Comptoir Libanais brings the Levant to London

Updated 19 September 2018
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Comptoir Libanais brings the Levant to London

  • Comptoir Libanais has 22 branches around the UK
  • The restaurant is known for its colorful interior and delicious food

LONDON: For years, London has been known for embracing culinary tastes from all over the world, served up by establishments ranging from snazzy and glitzy new restaurants to venues that are more than 100 years old and have been handed down from one generation to the next.
Comptoir Libanais (Lebanese Canteen), which was founded in 2008, stands out among the more recent arrivals for bringing a true, authentic taste of the Levant to London and beyond, with almost two dozen restaurants in the English capital and other cities including Birmingham, Manchester, Oxford and Liverpool.

For years when he was a child growing up in Algeria, Tony Kitous, the restaurant’s founder and owner, watched his mother create tasty meals for his family. This was something he carried with him when he moved to England at the age of 18.
“I came to London with a dream but it wasn’t until I scrubbed dishes and slept in friends’ houses that I realized what I wanted my dream to be: To bring a taste of home to London, a city I grew to enjoy and love,” he said.
Kitous’s passion for Middle Eastern food and what it symbolizes, the culture and hospitality, is clear in his colorfully decorated restaurants, which resemble traditional Beirut canteens or souks. The menu offers a mix of hearty and light dishes, including mezzes, wraps, grills, salads and traditional side dishes.
“I want all visitors to feel right at home, even if they’re on the go,” said Kitous. “The patrons that try the restaurant for the first time can see how we choose the freshest ingredients from our partners and can truly feel as if they’re in the Levant region.
“Lebanese food is universal. It has a bit of everything in it without having the ingredients over powering one another — all dishes complement one another.”
Every dish, every ingredient and even the plates on which they are served are personally selected by Kitous. “Nothing but fresh is allowed here,” he said.
It all sounds great but does the food live up to the expectations? I dined at the Oxford Street branch and found that the fatoush, hummus and cheese sambousak were great starters. The fresh halloumi manousha had just the right amount of crispiness around the edge, with a soft middle complementing the cheese.
The lamb and prune tagine, served with a side of couscous, swept us to the streets of Morocco. The lamb was soft and melted in the mouth, complemented by the sweetness of the prunes. As a vegetarian option, the aubergine tagine was balanced and tasty.
For Arab diners the menu is filled with the tastes of home and it is hard to imagine how anyone could limit themselves to ordering just one dish. Every option was perfectly seasoned and the table was a beautiful, tasty mess — truly a canteen experience.
The interior design of all Comptoir Libanais venues is similar, offering a burst of color and eccentricity through mismatched tiles, colorful furniture and walls adorned with old Arabic movie posters, including one of legendary actress Sirine Jamal Al-Dine with her signature smile. Thanks to an open kitchen in the back, the restaurant is always bustling with activity and the sounds of patrons enjoying their meals. You could really sense the hints of Kitous’s childhood memories imprinted in the decor. Whether you are in the mood for a hearty breakfast, a quick lunch or a good, delicious dinner to end your day, Comptoir Libanais will not disappoint.


The Six: Get cooking with these Middle Eastern-flavored cookbooks

Updated 21 October 2018
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The Six: Get cooking with these Middle Eastern-flavored cookbooks

DUBAI: Whether you’re a tried-and-tested chef or a novice cook, try something new in the kitchen with these newly released, Middle Eastern-flavored cookbooks.
‘Together: Our Community Cookbook’
In September, Meghan Markle, Britain’s Duchess of Sussex, lent her backing to this charity cookbook that funds a community project set up by women seeking somewhere to cook in the wake of London’s Grenfell Tower fire.
‘Feasts from the Middle East’
The cookbook was created by Tony Kitous, the founder of successful UK-based Lebanese restaurant chain Comptoir Libanais, and features more than 100 recipes.
‘Baladi’
Joudie Kalla, the author behind “Palestine on a Plate,” is back with more tantalizing Palestinian recipes in the newly released cookbook.
‘The Mezze Cookbook’
From roasted cauliflower and tahini to pomegranate cakes, this book offers more than 135 recipes from across the Middle East.
‘Authentic Egyptian Cooking’
Abou El-Sid, one of Cairo’s most famous restaurants, presents more than 50 of its classic recipes in this treasure trove of a cookbook.
‘Suqar’
Ending on a sweet note, this recipe book, the title of which means sugar in Arabic, offers more than 100 desserts inspired by Middle Eastern classics, including puddings, pastries and everything in-between.