Reviewed by William Dobson
On Sugar Street we usually try and promote only the most positive aspects of Middle Eastern culture. Books that reflect the rich literary tapestry of the region, artists and musicians who showcase their wonderful heritage and, of course, restaurants that epitomise the fantastic, vibrant and diverse cuisine. However, on this occasion, I feel compelled to do the opposite.
For Comptoir Libanais to describe itself as Lebanese delicatessen/canteen is akin to Cafe Rouge passing itself off a French bistro, someone referring to Bella Italia as a quaint, family run trattoria or La Tasca trying to market itself as a traditional tapas bar. Yet, emblazoned upon its website, along with positive reviews from the likes of Vogue and Esquire, is a quote from View London, stating ‘authentic, excellent value and offering an abundance of choice.’ Yes, it’s cheap but so is stabbing oneself in the eye with a fork and people don’t go around recommending you do that.
Furthermore, unfortunately, in my experience at least, there was little authenticity about it and almost no choice. The latter criticism was compounded by the fact that every time we did try and order something, the waitress, blond hair, blue eyes, thick Eastern European accent, would reappear a minute later, apologising that they’d just run out. The menu was dominated by tajines – they might as well have called themselves a Moroccan restaurant but perhaps that particular ‘trend’ has passed – and was disappointingly limited; a small selection of dips – hummous, baba ghanouj and labneh – the aforementioned national dish of my least favourite North African country, a selection of different sambousek, some ‘fattets’ (I won’t bore you with why that is completely grammatically incorrect but, suffice to say, it is) and a couple of uninspired sounding and, ultimately, non-existent specials.
I should hasten to add that there was nothing inherently horrific about the place. The décor was bright, fresh and modern, the service prompt, personable, if somewhat uninformed, while the food was perfectly edible, some of it even quite tasty. Yet, much the same can be said about KFC or McDonald’s and one didn’t leave feeling it was much healthier. We started with the dip platter, all of which was pleasant, if somewhat bland – the baba ghanouj, in particular could have done with more garlic, and it lacked that deep, smokey flavour – while my fattet kibeh (fried balls of minced lamb served in a thick yoghurt sauce, topped with small pieces of toasted pitta bread, onions and pomegranate seeds) was, again, nothing particularly impressive, although by no means offensive.
However, perhaps the most dispiriting thing about the whole experience is that everyone seems to claim that we’re in the midst of a ‘food revolution,’ that in Britain we’re embracing cuisine from all over the world but it’s places such as Le Comptoir which still seem to thrive. I’d gone there craving something like the wonderful su boerek we’d had in Seza’s Bistro, or the delectable laham meshwi from Barbar and left feeling deflated and let down. Even the undeniably delicious baklava and ma’amoul could hardly lighten my mood.
If you’re looking for unauthentic, cheap ‘Lebanese’ food then head to Yalla Yalla, rather than Comptoir Libanais, but it seems altogether odd, in the same way that droves of generic pan-Indian curry houses still dot every street, that we can’t do a bit better than this.
Photo by Kate Pugh
Visit Restaurant Website
Address: 65 Wigmore Street, London, W1U 1PZ
Telephone: 020 7935 1110
Average Price Per Person: £10 - 20