How better to describe the Comptoir Libanais than to compare it to a ray of sunshine on a dull rainy day? A little travel in itself – a brightly coloured universe, mouthwatering mezze, gorgeous mountains of exotic cakes… Instinctively, your gaze will wander on the tables around you, choosing your meal already, slightly disappointed not to be able to reach out with your fork and try a little bit of this lovely dish on your left.
Their new address in South Kensington already is quite a success and is just adored locally. The terrace overlooks the pedestrian street and is a real pleasure in any sunny day. Let alone, being just outside the tube and on the way to Hyde Park, what a better place to select a picnic?
The menu is as exotic as in the other branches – takes you elsewhere in just a few bites. Start with their homemade lemonades like the apple-ginger-mint (£2.35) to put you in the mood or the orange blossom and pomegranate for a more poetic touch: such a welcome change from the usual soft drinks.
Now let go. Don’t resist. I found it hard to focus on the menu - too many delicious descriptions! Really, the best plan is to come here with a wonderful friend and choose a wide selection of dishes to share. It is ever so pleasant to butterfly from one plate to another, combining tastes and textures randomly, creatively. Like those Lamb Kibbeh (£4.65), filled with fragrant lamb, onion and pine nuts. Or a salt and sweet effect with the grilled paneer served with an amazing fig and rose jam.
Don’t know where to start? Go right to the counter and get yourself a selection like this one (on the menu for £7.95 also exists as a bigger version for 2). Hummus to die for, slightly smoked aubergine dip, falafel with its rich notes of chickpea and coriander, a freshly made tabbouleh, slightly lemony, a lovely lentil salad, amazing bright pink pickled turnip slices, a sambousek filled with melting feta and warm triangles of pita bread. Quite a feast.
If you are after something warm, moussaka, koftas, shish taouks also are on the card and smell ever so nice. I chose their gorgeous tajine (£7.95) with aubergines - the tastes linger on the tastebuds, ending on the sweet chickpea note, the velvety touch of red pepper, oh and just a little bit of that organic yogurt too. Impossible not to add semolina to the dish, the sauce just calls for it.
Meat lovers will probably go straight to the mixed grill (£12.95) - lamb and chicken kofta, marinated chicken cooked as shish taouk, generous portions, rice cooked with minutely cut onion, matching the nutty taste of the grilled meat.
It is easy to order so many dishes that you will barely have a space for deserts – remember those piles of cakes that just beg to be eaten. Obviously, Comptoir Libanais knows and has little plates all prepared with a few to take away. Or you could enjoy the nearby museums and come back for a touch of sweetness afterwards: those are lovely treats with hearts of hazelnut, walnut, cashew nuts or heavy with honey…
After all, what better than an exotic afternoon tea to take away the winter blues? Pour yourself a cup of mint and rose tea (£2.45) and you will be spell-binded, ready to dream away.
On the side is a small deli with thousand colours – Moroccan honey, date cream with almonds, rose or pomegranate syrup… – just what you need to take this little holiday pause back home.
1-5 Exhibition Road
London SW7 2HE
Teatime in Wonderland was a guest of Comptoir Libanais.