A Lebanese Festive Feast in London.
Tony Kitous first opened Comptoir Libanais in 2008, choosing the name, which means Lebanese Counter, because he wanted customers to be able to pop in to sample delicious Lebanese flavours or buy something bejewelled and colourful to take home and remind them of their experience.
Tapping into his childhood memories Tony wanted to create authentic, home-style Middle Eastern recipes, making ‘souk style’ Lebanese cuisine accessible to everyone – it must have worked because he now has 21 restaurants across the UK.
I was invited to his Soho branch, in Poland Street for the launch of their Christmas menu. The restaurant is beautifully designed with enormous attention to detail. Decorative handmade tiles cover the walls and floors while lanterns and sparkly wicker baskets straight from the souk hang from the walls, all creating a colourful and vibrant atmosphere. Many of the items can be bought and taken home to add a touch of the Middle East to your home or as an ideal gift for Christmas.
Tony plays a big part in designing his restaurants; he spends a lot of time travelling around Middle Eastern countries passionately sourcing ingredients and decorative items.
He describes his inspiration coming from walking through the streets of London surrounded by the smells of food from around the world except his own. So, he wanted to create a place for people to gather, chat and while away the hours whilst sharing plates of aromatic colourful food. As Tony chats about his venture, his face lights up, impassioned and dedicated, he describes himself as “an Arabic mother with too many kids” he says “I feel like a kid in Disney World”. He is driven, enthusiastic and charming with it and you can’t help but be swept up in his joy and pride in everything he has achieved.
For the festive season, Tony and the team at Comptoir Libanais have designed a menu with a playful twist on the traditional flavours they associate with Christmas, combining them with the fragrant herbs and spices of the Middle-East.
We kicked off the evening with Christmas cocktail – a scrumptious mix of rum, chamois, lime and a sprig of rosemary.
Food was plentiful, we started with a selection of five mezze dishes to share, including favourites such as Baba Ghanuj – smoked aubergine, tahini & lemon juice with pomegranate seeds, Cheese Sambousek – little pastry parcels of loveliness filled with feta, Lebanese cheese & mint.
For mains, I enjoyed the twist on the classic roast turkey – Grilled Turkey Kofta – spiced minced turkey, herbs & onions served with vermicelli rice, a divine Lebanese salad and a spiced orange blossom cranberry sauce. There is a choice of grilled turkey or baked aubergine and feta.
The Salmon Shakshuka – marinated roasted salmon, in a spiced tomato and onion stew was a deliciously light and beautifully aromatic alternative to meat. For those wanting to keep it festive, I can also highly recommend the Seabass Sayadieh – Marinated roasted sea bass served with spiced rice, pine nuts & crispy onions, with a spiced tahini and yoghurt sauce, I was so enamoured with this dish that I’m going to try to recreate it at home!
For the finale we indulged in a selection of desserts all served family-style so everyone could tuck in, these included: a spectacular rose and red berry chocolate cake, orange blossom and spiced Lebanese fruits mouhalabia and a selection of sweet Christmas baklawas – pastries with nuts and honey as well as chocolate, ginger and orange flavours – ideal for Christmas and all served with a traditional fresh Rose Mint tea.
With Christmas on its way, The Lebanese Feast is very reasonably priced at £22.95 or try The Middle-Eastern Feast which offers a larger menu for £29.95 per person, and comes with the added delight of a glass of prosecco on arrival. Both make Comptoir Libanais a perfect celebratory destination for friends and family to enjoy a delicious and sumptuous meal.
What better way to see in the festive season than in a restaurant filled with Middle Eastern promise, jewel-coloured furnishings, delicious festive eats and the lovely aromas of warm spices to keep the chill off those winter nights.
Comptoir Libanais Soho
52 Poland St, Soho,
London W1F 7NQ
Open from 8:30am–11pm
To book, call on 02076215727, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website.