I’d seen and heard lots of good things about Comptoir Libanais, the new Lebanese canteen situated pride of place at the front of the Westgate, so I was excited to finally get to try dinner there with a friend. I’ve generally found Lebanese cuisine to be vegan-friendly, and with their website’s handy vegan filter I was looking forward to sharing a hassle-free, tasty meal. Their window display featuring piles of baklava (sadly not vegan) alongside the shelves lined with other Middle-Eastern goodies does a good job at enticing you inside.
We were dining early for a Friday evening (5.30pm) and the restaurant was fairly empty because of this. My friend and I waited for a few minutes to be served, and a queue had started to form behind us before eventually a customer who was obviously in more of a rush than we were walked up into the restaurant to break up a group of staff who were standing around chatting, asking if they could deal with the queue. I probably would’ve waited a bit longer myself before making such a bold move, but was thankful to him none the less, as it didn’t look like the staff were particularly busy. Once seated, me and my friend got carried away chatting, and hadn’t had a chance to look at the menu when someone came round to take our order (obviously not their fault) so we asked them to come back in a couple of minutes. We probably waited about 20 until someone next came to our table though, and seemed to be battling to catch someone’s eye for the rest of the evening.
For the sake of sampling as much food as I could stomach for the review (ahem), I decided to try a main and a couple of mezze. I was deliberating between two which sounded like it might be possible to veganise if the dressing/sauce was removed. I checked with the waiter taking our order whether the Baba Ganuj was definitely vegan, but he had never heard the word before, which I was quite surprised at. I tried to rephrase and asked if the dip contained dairy or egg but he still didn’t understand what I meant, and had to get someone else over to help. We got there in the end and at least now hopefully any future vegans who visit won’t have the same trouble! Because of all the faff I decided I’d go for the safe option with my main and order the one I was positive was vegan, minus the garnish, the aubergine tagine.
Having ordered far too much food for one person Becky helped me out with the dip and the Batata Harra, which I’d also chosen to try. The Baba Ganuj was creamy and topped with sweet pomegranate jewels which cut through the bitterness from the tahini. I thought they were pretty stingy with the small triangles of bread that came with it, particularly for the price and compared to other Lebanese restaurants I’ve been to such as Al-Shami. The ‘Lebanese fries’ mixed with chilli and coriander were crispy but despite the seasoning (perhaps there was too little?) they weren’t particularly exciting. On the other hand, I did really love the aubergine tagine, it was perfectly seasoned and warming, and the rice mixed with vermicelli noodles was well cooked. I think had I not been so greedy and just ordered this alone, my review would have been so much more positive overall!
I wonder if the staff were just having an off night, or were still being trained up, but the service was not good at all. There were quite a lot of people working but it all seemed a bit disorganised – we had to ask three separate people for the bill before it made it’s way to us. Shortly after we were seated, another couple of girls sat down next to us, and had their orders taken, food delivered, paid their bill and left, before we had even really got started on our mains. I also really didn’t find the food great value. £20 is probably the most I’ve ever spent on what sadly was an average meal, and without a vegan pudding in sight. I might come back here to try the other main dishes (if I can find a member of staff who I’m confident understands what ‘vegan’ means) but I’d definitely give the sides/mezze a miss in future: overpriced and underwhelming.
Have you tried the Oxford Comptoir Libanais? I’d love to know if you’ve been and had a different experience – especially if there are any other vegan items on the menu you recommend!