Sunday, 13 November 2016

Eating Out in Bath: Comptoir Libanais

Bath and Bristol really seem to be having a moment when it comes to exciting new restaurant openings. What with the varied offerings down at Cargo, a boxpark development by the docks in Bristol, and new places popping up in Bath's attractive Southgate shopping quarter, there's a lot of choice for foodies in this neck of the woods. And if you're big on Middle Eastern cuisine there's even more cause of celebration - a new branch of Comptoir Libanais has opened its doors within Bath's Little Southgate Quarter.

Given that I am indeed VERY big on Middle Eastern food (you can read my review of one of my favourite Bristol restaraunts, Soukitchen, here) I was next level excited to get the opportunity to sample its menu last week. When it comes to listing the food I'd want to eat for my last supper on earth, a proper, freshly made houmous and a stack of flatbreads are up there with Spaghetti alle Vongole and salted caramel ice cream. There's something so life-affirming about food from the region - I love its simplicity, colour and exotic combinations. Plus there are the pomegranates - pomegranates just make me happy.

So, being fond of this sort of stuff, I'd already visited a Comptoir Libanais in London some years back - there are several branches in the capital, as well as restaurants in Exeter and Manchester, with a branch opening in Leeds soon. But my last trip to the Marylebone branch was a mere pitstop during a busy dash around the West End, so I was excited about enjoying a more leisurely lunch this time around. 

Firstly, I must seriously big up whoever did the interior design for this place - it's just beautiful. I can see its flooring turning up in countless #ihavethisthingwithfloors posts on Instagram (guilty as charged - yes, I know how irritating those floor 'n' feet posts can be but sometimes the tiling is just too pretty.) On a grey day in November, entering the restaurant was a tonic for the soul, with its kitsch take on the souk aesthetic - think colourful fez hats pinned to walls, shelves adorned with silver tea pots and fretwork panels fitted with jewel-coloured glass.

Vibrant and warm, the surroundings made me feel more like I was drinking mint tea in a sun soaked Levantine square than dining just a stone's throw from a train station in Northern Europe. Any restaurant that has the ability to give you that holiday feeling on a Tuesday lunchtime is doing something right in my book. 

The prices are good, too - a mezze platter starter is £9.50, with individual mezze hovering around the £4, while a filling mixed grill is £13.25, with lots of other mains priced at around the £9 mark. Drinks and desserts are also reasonably priced. 

On to the food, which, like the ambiance, made me and my dining companion feel warm and happy inside. A meal that starts with a freshly poured mint tea always gets things off to a good start. I love the mint tea you get in Morocco, but it can be a little cloying. The tea at Comptoir Libanais hits the right level of sweetness, and I liked it this way - it's nice to sip on a drink safe in the knowledge that a trip to the dentist isn't a very real, imminent possibility. 

We then swiftly moved on to the cocktails - yes, how very indulgent on a Tuesday lunchtime, but when the cocktails involve exotic ingredients such as rose syrup, orange blossom and harissa, they simply have to be sampled. On the recommendation of our informed and friendly waitress, I went for the Rose and Rum Daiquiri, a sort of adult slush puppy and a frozen blend of rum, lemon juice and rose syrup.

It was a very pleasing accompaniment to our mezze starters - a deliciously thick olive oil-topped houmous, a zingy fattoush (enter the pomegranate), marinated chicken wings with a side dip of harissa and some delicious 'Batata Harra', Lebanese spiced fries with red pepper, fresh coriander, garlic & chilli - I found it hard to share these delicious morsels of starchy heaven with my dining companion but I think she was pretty happy with the portion of fresh-out-the-oven pitta breads we ordered to help mop up the houmous.

For mains, we both opted for meats from the grill - a Chicken Kofta for my friend and a Mixed Grill for me. We both enjoyed the interesting side of Vermicelli Rice that comes with all the Kofta and Shish grills. If you're not in a meaty mood, there are some delicious-sounding salads and tagines on offer, featuring the staples of this region's cuisine - aubergine, halloumi and falafel, for example. I'd like to give the Halloumi Cheese & Zaatar Man’ousha a try next time; I mean, how delicious does oven baked flat bread with halloumi cheese, wild thyme and fresh mint sound?

You'd think we couldn't possibly have had room for a dessert after our mezze and mains, but somehow we managed to accommodate a bowl of thick yoghurt, topped with honey and roasted mixed nuts, and a couple of scoops of pomegranate and orange blossom frozen yoghurt. Personally, I like the Middle Eastern approach to desserts - they're either light and refreshing, like the aforementioned yoghurts and milk puddings, or wonderfully rich and indulgent confections, like a buttery baklawa, oozing with nuts and honey. You can get both varieties at Comptoir Libanais, as well as a selection of cakes - I took home an additional treat in the shape of a pretty-as-a-picture rose and pistachio bun - it was divine.

Talking of treats to take away, you can purchase everything from traditional woven baskets to fresh pastries, and colourful tagines to gift-wrapped pistachio-studded nougat, from the on-site store. More general Middle Eastern cooking essentials can also be bought here, allowing you to explore this cuisine in your own kitchen.

There's also a children's menu, a great way to get your little ones accustomed to something a little more adventurous than pizza and chicken nuggets. A take away option is available, too.

So, if you've ever had a longing to eat your own weight in flatbread (or is that just me?!), love the fresh, summer-holiday flavours of the eastern Mediterranean or simply just like the idea of trying something a bit different, this friendly, vibrant canteen won't disappoint. Despite being only recently opened, service was swift, calm and efficient, with happy and informed staff who seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the Comptoir Libanais ethos. If you're feeling that mid-autumn 'meh-ness' creeping in, I can't think of a better place to while away a, where did I put those flatbreads? 

With many thanks to Comptoir Libanais Bath and Roche Communications, who kindly offered me a complimentary lunch. I have not been paid for writing this post and all opinions are my own.



  1. LOVE this place - so glad there's on in Bath now!

    1. Yes, me too! I made a visit to one of the branches in London a few years back and loved it. The one in Bath doesn't disappoint!


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