Comptoir Libanais restaurant review

The most recent newcomer to have opened in Queen Street is Lebanese cuisine specialists Comptoir Libanais.

The recent £12 million redevelopment of the old Guildhall Shopping area into a stylish restaurant quarter has seen the likes of Turtle Bay, Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Absurd Bird – and if Carribean or generous portions of American comfort food is not your cup of tea – Comptoir Libanais offers healthier mezes designed for messy sharing. I’m particularly happy that such a restaurant has been opened in Exeter; it accommodates many dietary requirements – the vegan, halloumi lover and the avid meat eater won’t be disappointed. I imagine it will become a perfect dining hotspot for hosting student birthday celebrations.

I was over the moon to be invited for a press review to the latest restaurant to open in Queen street. It had been running for two weeks when I arrived, since the 1st October, and I thought it would be interesting to see how the service was coping with its successful demand – every time I’d nipped in to check out the beautiful gifts for sale, the restaurant was bustling and the queue for tables backed through the door and into the street.

Let’s get the awkward part over with and talk about the review allowance. The press pass granted me a meal for two, which included: 1 mezze to share, 2 mains, 2 deserts and 1 bottle of wine/a cocktail each/2 beers each. Okay. So we’re not going to go home hungry – the meze sharing platters could easily suffice as a main between two guests – but as a student eagerly awaiting a January student loan instalment, I’m not one to complain about free food.

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We shared a gorgeous showstopper Mezze Platter to start. The generous Middle Eastern spread boasted baba ghanuj, hummus, tabbouleh, falafel, lentil salad, halloumi, alien-coloured pickles and pitta bread. The smokey baba ghanuj topped with pomegranate seeds and drizzled with oil was the clear winner on this plate; sometimes the aubergine can be bitter in baba ghanuj if its over done or not perfectly ripe, but I could eat this version by the shovelful. In my opinion, the halloumi was disappointing for a cuisine famous for this beautiful cheese; it was cold and a little stiff and you could tell that it had been sitting around for awhile. Comptoir Libanais clearly assemble their platters by demand, after having the components cooked and waiting around since opening – luckily this does not affect the delicious and fresh-tasting tabbouleh and lentil salad.

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For main I ordered an aubergine tagine which came in a rich tomato and chickpea sauce garnished with a mint yoghurt dip, and served with heaps of couscous. The overall flavour of the dish was tasty, however the aubergine could have been a more of a substantial feature because it had largely disintegrated leaving behind a tomato and chickpea sauce. My reviewee date ordered a “Chef special” halloumi tortilla, which was not truly that special. It was served cold, the halloumi was no where to be seen, and the salad was insubstantial.

Then the meal was revived by a trio of deserts. We had a plateful of baklava, halva and roasted pistachio ice cream, and mouhalabia. I absolutely adored the mouhalabia – which is a traditional Lebanese milk pudding flavoured with rose syrup and topped with toasted pistachios. It’s a little like a Middle Eastern, vegetarian version of the panna cotta, which is brought alive by rose water. From what I sampled of the cocktail menu, it seems the restaurant have mastered some amazing flavours. I had the Roomana vodka sour, featuring pomegranate juice, vodka, lemon juice and rose syrup. It was all but too easy to drink, and its smoothness wasn’t ruined by the substantial amount of vodka.

Now you Devonshire foodies shouldn’t be fooled – the menu and interior assumes an air of authentic dining experience, but it is sadly another chain addition to Queen Street. Comptoir Libanais has thirteen restaurants currently open, majorly in London, and has plans to expand across the country, particularly the South West. I would go back again, but I hope its current popularity in Exeter will draw attention to the hidden Middle Eastern gems. The New Horizon on Longbrook street may not have the glamorous exterior of Comptoir Libanais, but the dishes the singular owner creates taste sensational. Furthermore, The Dinosaur café’s mezzes and more could take a chain like Comptoir Libanais from under the carpet if only it had more recognition than a family run business.

Carob and fig ice cream

Carob and fig ice cream serves 4; vegetarian 

making use of the carob powder and syrup I brought home from Cyprus, I thought I’d try combining some awesome Cypriot flavours into this indulgent dessert. These ingredients are easily found in all well-stocked Turkish food shops. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 large free range eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 200ml double cream
  • 2 figs, peel removed
  • 1 heaped tsp carob powder
  • 1 tsp carob syrup

Method:

  1. figggg.jpegWhisk the egg whites with an electric whisk until stiff peaks are formed.
  2. Slowly whisk in the caster sugar, continuing until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.
  3. Whisk the cream in a separate bowl until soft peaks are formed – be sure to not whisk too much otherwise it’ll curdle.
  4. Fold in the cream, egg yolks, the inside flesh of 2 figs, carob powder and syrup into the mixture until well combined.
  5. Pour into a plastic container and freeze for at least 2 hours. Serve with more fresh fig, and carob syrup, according to taste.

 

Avocado, tahini and tarragon ice cream

I want to discuss the gastronomical repercussions on the UK’s democratic decision to leave the EU. However, for the most part, I promise this blog will remain lighthearted.

Due to Britain’s dependence on importations for the food industry, our weekly shop will be significantly affected by Brexit. Only 15% of fresh fruit and 55% of fresh vegetables in the UK is grown here. For the rest, we majorly depend on trade from the EU. Currently, we depend on intra-EU imports to have access to foods our environment cannot grow. We also do not have the farming space readily available. So for example, although apples are obviously able to be grown in Britain, a staggering 76% of the apples consumed in the UK are from overseas. Over 60% of the UK’s apple orchards have been destroyed in the last 30 years meaning that Britain is dependent on imports. Our agriculture also depends on EU migrant employees for farm labour. It may seem one of the lesser ethically-important consequences, considering that the government cannot currently guarantee that EU migrants will be able to stay in their UK homes, but with a diminished workforce, our culinary creations could suffer. Without access to the single market, the import tax on our everyday basics will be increased.

I’m suffering Brexit-blues, so I’m going to provide you with some exciting international dishes which celebrate trade with international countries.

Avocado, tahini and tarragon ice cream serves 2; vegan 

avocado is naturally rich and creamy, so it produces a luxurious base for ice cream. It serves as an excellent (and healthier) dairy-free alternative to cream. No need for an ice cream churner for this vegan sweet treat. 

13633260_1201141279949055_337438849_oIngredients:

  • 2 avocados, fuerte variety
  • 50g dark muscovado sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp tahini
  • 1 and a half tsp dried tarragon

Method:

  1. Halve the fuerte avocados and remove the stones. Scoop out the fresh, chop a little, and add to the food processor.
  2. Next squeeze the juice of 1 lemon into the food processor. Be sure to remove any pips!
  3. Add the tahini, tarragon and sugar. Blend until you have an olive-green, smooth and consistent paste.
  4. Transfer into a air-tight container and put in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
  5. Scoop up and serve immediately.