By Harry Bedford
Multiculturalism is as much a part of the fabric of London as Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge and that gloried Ferris wheel that resides downstream. In many ways London is a miniature version of the world and all its cultures, so luckily for us we don’t have go far to experience things that would usually require a several-hour flight.
Comptoir Libanais is a new chain of chic cafes dotted around the capital that deliver the taste of Lebanon and the Middle East in a colourful, modern yet authentic style. Opened by Tony Kitous, a passionate Lebanese chef who is based in London, these cafes offer a simple and accessible way to enjoy Lebanese food and drink.
The newly opened Chelsea branch is just a short walk from Sloane Square tube station located on the fashionable Duke of York Square. It has a feel of a neighbourhood cafe, somewhere you go to meet friends and have a catch up, though look a little closer and you can easily see the Lebanese quirks that makes this place slightly different. Authentic bags and pots are for sale, the detail in the furnishings and of course the charm of the staff.
Although there is a large choice on the menu, the stand-out dishes tend to be the mezze – tapas-sized portions of Lebanese cuisine and the traditional Middle East tagines – with a hearty selection of slow cooked meats in sauce. However, one of the main principals of the establishment is its focus on healthy foods, of which there are plenty. The grilled pomegranate salmon is highly recommended. The refreshing blend of the fruity pomegranate seeds with the freshness of the salmon makes this healthy dish extremely tasty and fills a hole for a reasonable price.
If you are partial to a beer with your meal then just about anything on the menu would complement an Almaza authentic Lebanese pilsner lager, which goes down a little too easily. But if beer is not your thing, there is a large drinks menu with everything from speciality lemonades to wines. The mint tea also comes highly recommended, the rich flavours and sweetness will have you reaching for the pot for a refill many times. The mauhalabia, a traditional Lebanese dessert, is a sheer delight. Milk-based and very much like a pannacotta, the rose syrup and crushed pistachios blend to create an out-of-this-world taste sensation.
The food, setting, service and atmosphere were all exceptional at the Comptoir Lebanais in Chelsea. The colourful cafe is a perfect way to brighten up a dull October evening. As a critic you always look for ways to, well, criticise, but at Comptoir Lebanais I really couldn’t. Do yourself a favour and take your friends for a some fine Lebanese cuisine in a relaxed setting. Also make sure you check out chef Tony Kitous’ recipe book filled with dozens of exciting recipes that will help you recreate the magic at home.