Micro chain Le Comptoir Libanais aims to bring fast, affordable and ‘fun’ Lebanese casual dining to London. The first branch, in Westfield, obviously worked well as there's been a slew of them opening up elsewhere.
Having never understood why there aren't more casual lunch spots like this, I was initially entranced. Sure it's got a ‘stop me and buy one’ schtick borrowed from a Jamie's Italian or a Bill's Produce Store, with everything from salad dressing to handbags on sale in the souk inspired space, but it doesn't have quite the corporate roll out feel that you'd expect from one of those. Tightly and brightly jewelled shelves, a packed glass chiller at the back stuffed with healthy greens and cartoony colourful furniture – it's a lovely, fresh and open place to be on a summer's day.
Sadly, it was hard to be anything other than underwhelmed by the food we had over lunch. Simple and authentic it might (just) be, tasty it sadly wasn't.
I ended up with an overly salty halloumi salad, the four cold bits of squeaky cheese nestling apologetically on a bed of long ago prepared salad doused in an acrid dressing. The olives particularly were excruciatingly overpowering, exploding in the mouth like slimy, saline paintball pellets.
Alongside that we shared a plate of mixed mezze. A large enough portion, but nothing like large enough in taste. We left most of it to be collected, uncommented on, at the end. ‘Highlights’ included large dry falafel cannonballs, setting the cause of that noble dish back by years, their claggy mouthfeel reminding you why your mother always had to force you to eat chickpeas.
Alongside underpowered baba ganouch came glow in the dark purple stained turnip light sabres and kebab shop pickles. A brace of chiller cold pasties of indeterminate sort were also less than the sum of their (long ago prepared) parts – sparse filling sunk to the bottom like sediment in an unloved kettle.
Will it be a success? Sadly, almost certainly. Though the central locations will struggle to bring people back for a second visit, particularly if Yalla Yalla shifts up a gear and starts to roll out branches. Would I go back? Not without some coaxing. London isn't short of decent, authentic fast food in this style, it's just a pity that, with the exception of Yalla Yalla and Momo on Heddon Street, there ain't much of it round the central parts. It's just a pitta that none of the infinitely superior Edgeware Road or Knightsbridge brands haven't capitalised on that yet.