Comptoir Libanais Soho, 59 Broadwick Street, London, W1F 9QQ
It seems to us that the trend of street food is going nowhere fast. Even Comptoir Libanais is joining in with some typical Middle Eastern street food dishes on their menu. Their Facebook page says it’s an ‘All day Lebanese cafe, delicatessen & souk in central London locations, serving popular home-style and Beirut street food’ – and that sums it up perfectly!
This chain of restaurants make a nice little change from the norm, but be warned these Lebanese dishes are a lot more floral and fruity than what you might expect. Especially if, like me, the only mezze sharing platters that you’re used to are from Turkish establishments such as Ev or Tas.
Comptoir’s dishes contain a lot of Sumac (a spice made from dried & ground berries), lemon zest, cinnamon, pomegranate and even orange blossom water. This makes for light, delicate flavours, although I did think that Saff’s Mira, £3.25, a frozen lemonade with finely chopped fresh mint and the orange blossom water tasted a little like how washing powder smells. Saff didn’t have a clue what I was talking about it however, she loved it. Then again I’m not very good at heathy drinks, some of the ‘smoothies’ make me want to run a mile – maybe they are healthy after all?
We didn’t touch any alcohol, due to Saff’s migraine and I’m on a slight detox before the madness that is Christmas begins. I ordered Laziza Apple, £2.45, an alcohol free fruit beer which had just enough apple to make it refreshing and not too much to make it sweet. They have a basic but good and reasonably priced range of wine, beer and cocktails. Plus, as the website says, you can bring your own wine without having to pay any corkage although we didn’t see any evidence of this in the restaurant.
As we waited for our Mezze to arrive we took a quick scan of the decor. It wasn’t cheap and cheerful but it wasn’t top end either. It was more like a mixture of a Middle Eastern Bill’s, a North African Souk and a multicoloured set from an early 80s Saturday morning kid’s TV show. Bags and teapots and bowls were stacked on shelves alongside pretty looking jars and sweets carefully wrapped cellophane bags. Add red and white tables, some illusion tiles, cool mixed up light shades and cutlery in little cheerful tins and you’ll have a pretty clear idea of what it looks like…
The restaurant has a no booking policy but turnaround time is pretty speedy and they are obviously set up to handle the pace and pressure of very busy lunchtime trade. We arrived at about 7.30 and the Soho branch was fairly empty but by the time we’d finished and tipped the very friendly waitresses the restaurant was 3/4 full. Mostly filled with young groups and couples (there quite a few publishing and media companies nearby) and a few older shoppers who had popped in for a pot of traditional Rose mint tea or a very good coffee.
The mixed Mezze platter, £13.95 for two, included; Baba ghanuj (Smoked aubergine, tahina & lemon juice with pomegranate seeds), hommos (their spelling – not a typo), tabbouleh (Chopped parsley, tomatoes, mint & spring onions, lemon & olive oil), falafel, organic lentil salad, cheese sambousek (like a little pasty filled with Lebanese cheese, parsley and cinnamon), pickles and warm pita bread. This platter was huge and really filling, I could had done without the late lunch that I’d had, that or at least a thirty minute break before the main course was served.
These mains basically fall into four sections, wraps (£6.95), large salads (£7.75), tagines (£8.45) and fattets (£8.45). I usually try to go for something a little different when sampling a style of food that I’d never had before, so I went for the Fattet Kofta. The menu said ‘Spiced lamb kofta, yoghurt, crispy pita & fried onions‘ and I thought this would be a dry dish of possibly skewered lamb with a dollop of cold yogurt sprinkled with the onions and some toasted pita on the side…. Wrong, in fact I couldn’t have been more wrong! The entire dish was cooked in yoghurt with the small squares of pita, kofta and crispy onions all mixed together. The spiced lamb was good (again with a slight floral taste) but I found the bread (some crunchy, some soggy) and the pomegranate a little confusing to my senses. It wasn’t a bad dish, just not what I had expected. When a meal turns up that doesn’t match your mental image then it can throw you somewhat.
Saff, did what I should have done, ordered a dish that she actually fancied. Her Chicken & green olive Tagine was really, really good. The slow-cooked casserole kept the chicken tender and moist. The organic couscous was light, while the preserved lemons added freshness and a little bite. Again the portion size is huge and Saff asked for the leftovers to be put in a doggy bag so she could have it for lunch the next day.
As we were both fairly full we were going to skip desert, but then Saff spotted the Pomegranate & Orange Blossom topped fat-free frozen vanilla yogurt, £3.75 for two scoops. As Saff was having a dessert I thought it would be rude not to have one myself. I ordered the Baklawa (which I fell in love with in Turkey), £3.85 for a selection of five pieces. These little bite sized, nut filled, sticky sweet layered pastries are delicious. Although maybe a little difficult to tell the difference between them, the only one that was obviously different was the Date Maamul, a sweet semolina case filled with chopped dates – a bit like a fig roll.
We both ordered a coffee as we always like to try different kinds from around the world. We were slightly disappointed when presented with an Illy coffee but it turned out to be one of the best coffees we’ve had in a long time.
All in all the Soho branch of Comptoir is a good alternative to the other fast service high-street ‘pit stop’ eateries. And a much healthier option than the usual fast food chains.
As we were about to leave I spotted a menu for the Comptoir breakfasts (served 8 – 11.30 daily and from 9 on a Sunday). The Sojok Mana’esh, a Lebanese Pizza topped with Spicy Armenian lamb sausage, halloumi and tomato sounded great as did their full breakfast, £7.95, spicy Armenian lamb sausage, foul moudamas (a bean dish, not a StarWars character), roasted mushroom, sumac fried egg, chargrilled tomato, Lebanese potatoes all served with flat bread. So next time we’re wandering around Soho before 11.30am we’ll be popping into Comptoir for a bit of Armenian sausage!
Comptoir Libanais Soho
59 Broadwick Street, London, W1F 9QQ
Telephone 020 7434 4335
Monday to Saturday 8am – 10pm
Sunday 9am – 10pm
Nearest tube: Oxford Circus