COMPTOIR LIBANAIS : VEGAN FEAST REVIEWED

It’s been a manic start to January for me, filled with a lot of intensely stressful life events and little time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life,  so I was thoroughly excited at the prospect of having a Sunday which I could take some much needed time out to just be still and to sit with Si to enjoy some yummy vegan food. It’s been a fortnight of rushed meals, leftovers I didn’t really fancy, as well as completely forgetting to eat. So this review collaboration with Comptois Libanais was a very welcome way to force me into mindful eating again, even just for one special lunchtime.

When I received the press release informing me of the new Vegan Feast the chain are currently offering, I showed it to my partner Si straight away as he was already a huge fan of theirs, and it gave us a reason to treat ourselves to another visit, something right we had found hard to justify because of the hecticness and money- pit nature of our combined lives right now. When they very kindly invited is along to review it we knew we could make me it a more urgent date in our diary, and we were thrilled!

The Kingston restaurant is situated on a strip of restaurant chains and pubs that overlook the Thames, which in the summer is one of our favourite local spots, somewhere where we choose to interrupt lengthy or laborious shopping trips. The restaurant provides a lovely scenic outside area so you pick at your mezze in full view of the water, which twinkles beautifully on a bright day. It’s also a thoroughly good spot to people/dog watch, as there is a pleasing amount of footfall in this area which gives the areaa really buzzing feel. It’s not dissimilar to the eating spots you hunt out on your first day of holiday, optimum views being the focus of your location hunt.

It’s January and we’re both just getting over one of those hacking dry coughs, so we opted for inside dining this time round, and were given a prime spot basking in the light from the floor length window at the front of the dining room. We didn’t know then that we’d also get the bonus of 5 star entertainment via an adorable Labrador called Charlie who was braving the chill with his owner outside, and very much also enjoying the Lebanese Cuisine. I’m pretty sure his well tuned puppy eyes ensured he consumed more of the platter than his poor owner!

As soon as we sat round the intricate traditional gold table we felt at ease, thanks to the warmest of smiles of our consistently upbeat spanish waiter Raúl. By the way before I move on from the aesthetically pleasing table, can I just say how nice is it when you’re doing a blog review of a restaurant to be greeted with so many instagrammable corners, backdrops and surfaces. It certainly makes your/our job a lot easier.

Raúl asked whether we wanted our complimentary white wine now or later, and we replied honestly. ‘Whenever, we’re just happy to have it! The white wine he poured was the brands own, so it covered in the charismatic ladies face you see all over the branding and around the restaurant, the retro artwork inspired by a vintage movie poster of the Arabic actress, Sirine Jamal al Dine. This brunette beauty has become the glamorous face of the brand and a striking design feature. Made by Chateau Ksara, Lebanon’s oldest winery, the wine is fragrant and refreshing, with citrus & floral aromas. I’m not actually a white wine drinker myself , too many regrettable nights at uni to blame for that, but it definitely worked perfectly with our starter, and was neither too sweet nor too dry. Bit of an all round crowd pleaser you might say. The Red Pepper Hommos arrived with a very appetising peachy pink hue, with the familair grainy yet creamy texture that has made this dip a favourite amongst vegans and non vegans alike, alongside a generous amount of lightly browned Pitta bread slices to scoop it all up. I actually liked to create a bit of a taste and flavour sensation by combining with our other starter, the Tabbouleh – chopped parsley, quinoa, tomatoes, mint & spring onions, with a lemon & olive oil dressing.

During these cold months I tend to exist on what I call comfort food, which generally reside on the heavy and stodgy side of dining. It’s laden with carbs and starch, and generally beige or orange in colour. Don’t get me wrong I love this type of food, it makes me feel hugged at the time of eating, albeit a bit lethargic and sloth-like afterwards. However it was such a noticeable and welcome contrast to eat the Tabbouleh with it’s zings and a lightness of flavour I usually associate with summer alfresco dining and exotic travel adventures. I’m not actually a fan of parsley at all so I was surprised how much I loved piling this concoction on top of my pitta triangles.  The refreshment injected via the mint and lemon, and the pleasing textures courtesy of the glossy and smooth olive oil, the crunch of the tomato cubes and minute balls of quinoa was just lovely.

Si loves anything pickled so was ecstatic when Raul said he could bring over a selection. He quizzed us on what we thought the vibrant magenta one was and after a few of ‘its good but it’s not the one’ Catchphrase style moments, we were informed it was in fact a Turnip. Pointing to a jar that was on a nearby shelf he informed us of the pickling process and the use of Beetroot to give the turnip that striking, almost unnaturally bright shade of pink.

The choice for the Vegan Feast main is either the Aubergine Tagine or the Couscous Salad with Grilled Peppers, Roasted Squash and Mixed Nuts. We decided to get one of each to share so we could give you a thorough review, but also so we could find out which one is our favourite ahead of our inevitable next visit.

Moroccan tajine dishes are slow-cooked savory stews, typically made with sliced meat, poultry or fish together with vegetables or fruit. When I was a meat eater one of the things I appreciated and hoped for from a tagine was that the meat would fall apart as soon as the knife touched it because it was so moist and only still conected to the bone by gravity. You don’t have to miss out on thae satisfying feeling you get when you realise the slow cooking has worked it’s magic, because the aubergine similarly falls apart as and softens thanks to the intense nurture of the tagine. With this dish you have a choice or Couscous, quinoa and rice. I would suggest rice might be a good option if you are ordering from the the vegan feast menu, as Couscous is something you have already had via the starter, and the spice infused juices from the casserole would be lovely washing over the grains. After enjoying both,  I would personally recommend going for the Tagine over the Couscous salad, mainly because it is the only hot dish on this particular menu, and I think with the starters we had already ticked the boxes in terms of delivering fresh and healthy. That said I loved the crunchy texture the mixed nuts gave to the salad, and I enjoyed the substantial hits of vegan favourite, Butternut squash. The pomegranates in both dish adding a lovely shot of popping fruit juice too.

I would have loved the option of a hot side to go with the mains, particular if I had opted for the salad as my main. I think this particular menu would have benefitted from the addition of Batata Harra – Lebanese spiced fries with red pepper, fresh coriander, garlic & chilli, just so we have the option of a  little bit of that winter carb comfort.

But that’s one fo the great things about this restaurant. They have a pleasing array of specifically vegan options already, but Raúl also informed us that a third of their dishes can also be made vegan. So don’t be afraid to ask their attentive staff, I am confident they’d do what they can to ensure you can get as fulfilling a vegan meal as possible.

I wasn’t able to finish my main, the portions are generous but without being recklessly so – the right amount that make you feel you are getting real value for money. As I write up this review Si is next to me eating up our leftover plentiful (scoffing would seem more appropriate description factoring the haste and noise level), which were enough to make a considerable meal again. He’s making the same yummy noises he made when we were on location so clearly the flavours survive well. They’re very used to people not wanting to waste their delicious orders, so are more than happy to equip you with some containers to take away with you, so don’t be afraid to ask.

Dessert time. I am a massive sweet-tooth (just ask my dentist), but I have to acknowledge that I’m also quite particular. I love foreign and exotic cuisine, I actually eat far more eastern food than I do British and European, but in my experience desserts is where it generally disappoints.I don’t mean they don’t do it well or that they don’t create delicious sweet things, I just mean they’re not often to my taste, or they don’t deliver the feels or flavours I want went devouring a dessert. I want to feel unadulterated indulgence, and all those rich flavours and textures that release those happy endorphins for me specifically. I have to be honest I didn’t predict big things for my dessert here either,  based purely on previous experience at other establishments. However I was happy to be very pleasantly surprised. We were served a Mouhaliba, which is a traditional Lebanese milk pudding. To make it vegan friendly this one was created using Coconut milk and in our opinion tasted all the better for it. It is similar in texture to a creme caramel and with this you also have a sweet syrup drizzled over and round it. It has a lovely silky smooth texture but we loved the gentle crunch added via the coconut flakes. Utterly delicious.

Even though I had already expressed how full I was prior to the ochre glass dessert dish being placed on the gold table, it wasn’t long before there was only a milky residue and few shaves of cocnunut left on the surface. The same went for Si, who isn’t normally a fan of dessert. Says a lot. While we polished off the dessert we were brought a Fresh Rose Mint Tea served in an authentic silver teapot. A blend of green tea, fresh mint, rose water & sugar it is a beautifully reviving drink that fills the air with a turkish delight aroma that was wonderfully nostalgic for me. A perfect extra addition to a meal if you really want to imagine you’ve jetsetted away and left your everyday stresses behind.

While I think the food is the most important factor of your overall experience, the ambiance and environment is up there. It’s an uplifting feeling of escpaism as soon as you set foot into the restaurant. Greeted by someone in a bright orange tee and a wide smile, you’re immeditaely inundated with beautiful artisanl distraction courtesy of the clashing tiles, colourful painted wooden chairs and large mural staring down at you.

The founder of the chain really wanted to give the restaurant that feeling of a souk, but it’s not style over substance as you can actually buy an impressive number of goods too, whether it be one of their recipe books, ingredients to recreat the dishes you enjoyed during your visit, or a tagine pot which can be used to create mouth watering strew sor to simply decorate your home and propel the illusion that it houses a wordly chef.

Whether this area serves as vibrant backdrop to your dining, a place to gaze and browse, or somewhere to shop, there’s no doubt that it successfully helps to transport you somewhere else. I definitely almost forgot I was in Kingston and felt a bit of that holiday joy we’re all craving and in need of at this time of year.

I don’t know if this is a weird blogger thing, but we really adore the discovery of a cool restroom, and this one certainly packs a punch with a vibrant stain glass entrance, the heady mix of tiles and the collage of vintage style posters. Definitely one worthy of a mirror selfie, am I right? Dont judge me….

If you want to escape your winter drearyness this multicoloured riverside locationreally is the destinaion for you. If you want to enjoy flavour sensations you usually associate with your far flung travel adventures book a visit. If you want to support a chain that is taking care of the ever growing vegan community this is a great one. If you want service that goes above and beyond with a smile, come visit Raúl and his fellow staff. If you want to support a dream, share a vegan feast with a loved one at Comptois Libanais. It’s clear founder Tony has put a lot of love and personal inspiration ito create an affordable and casual dining experience that doesn’t compromise on service and authenticity.

I know a lot of you will be skeptical about restaurant reviews bloggers post, you’ll wonder whether we only got great service because the staff knew we were there for appraisal purposes, or wonder whether we are giving a glowing review because we don’t want to burn bridges with the PR. However I watched how Raúl was with others, and we both earwigged the table next to us to hear their interactions with their waiter too. All we heard was laughter, conversation, and the of sharing knowledge about the food. We saw them greet new patrons with equal enthusiam to how we were met, and the fact the restaurant was filled with young familys, groups of women, mixed groups, groups of men and couples, which backs up that this is an inclusive and relaxed destination that we can all feel happy and well looked after in. And at £12.95 you really can’t really argue price wise…that’s great value.

It won’t be long till be return to this haven of colour and celebration to see Raúl and the rest of the team, and we cant wait to try their next curated menu.

The tiles used heavily within the inetrior styling was inspired by the ones founder Tony would admire at his Grandparents’ house when he was growing up.

www.comptoirlibanais.com

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