Middle Eastern Promise in South Kensington
Review by Rupert Parker
Newly opened, the branch of Comtoir in South Kensington is just round the corner from the tube and is conveniently located to salve Exhibition Road museum fatigue. Indeed it’s a bright, colourful and fun canteen - sparkling white tables and chairs fill the space and the walls are lined with preserves, pickles, honey and other delicacies. On a Saturday night the place was packed, yet the service was efficient and friendly.
It’s a bit more than an upmarket café since there’s a great selection of Lebanese wines, either by the glass or bottle and interesting cocktails, including champagne with a touch of rose water, and vodka with fresh lemonade. Of course there’s also a wide variety of nutritious fruit juices and a range of teas. We stuck to the champagne cocktails and a rather good bottle of Lebanese Sauvignon Blanc and were not disappointed.
We started with a mezze platter for two which included tabbouleh, moudardara (lentil and wild-rice salad), falafel, hommos (their spelling), baba ghanui, cheese sambousek, pickles and a couple of slices of warm pita. Now, while all these were variations on Greek and Turkish favourites what stood out was the freshness of the ingredients. The parsley in the tabbouleh almost zinged off the plate and both the hummous and the baba ghanoush were smarting from a whipping. This was a meal in itself and my only complaint is that the table was not really large enough to take such a huge plate.
Now we should really have called a halt there, since we’d also had a plate of lamb sambousek and some batata harra, tasty spicy Lebanese fries, but the tagines beckoned. Fortunately the portions were just about manageable and the lamb and prunes served on a bed or organic couscous didn’t overwhelm with its sweetness. The Fattet Kofta, spiced lamb balls with yoghurt, crispy pita and fried onion, was also worth waiting for.
No Lebanese meal is complete without its pastries but, in the name of restraint, we had to duck the wide range of Baklava’s and settle for organic yoghurt with mixed nuts and honey and a portion of ice cream with halva. I must say that I couldn’t really find fault with anything we ate at the Comptoir and it’s remarkably good value, particularly given its location. Special mention must be made of the light garlicky dip served with the sambousek – it was so good we asked the chef for the recipe and wandered off into the night ready to do battle with any marauding vampires.
Comptoir Libanais - South Kensington
1-5 Exhibition Road, London SW7 2HE
+44 (0)207 225 5006
Open seven days