Let’s Do Lunch at Comptoir Libanais

Stan breaks his own rules on his latest quest for Leeds Living, by sampling the delights of Lebanon on offer at Comptoir Libanais.

A couple of taboos broken this week. Firstly I normally choose the places to review but it was ‘suggested’ by those fine people at Leeds Living that I try Comptoir Libanais, which apparently means Lebanese canteen, so I googled to see where it was. It was then that the second no-no manifested itself, namely that this is a chain and I try to stick to local independents.  Still, bloggers can’t be choosers so off I went.

There are seventeen of these establishments, mainly darn sarf and in strange locations such as airports, shopping malls and even inside a John Lewis store. Not to be outdone, the Leeds branch is in the Everyman Cinema at the Trinity Centre. Luckily you don’t have to buy a ticket for the flicks in order to get your food and it does make a change from popcorn and ice cream. The interior is furnished with multicoloured tables and chairs with Middle Eastern themed food, cooking implements and artefacts displayed for sale on shelves around the walls. There were also several fez hats decorating the odd square inch of wall not selling anything else. It gave the impression that the local branch of the Tommy Cooper Appreciation Society was in session. I picked up the menu and decided on my order ‘just like that’.

There are no starters as such but several mezze. I decided to give them a miss and go straight to the main event. I chose the Lamb and Prune Tagine, which as well as the titular ingredients contains butternut squash, peas and roasted almonds (£10.95). It was served with a choice of couscous or vermicelli rice. I opted for the former as I have some wonderful memories of lamb and couscous which used to be served to my wife and me when we would stay with some French friends in Alsace in the early 1970s. Betty’s father was a general in the French Foreign Legion and she was brought up in North Africa where she became an expert on cooking the local dishes, her speciality being lamb with couscous. It was magical and it would be unfair to compare it with the dish I was served here, so I won’t. The lamb was plentiful and very tender, as were the other ingredients. The downside was that the grain was a bit lumpy and too dry. To be fair, when the manager came to the table and asked how everything was, he offered to provide more sauce but by this time the main parts of the dish had been eaten so it was a bit late. To drink I had the house red at £4.50 for 175ml. It was called St. Alphonse and was the first Lebanese wine I had sampled. There were hints of liquorice and spices which gave it more than a touch of the taste of sherry. It went really well with the tagine.

For dessert I picked the Pistachio and Rose Mouhalabia, a Lebanese milk pudding, at £4.45, and a black Americano (£2.45). The rose water in the pudding gave it a taste resembling the smell of really expensive soap, but in a good way – honest.

The service was very good.  A 10% charge is added to the bill which goes to the staff, and the food was well worth the price. The only observation I have is that the speed of service and the presentation remind you that this is one of several branches offering the identical dish with the issues of portion control which that entails, and that it lacked the soul and individuality which you get at an independent.

Mange toutes

Stan Graham


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