A feast for the eyes and the senses, from the second we walked into Comptoir Libanais we were enchanted by the rainbow of colours on the walls and adorning the high ceilings. So when our meals arrived it should have come as no surprise that this assault on the senses continued into the realms of the dishes served.
Stepping inside the double doors that lead you to the canteen-style venue, you’d be forgiven for forgetting you were just seconds from Gloucester Road station, having been transported, in atmosphere at least, to a bustling middle-Eastern souk.
Staff brush past with plates carrying rainbows of nutrition, and the chatter, and clanking of cutlery, gives a sense of privacy despite the closely set tables. Brightly coloured baskets and bags are lined along the walls, all for sale, and an array of condiments and cookery books fill shelves on all sides.
There’s no need to whisper in here, no sense of awkwardness as your neighbour overhears your conversation. This a meeting place, an eating place, and a hive of activity. We set quickly to exploring the menus and discussing what sharing platters and tempting tapas style dishes we might share.
As a virgin Vegan – attempting Veganuary for the first time this year – I was apprehensive about options that might cater to my new diet, this being the first time I’d ventured out to eat since embarking upon the challenge. But I need not have worried, the variety of dishes on offer for vegans was overwhelming. There’s even a special vegan feasting menu for two to share, at the very reasonable price of £19.95, so we decided to go for that. Husband, being anything but vegan, also opted to order some marinated jawaneh (chargrilled chicken wings) to accompany our starter. But really he need not have bothered.
Describing this offer as a feast is not using the word feast lightly. The rainbow starters are a selection of fuschia pink beetroot hummus, a smoky and tangy Baba Ghanuj speckled with pomegranate seeds, speckled fawn falafel with a deliciously bright yogurt dip, and an emerald freekah salad of smoked green wheat, wild rocket and vine tomatoes, flavoured with apple vinegar and a mint dressing. Of course this all comes with light triangles of pitta to fill, dip and dunk. If you’re after a light bite to share with friends, this combination of starters would be sufficient in itself.
Deciding on drinks was an easy effort, Comptoir serves a selection of delightful homemade lemonades, several with the option to spice up with a spirit, and a decent selection of wines, but I went for a lemon vodka sour off the cocktail list, and the man enjoyed a Lebanese beer. When in Rome, and all that. Or should that be when in Beirut….? However, I digress.
Having lazily enjoyed our starters (every morsel of the chicken was devoured within seconds of arriving and I am told it was tender, juicy, and delicately flavoured with lemon and garlic), our server Hakim offered us another drink each while we waited for the main event. Hakim described each and every dish as he served it, explaining how it had been cooked, what it contained, and eagerly enquiring as to our thoughts. His enthusiasm for the food and venue was infectious. It’s a great pleasure to meet somebody so passionate about the food they are serving, and quite rightly too.
My main course was a flavoursome aubergine tagine served with rice and topped with crispy fried onions, and a quinoa and pumpkin salad. Both were flavoured enough for me not to feel they were missing something – a sensation I have become acquired too since my vegan adventure began! Husband had the lamb kofta tagine – spiced minced lamb, tomato, baby carrots, peppers and courgettes garnished with mint yoghurt – which looked incredible, and apparently tasted it too. The aromas wafting up from the clay dishes were enticing, and the contents appetising and hearty. We neither of us managed to finish our meals, but both enjoyed them immensely.
The vegan dessert featured on the feast menu is a rose coconut milk mouhalabia – a fragrant and exotic chilled custard. It is served with a light mint tea, the perfect way to end a varied and adventurous meal.
My first voyage into the world of eating out as a vegan was a resounding success. If all restaurants were as effortlessly able to offer such a variety of tasty meat and dairy free dishes I am sure the trend would grow in popularity even more. And if veganism isn’t your thing, there’s plenty more to tempt you!
- The Comptoir Libanais Vegan Feast is available at all branches throughout January. Take a photo of your meal and tag #comptoirfeasts on Instagram for a chance to win a feast for you and five friends. To see the full Gloucester Road menu, click here.