It’s been a while since I first visited Comptoir Libanais – that bright, vibrant restaurant that sits at the front entrance to The Westgate, next to the county library.
Almost exactly two years on and the Lebanese restaurant is still an extravaganza for the senses – a colourful, curated collection of food and knick-knacks. It still looks tidy though, and must take some serious dusting. Pink and green walls are still lined with ceramic tiles, pictures, bags, bottles, tagines and more; the majority of which are for sale.
We settled in at the back of the restaurant, by a big window overlooking the bus stops on Castle Street. It turned out to be quite a chilly corner, but offered plenty of light to test out a new camera phone. Drinks ordered – homemade apple, mint & ginger lemonade for me (£2.95 for medium, £3.75 for large), white wine for him – we busied ourselves with the food menu.
On my first visit, we ordered a bunch of mezze dishes, which seemed to just keep coming – not that we objected. This time around, we thought it would be fun to test out the ‘Feast Menu’ to share (£26.95 per person), which came with a fixed selection of mezze, an aubergine tagine, meat mixed grill, dessert to share, baklava, and rose mint tea. Feast indeed!
It wasn’t long before the table was overflowing with mezze dishes – hommos, baba ghanuj and labné were all present for dipping and dunking. Very pleasant falafels, cheese pastries and a delicious halloumi and tomato salad with black olives took the lead, while a quinoa salad and spiced potatoes added some ballast. Sides of flatbread and pickles tied it all together perfectly and, frankly, I’d be happy with just a big bowl of those and the baba ghanuj. What a perfect combo.
We didn’t manage to finish it all, but leftovers stayed on to accompany our mains.
Comptoir Libanais Mains
The aubergine tagine wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped, lacking in enough to contrast the sweet and soft, it didn’t quite sing as well as the chicken and green olive version I’ve had before. The mixed grill, on the other hand, was a satisfying plateful of flavours and textures, with a well-dressed salad, juicy meat kebabs, and flavoursome vermicelli rice that had clearly been cooked in broth.
Again, we were beaten by volume, but the staff were quick to offer a doggy back for our remains.
Room for Desserts?
Well, not really, but it came with the ‘Feast Menu’ and I wanted to at least take a bite, so onwards we pressed!
The sharing dessert arrived – a traditional Lebanese milk pudding called mouhalabia – flavoured with orange blossom, then drizzled in orange blossom syrup, topped with a preserved fig, and served with a date, apricot, sultana and prune compote. It was really quite delightful, panna cotta in texture and just as light, full of fragrance with that sweet, sticky fruit syrup. I ate a lot more than I’d anticipated.
After that came the baklawa and rose mint tea, the latter of which brought the drama – being poured from a height into teeny glasses.
The baklawa were a fine end to the meal, but I had NO room left by this point, so a nibble on each was the most I could offer for reporting purposes. Lighter in syrup than their counterparts, according to my research, Lebanese baklawa tends to be made with walnuts and orange blossom, to enable more to be eaten. They were definitely less sweet than others I’ve tried, but that didn’t do much to counteract all the food we’d consumed thus far.
Doggy bag packed and bellies seriously full, we rolled our way home.
Overall, a good meal in a vibrantly styled setting, with a mezze selection to match. The mains are good too, but not as showstopping. The venue was fairly quiet on the Tuesday evening we visited, but I’ve often seen it busy on passing, especially over the weekend. With the size of the venue, it’s somewhere that needs enough people to make it buzz, and with the rent I imagine they’re paying for such a prime location in an already expensive city, it’ll need to stay that way.
They offer an appealing kids meal for £5.95 that includes a main, drink and dessert. They also do a limited selection of cocktails, two of which are available in jugs. No connection here, before anyone pictures me necking back cocktails while the kids throw falafels at one another.
Good for: dates, groups or families. Breakfast looks interesting also.
Menu links: main menu / drinks menu / dessert menu / breakfast menu / kids menu / Christmas menu
Opening times: Monday – Thursday 9am – 10:30pm, Friday – Saturday 9am – 11:30pm, Sunday 9am – 8pm
We dined as guests of Comptoir Libanais, all views remain our own.