In an up rise of fresh, healthy dining spots to divulge guilt free(ish), Lebanese food has stood high amongst the crowd and has quickly become one of my favourite cuisines. So I was keen to discover Comptoir Libanais’ secret to success; a vibrant restaurant-cafe claiming to bring “the glamour to Middle Eastern cuisine”.
Boasting 11 sites across London, Comptoir Libanais has spread its delight up North to a new location in Spinningfields, Manchester; an area thriving with decor-driven restaurants and stylish bars. Expect to be greeted by the face of Samine Jamal al Dine, the vintage Arabic actress whose smile can be found lining the walls and the emblem of the Comptoir Libanais brand.
Walking into the restaurant-cafe I felt I had entered into a 60’s Middle Eastern kitchen. The venue is lined with quirky jars of ingredients, geometric tiling and charming authentic teapots (which you can actually buy should you fancy); there is even a souk shop (open-air market place) selling hand-woven bags, room fragrance and authentic ingredients so you can get cooking at home. Comptoir Libanais clearly succeeds in creating a casual, bright setting to enjoy healthy yet distinctive food.
The Food and Drink
Not only does the food fit its description - “fresh, healthy, honest and affordable” – it’s available throughout the day, to eat in, or take-away.
For starters, we kept with tradition choosing the all-important houmous and pitta (£4.95), and grilled halloumi (£5.95) marinated in wild thyme, fresh mint and all things fragrant. We also delved into the unknown trying the lamb kibbeh (£5.25), a plump croquette made from meat and bulgur wheat that was perfect for dipping and showed a solid range of finger friendly starters. For mains we were treated to a unique swing on the classic mixed grill with lamb kofta, chicken shish taouk (£13.25) and some slow-cooked, meaty goodness. We also tucked into the lamb tagine (£9.45) which brimmed with classic spices, and truly perfumed the room. I’d recommend simply putting it all in the middle and digging right in.
For those who need to seal the deal, there is a diverse selection of traditional Lebanese pastries, cakes and ice creams to discover. We were pleasantly surprised by the Mouhalabia (£4.45), who knew that rose syrup would taste so good. There’s no slacking on the drinks menu either, combining the familiar with the new and producing some exotic flavours. I tried a Simple Delight cocktail (£7.50) with Lanique rose liquer, dark chocolate bitters and creme cacao, which in the simplest way I can put it was Turkish delight in liquid form.
Catering to all three meals of the day, this Middle Eastern canteen created a lively yet casual atmosphere with enough colour to brighten anyone’s mood. It truly feels as though founder, Tony Kitous, has set out to provide the Western world with a taster into a Middle Eastern, Lebanese lifestyle. Combining healthy food, colourful surroundings in a ‘souk-like’ setting, this place can be enjoyed on all occasions...but always in the company of friends.
Comptoir Libanais was an entire success on the night, and clearly does it utmost to promise that you will leave feeling cheerful, well looked after, and most importantly..... full. Flavours aren't missed here, and we were more than impressed by the aromatic plates and welcoming interiors.