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22 November 2017


i have a love/hate relationship with middle eastern food, mainly because it's one of those cuisines that tends to be very hit and miss with it's onion content. it also falls into the "beige food" camp, which can sometimes lend itself towards the plain and boring, instead of the tasty and fragrant that you tend to expect from dishes hailing from that part of the world, but moreover: i've spent very little time in the middle east - bar a quick stop over in dubai and a couple of days in turkey a few years ago, i've just not yet explored that side of the globe. and, i have no immediate plans to - with the exception of cyprus in the new year (which i know isn't entirely middle eastern, but it's damn close), so my only option really, is to try as much of the foods as i can, when i can. if that means sampling a christmas menu at a lebanese restaurant in soho, then i will. i'll do my part. i'm good like that.

comptoir libanais founder, tony kitous, has worked with his team of chefs, mixologists, and suppliers to create a variety of menus for the holiday period that reflect the hospitality and warmth shown in homes all over the middle-east. delicious sharing dishes big enough to fill the table allow guests to taste the flavours of lebanon, while also enjoying sharing the dishes with each other. the middle-eastern feast menu is only £29.95 per person, and has been designed by tony himself to create a playful twist on the traditional flavours he associates with christmas, while still showing off and highlighting the fragrant herbs and spices of the very un-beige middle-east.

the menu comes with a glass of prosecco on arrival for each guest, and offers a huge selection of mezze to share, including both meat and veggie options. this menu is ideal for those who want to celebrate with more food (me) and have a larger selection of the delicious flavours that comptoir libanais has to offer. the mains options include shakshukas, koftas and tagines, with either slow-cooked lamb, marinated roasted salmon, grilled turkey or baked aubergine and feta. The salmon shakshuka (marinated roasted salmon, in a spiced tomato and onion stew) is a deliciously light yet filling option, and - despite the onion, is bladdy delicious! it was a real game changer for me, as someone who's never considered seafood as a very middle-eastern choice. but for those again like me, who enjoy a bit of fish at christmas, the seabass sayadieh (marinated roasted sea bass served with spiced rice, pine nuts, and crispy onions, with a spiced tahina and yoghurt sauce) is sure to bring much comfort and joy (comfort and joy).. because it was the best thing i ate all night.

the christmas "puddings" offer a grand finale to the meals, and are served family-style with guests sharing them from across the long tables. this year, the desserts include orange blossom and spiced lebanese fruits, mouhalabia (a lebanese milky pudding), and a selection of christmas baklawas - that look a lot like regular baklawas: delicate pastries with nuts and honey, as well as chocolate, ginger and orange flavours – perfect for christmas and all served with a traditional fresh rose mint tea. or, prosecco, if you're me. it's always prosecco if you're me.

the first comptoir libanais was opened because tony wanted a restaurant that could give its customers a ‘souk style’ middle-eastern experience, from the decoration, food and generous hospitality. the dishes are prepared using authentic, home-style recipes, and the food is also available to takeaway - something i did not know until i saw it happening. to be honest, the only comptoir libanais restaurant i had been to prior to that night was the one at gatwick airport. now that i've been properly, i'll definitely be back. it's obvious that tony is passionate about every tiny detail when it comes to the comptoir libanais experience, and it's an experience i'll remember as colourful, noisy, and deliciously tasty, for a very long time. merry lebanese christmas, you hungry animals!

*i was a guest of comptoir libanais, but all thoughts are my own.