REVIEW: Comptoir Libanais

Despite being an oasis for tourists with a diverse culinary palette, one thing Bath severely lacks is Arabic food. Most of our knowledge of it has been limited to 2 am kebabs from the cornershop and substandard falafel wraps from Fresh. But we were confident the middle-east had much more on offer. Determined to find a restaurant that guided us through the rich menu of the region, we found Comptoir Libanais. Situated in the centre of town, not far off from the railway station, the lively decor of the place invited us to surrender our appetites in the capable hands of authentic Lebanese gastronomy.

Owing to the meat-heavy reputation of middle-eastern cuisine, we were initially apprehensive about the availability of vegetarian and vegan dishes. However, the multitude of meat-free options Comptoir offered pleasantly surprised us and our preconceived notions were instantly dismissed. The menu boasted a variety of tastes so unexplored by the British tongue, we were spoilt for choice. We cleansed our palettes with their Iced Fresh Rose Mint tea and a Mira, which was a mint and orange blossom lemonade. Our choice of drinks set the scene for what soon proved to be a delightfully refreshing meal.

The Mezze Starter

We chose to accompany our beverages with a Mezze platter which promised to serve us a combination of Lebanon’s best appetisers. An aesthetic plate was presented to us with a generous helping of good old Hommos, the eggplant based dip baba ghanuj and greek yoghurt’s long lost cousin – natural labne. The dips came with cheese sambousseks, flatbread and pickles. The platter would have been incomplete without their famous falafels and quinoa tabbouleh. As we tucked in we reflected on how great this platter would be as a revision snack.

Portions at Comptoir Libanais are quite big and this forces you to submit a long afternoon to the meal with blissful abandon. With every mouthful we felt our tummies fill up but our taste-buds crave more. The latter cried louder, so despite being caught in the dilemma of stomach versus soul, we ordered our mains. An aubergine fattet and a spiced lamb kofta. We recognised a common theme of aubergines and olive oil in arabic food – the two seemed omnipresent. But so distinct in form and taste in every dish, they could hardly be picked out. Unlike in the baba ghanuj, aubergines in the fattet were slow-cooked and tangy thanks to the tomato, pepper and onion moussaka they were doused with. The pita crisps provided a welcome crunch to the dish. Despite lamb not being the most popular meat in terms of taste, its kofta was infused different vegetables and spices, making it not only tolerable but actually quite tasty. The accompanying vermicelli rice was delicious and the differing tastes and textures in each bite complimented the strong flavours of the rest of the main dish.

Tempted by the menu we had promised ourselves at the beginning of the meal that we deserved a sweet-treat, but our tummies argued otherwise. An organised debate later, we weighed the pros and cons and resolved that dessert was for the soul and not the stomach. A scoop of vanilla ice-cream soaked in bitter orange and sultanas was ordered and that was by far the best decision of the afternoon. Simple yet so unique the ice-cream was infused with flavours of the dry-fruits and provided a necessary closure to our culinary journey through the middle-east. Granted our coach only halted at a couple major stops, but the passion translated via food warranted we would come back for more.

For fans of:

Soul food

Tangy flavours and mint

Large colourful portraits

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