It was a very busy week for us last week, but then again, what week isn’t? The busyness culminated in a day in London as Mike and I headed off to the Destinations Show on Saturday to help add more locations to our list of places to travel to.
A day of demonstrations, traffic standstills and general London Saturday-ness left us looking forward to an evening of kid-free relaxation, just the two of us. Where better to wind down than the warm and comforting Comptoir Libanais in Gloucester Road?
We were invited along to try out Central London’s 9th site of the relaxed restaurant, the 17th overall and the culinary brainchild of Tony Kitous.
Drawing from memories of his childhood, Tony’s vision was to combine introduce traditional Lebanese cuisine to the public within a comfortable, relaxed environment, meaning they could enjoy a popular range of dishes without need for formality or ceremony. Quick to point out that he is not a chef but merely someone who loves to cook, the launch of the first Comptoir Libanais in 2008 proved Tony’s vision combined with his love of food to be a success. Mike and I were delighted to be invited to visit its latest site positioned directly opposite Gloucester Road station.
The literal translation of Comptoir Libanais is ‘Lebanese Counter’, which perfectly describes the ambience of the place. I have referred to it as a restaurant, its site refers to it as a ‘Lebanese Canteen’ but I think it’s fair to say that could be described simulteneously as neither and both. As we were very soon to discover, the atmospheric informality and casualness of Comptoir in no way compromises the level of service or attention that diners receive.
On entering Comptoir, you could easily be forgiven for thinking that you had stepped into an authentic Middle Eastern region. Traditional tiles imported from Morocco decorate the walls and floors whilst vintage movie posters adorn the walls, most noticably that of Arabic actress Sirine Jamal al Dine who has become the recognised face of the Comptoir Libanais brand.
Throughout, diners will notice an array of products available to buy, perfectly imitating a souk-style setting of a traditional Middle Eastern marketplace. I spent my entire meal alternating beween savouring the delicacies before me to pointing out all the products that begged to be taken home, from food and drink items to shopping baskets and traditional tea urns.
We were greeted by Magda, the manager of Gloucester Road’s newest eatery, who welcomed us warmly and led us to our table at the front of the restaurant. Aware that we were there to review the premises, we could have been forgiven for thinking our particular service was exceptional. However, as the evening progressed we noticed the same dedicated welcome to each and every diner that entered the premises. Everyone, we noticed, was made to feel as though they were being welcomed into a home rather than an eating establishment, greeted as an old friend yet respectfully served as the most important diner in the venue.
An eclectic assortment of decorated lamps hung from the ceiling and the ample seating area made way to an even greater dining area downstairs via the stairway which was further enhanced with the Middle Eastern look by itws ornate railings. Small panes of stained glass decorated the doors, creating a subtle jewelled effect as the light reflected from them. It was clear that the blend of these decorative touches and use of bright warm colours were deliberately intended to put those who entered at ease.
Soon after being seated we were served with two refreshing drinks. I am not a fan of flavoured drinks as a rule – I can’t abide diluted squash drinks and prefer a good quality fruit juice if I am to have a still drink that is flavoured.
Whilst Mike supped on an apple, ginger and mint Toufaha, I was served a Roomana, a drink made from pomegranate and orange blossom. As we were soon to discover, orange blossom and pomegranate were two very popular ingredients and, combined in this drink, are definitely something that would be a hit to serve come the warmer summer days.
The starter was a combination of a selection of dishes. The mezze platter included an ample combination including baba ghanuj, hommos, tabbouleh, falafel, lentil salad, cheese sambousek, pickles & pita bread. Served alongside were Lamb Kibbeh, wheat parcels of minced lamb, pine nuts and onions, and Jawaneh – chargrilled marinated chicken wings served with harissa and garlic sauce. The photographs don’t do the food justice at all and if I had one wish, it would be for you to smell the aroma. You’ll have to take my word for it, the entire meal was a delight for the senses.
‘These chefs are so young!’ I squealed to Mike, ‘But their cooking is amazing!‘
For the main course we opted for Kofta fresh from the grill. Not every Comptoir has a grill but Gloucester Road does and for that I am so thankful because these were probably the best koftas I have ever tasted. I’m not exaggerating – and with a mediterranean background, I have eaten a lot. Mike opted for the chicken whilst I had the lamb – both of which were extremely succulent and utterly delicious. Just writing about them is making my mouth water! Our meal was washed down with a bottle of the house white, a Bekaa Valley wine with floral and hazelnut notes that perfectly complemented our selection of foods.
With our bellies feeling incredibly satisfied with the feast of delicious dishes, we both opted for a light ice-cream for dessert. Mike chose a sweet and savoury honey and nut combination whilst I, by now completely convinced by the combination, went for the pomegranate and orange blossom option instead.
Comptoir Libanais is undoubtedly the place to relax. Diners preferring to sit outside are kept warm by overhead heated lamps and red fleece blankets despite the chill of the early February evening. The tables are prepared with cutlery and napkins placed in used Harissa tins, the staff are keen to ensure that you are happy and satisfied without hassling you (there’s none of the overfamiliar ‘Alright, love?’ every two minutes that drives me made in some other relaxed restaurants I could mention).
With our appetites thoroughly sated and feeling completely recharged we both agreed that this was quite possibly our new favourite place. Ready to resume the natural busyness of life the next morning, we headed home – though not without two of Comptoir’s recipe books and a tin of apple tea!
More information on Comptoir Libanais can be found on their site here.
The newest can be visited at 77a Gloucester Road, London, SW7 4SS, serving up a bountiful range of breakfasts, lunches and dinners in an informal environment between the hours of 8am and 11pm Monday to Saturday and 9am until 10pm on Sundays. You don’t need a reservation but if you want to ensure a seat or want to book a larger group in (don’t tempt me!), it might be best to give them a ring on 0203 355 0856.
You can also find them on the following social media channels:
We would like to thank the staff at Comptoir Libanais Gloucester Road for fabulous food and wonderful service for the purpose of this review. We hope to see you again soon!