kitous himself was one not to pass. The restaurant has a balcony area which can be zoned off for a private event and that’s where we were based, with a stunning birds-eye view out over the main dining area.
We were greeted on arrival with a welcome glass of light and fragrant rosé wine and a short presentation on Lebanese wines before we tasted through some of the range. Lebanon is old, French, high and diverse. A French colony from 1920 until independence in 1944, French is still widely spoken. Lebanon is in the area where wine first emerged and the ancient Phoenicians who lived in the area were the first wine traders. But, the winemaking tradition was suppressed by the Caliphate until the decline of the Ottoman Empire and French rule in the 1920s. Today, 95% of the wine from Lebanon comes from the Bekaa Valley.
Château Ksara is Lebanon’s oldest winery and dates back to 1857. The Jesuit monks who acquired the land planted French vines in addition to cultivating indigenous varieties. And, with 2 km of Roman caves, Its traditions can be traced back to 1857 when a group of Jesuit monks acquired the property. The Jesuits applied their knowledge of science and agriculture to plant French vines as well as developing two kilometres of Roman caves that proved ideal for the storage of wine. The Jesuits sold the winery to its current owners in 1973. Ksara is now the most modern winery in the region as well as the largest producer in the country Vines were brought by Jesuit monks from Algeria with an industry supported by a French civil service and the Francophone culture established in the country. The Bekaa Valley is more of a plateau with vines being planted at heights up to 900m. This gives the whites a freshness and complexity. Cool nights and warm days. Chateau Ksara users over 20 varieties of grapes allowing for a wide range of styles from easy-drinking Rhône styles to the international styles as well as local grapes.
The name ‘Comptoir Libanais’ means ‘Lebanese Table’ and the team at the restaurant had set up a wonderful buffet-style selection which somehow seemed to include all my favourites.
Hommos that is smoother and silkier than anything I’ve made myself,
Baba Ghanuj – a smoked aubergine purée with tahina, garlic & lemon juice garnished with pomegranate seeds, Fattoush – a delicious Lebanese village salad with sumac & olive oil pita crisps & pomegranate molasses dressing and much much more.
While the wines were served we helped ourselves – most of us going back for seconds and thirds!
The first two wines were unoaked whites. Merwah 2018 is based on a local grape grown on 80-year-old vines in the Douma at 1600 metres. While it’s not on the normal Comptoir Libanais menu, you can buy it from Wholefoods or Harrods for £15 a bottle. Minerally with floral notes and a slight oiliness, it complemented the selection of mezze beautifully.
Blanc de l’Observatoire 2018 was a blend of Obeidi, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat and Clairette. Light and fruity, I’d happily drink this as an aperitif. It retails for around £12 and is also not on the Comptoir Libanais list at the moment.
Next, Blanc de Blancs 2017 – a lightly oaked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon blend was elegant and rounded. You can buy this at Comptoir Libanais or retail from Great Wines Direct or Wholefood.
Our final white was a 2017 Chardonnay, from vines at 1350 metres. Fermented in oak, this wine was Burgundian in style with a creamy fine finish.
Of the three red wines, two are available from Comptoir Libanais. I loved all of them, particularly the very reasonably priced Le Prieuré 2017. which will set you back £13 from Fintry Wines or Strictly Wines. A blend of Cinsault Grenache, Carignan and Mourvèdre this is produced in 100-year-old concrete tanks built by the Jesuits from old vines that they planted. As such its nickname is ‘Monk Wine’. A lovely tanniny mouthful with orange peel notes, I’d happily order this from the menu at Comptoir Libanais.
Reserve du Couvent 2017 is another wine on the Comptoir Libanais menu and is the Chateau Ksara bestseller, from vineyards in the Bekaa valley 1050 metres. Ut’s an interesting blend of unoaked Syrah, 6 months oaked Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Grapes are from vineyards at 1200 meters and the end result is a delicious mouthful with balanced tannins. You’ll find it retail from the Wine Society, Wholefoods and Oddbins
Our final wine was Chateau Rouge 2016 – a classic Bordeaux style red with a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Retailing at £20, this could easily be mistaken for a Cotes de Rhone or similar. It spends 12 months in new and first-year oak. We all indulged in far too many baklava too
Chateau Ksara may be the most modern winery in the region and the largest producer in Lebanon, but that doesn’t in any way detract from the quality and value of the wines they offer. A perfect partner for Comptoir Libanais.
SU46 London Bridge Station,
London, SE1 2TF
Looking for something different in the same area? We love Baluchi at the Lalit Hotel – a fabulous Indian restaurant in grand surroundings.