As far as I’m concerned, there are three types of restaurant chain – voucher chains, tourist chains and chains that don’t feel like chains.
Pizza Express, Strada and Zizzi all fall into the first category. All ‘deliver’ quick, consistently good, cheap food. But, I’d never go without a 241 voucher. They churn out so many, why would I want to be ripped off?
Tourist chains are for people that don’t know better. Take a walk down Argyll Street and you’ll see hoards of people queuing for average food in Bella Italia and Angus Steakhouse, unaware of the brilliant restaurants in nearby Soho.
The final type is the most clever, influential and tasty. Tom Byng has just opened his 26th Byron Burger, yet each time I go to one of his restaurants, ‘attention to detail’ is written all over the walls, food and waiters’ faces. Comptoir Libanais is following course, which is why I jumped at the chance to eat at its fifth opening on Broadwick Street last week.
This restaurant feels like a treasure trove – brightly coloured woven bags and polished silver pots decorate the walls as equally colourful Lebanese delights fill the food counters. The menu is extensive, made up of cold and hot mezze (starters), wraps, large platters, tagines, fattets and grilled meats (mains) and cakes, baklawa and yogurts (desserts).
The lovely restaurant manager Dominic carefully described his favourite dishes, which made deciding what to order very easy. To start, we were able to try a variety of salads, dips, pastries and falafel. Standout for both of us was the smooth, creamy hommos, earthy Baba Ghanuj and Pumpkin Kibbeh with its spicy orange sauce.
I was already feeling pretty full when main course arrived – two lamb tagines, one with prunes, covered in a rich, sweet sauce, and the other coated in a light, aromatic yoghurt sprinkled with jewel like pomegranate seeds. I ate more than I needed, but that’s standard ‘never going to change’ procedure when it’s freezing outside and there are bowls of heartwarming stews in front of me.
Baklawa was a must for pudding – I can never resist those sweet, glistening little nuggets of gold – but The Boyfriend also wanted frozen yoghurt. Clearly we hadn’t eaten enough. Everything was delightfully washed down by a couple of cups of sweet rose and mint tea. I quietly told myself this would aid digestion.
As we rolled home, I realised why I like Comptoir Libanais so much. It’s a restaurant that can be whatever you want it to be – a romantic dinner, a speedy takeaway lunch, an alternative breakfast or a quick bite with friends before heading out to the nearby bars. It’s cheap without feeling cheap. It’s a chain, without feeling like a chain.
Comptoir Libanais gets a LLE Rating of 8 / 10. Thank you to Dominic and his team for a wonderfully filling evening.
Comptoir Libanais, 59 Broadwick Street, Soho W1F 9QH