Lebanese at London Bridge with Comptoir Libanais:
I’ve been invited to the opening of Comptoir Libanais’ new London flagship restaurant in London Bridge. It sits on Tooley Street right at the end of London Bridge station and brings a welcome burst of excitement to the drab functionality of the terminus’ exterior. Comptoir Libanais means ‘Lebanese counter’ and the burgeoning group has given Londoners the opportunity to explore this vibrant Levantine cuisine in an affordably glamorous yet informal setting. It’s also a chance to meet Tony Kitous, the owner and public face of Comptoir Libanais who opened the first Comptoir in 2008; there are eleven sites now in London and another twelve in locations ranging from Manchester to Utrecht.The first thing that strikes me on entering the restaurant is its design. I’ve been to the South Kensington and Soho outposts but the London Bridge version takes the house style and pumps it full of steroids. The face of star Arabic actress, Sirine Jamal al-Dine is the focal point of the branding that features red and brushed-chrome industrial stools, bold-patterned turquoise tables, monochrome geometric flooring and decorative ceramic tiles. It’s a riot of colour and frankly, if you’re looking for somewhere with a minimal interior it’s probably not for you – but I love its effervescence. We start off with a Soul shaker cocktail specially created for the launch party; a blend of rum, pomegranate and lime juices, sugar syrup and rosemary it’s an intriguing mix of sweet and savoury with a deliciously long finish. And then a ‘mezze’ feast started appearing before our eyes…There was a creamy hummus studded with chickpeas, my favourite Baba Ghanuj aubergine salad, a smokey tabbouleh, spicy falafel hot from the fryer, the smooth texture of a beetroot labné and a crisp cheese pastry called samboussek. Grilled Halloumi came with tomato marinated in wild thyme with olives and mint – delicious and for a ‘carb’ hit the Halloumi and Zaatar Man’ousha flatbread with wild thyme and mint was perfect. Post-cocktails we moved to a grassy and mineral bottle of Clos Saint-Alphonse, Chateau Ksara House. It’s an unexpected blend of Obaidy, Sauvignon Blanc, Clairette and Muscat grapes that did its best to stand up to the big flavours of the food. Probably best as an aperitif. For mains, we had a real meat feast – the Mixed Grill featuring spicy Lamb and chicken Kofta and a chicken Taouk. It came with a Comptoir salad and vermicelli rice. But I loved the Aubergine Fattet. aubergines slow cooked with tomatoes, peppers and onion into a moussaka with a warm tahini yoghurt sauce, crispy onion and toasted flatbread. It had a lovely textural contrast between the squishy aubergine and the crisp flatbread. The desserts were stunning. Dark chocolate cake with orange and cardamom, mixed red berries and natural sour yoghurt was dark and intense with the cardamom giving it a subtle perfume. Orange blossom Mouhalabia was a delicate, light Lebanese milk pudding sweetened by a date, fig, apricot, prune and sultana compote; and the selection of Baklawa was a great way to end the meal. There is nothing better than the sticky nuggets of honey, nuts and pastry – they even gave me some to take home! Comptoir Libanais is an all-day operation offering unique Lebanese breakfasts to eat in or take out and a full menu through the day and evening. It would be great for a first date, a work or social lunch and dinner and a perfect place for a big get together. I’ve also taken young children in the daytime and it worked really well as they were never bored and there is something for everyone to eat or drink.
SU46 London Bridge Station,
London Bridge, London,
For more locations, do check out the main Comptoir Libanais website