Comptoir Libanais is a British chain devised of Middle-Eastern style restaurants and owned by Algerian-born Tony Kitous, whose philosophy is to put “glamour into Middle East cuisine and providing the people of the Western World the opportunity to experience real, wholesome and healthy Lebanese food in a souk-like setting.”
In fact, Lebanese food has been found in parts of the UK for many years, especially in an enclave on the Edgware Road, London, but one assumes the glamour to come from recreating a souk (ie. marketplace) in a shopping centre. Le Comptoir has branded a stylised view of Lebanon in the same way that Dishoom created a rose-tinted view of Bombay cafes, then duplicated it at restaurants up and down the country.
As with chain philosophy, the restaurants doubles up its revenues with merchandising, including books, shopping bags, crockery and food products and olive oils, doubtless a T-shirt too, though my view remains that they should be judged on the quality of the food served rather than the marketing concept. In fact, the restaurants I love best are the ones that survive by word of mouth and no marketing, few and far between though they may be.
The decor is quite effective in a busy style, designed to look vaguely Middle Eastern and to attract the eye of passers-by, but photogenically Middle Eastern food is unquestionably the most appetising. I mean, look at the pictures below and tell me you don’t feel hungry? Eating with the eyes is one thing, but does the grub pass the taste test?
That gripe notwithstanding, Comptoir Libanais evidently does many things right, even if from the management perspective not sufficient to fill the palacious array of tables with customers on a busy sale shopping day at Bluewater mall. Doubtless the burger joints were humming, but then maybe British people don’t yet consider middle eastern grub to be comfort food in quite the same way?
CL has gone for the popularist vote in many ways: they do breakfast, juices, coffees, cocktails, dips, wraps, salads and other mezze (sic), grills and tagines, pastries and baklavas – it’s all there in abundance. I suspect they would happily serve you Middle Eastern equivalents of fish and chips, curry or spag bol if it proved profitable.
That is, nothing especially creative or original, but evidence of playing safe with what customers will order. Plenty of stuff on the menu fitting our modern agenda, for sure, particularly the ubiquitous hummus (or here, “hommos”.) We went for wraps, one Coke and one coffee in a glass cup that reminded me of the 50s: