Comptoir Libanais (Southwark, London, UK)

One of the peculiar things about regularly visiting London is that with a few exceptions, over the past 16 years we’ve generally exhausted the list of “standard” tourist attractions (some of them multiple times), which gives us a chance to have more relaxing visits focusing on friends, new restaurants, and revisits to favorite haunts. But one of the long-lingering items of standard tourist attractions still remaining on the list was actually visiting the Observation Deck on Tower Bridge, which way back in 2014 even got a nice upgrade with the addition of a glass floor. It’s actually a great spot, especially for gazing over the Thames or Tower of London complex, and highly recommended. Afterward, we were looking for a light lunch away from the crowds as we walked back to Westminster from Tower Bridge, and ended up going to a favorite of my brother and sister-in-law, Comptoir Libanais.

I don’t often review chains here, but Comptoir is worth making an exception. It’s a chain with many London locations (and a handful in the rest of Europe), but it fall nicely into a niche that London does quite well: interesting “fast casual food”. In the case of Comptoir Libanais, the focus is on freshly prepared Lebanese food, with a variety of locations spread throughout London. This location, in part of the London Bridge Station complex adjacent to the Shipwright Arms pub, is quite nicely decorated, with a combination of an nice, open space decorated with plenty of colorful date cans and hanging lanterns, and plenty of seating both in and in front of the restaurant.

One of the things that immediately drew my eye on their menu was a good selection of beverages. In Middle-Eastern places I often like having a rose-water lemonade, and Comptoir offers ones (the “Roza”), but they also offer a slate of other, similar lemonade mixtures, and I opted for the Toufaha, a lemonade with a blend apple, mint, and ginger, making this a rather refreshing option for the relatively warm day we visited.

When it comes to Lebanese food, I’ve got a favorite I always look for, and that’s Kofta, grilled, spiced meatballs. They serve up both lamb and chicken kofta in a number of varieties at Comptoir, including as a salad, the “kofta roll” in a brioche bun, the kofta wrap, or a simple kofta “grill plate” with a salad. I ended up going for the last of these, a chicken kofta grill plate. The kofta itself was nicely presented and excellent: cooked to a perfect grilled sear with a surprisingly bold amount of spice, a sweet pepper, and a garlic sauce. This was very flavorful and enjoyable, and the accompanying house “Comptoir Salad” was quite good mix of lettuce, cucumber, and pomegranate. I’d happily get this again.

Sophie opted for a vegetarian take, getting the falafel salad, and this was also nicely presented as a generous portion of four large falafel over a Lebanese salad with pickled turnips and a lot of tahini. The falafel were very nicely deep-fried to a perfect fritter consistency, and paired very nicely with the turnip and tahini (making me reminisce about many college outing in Michigan to Woody’s Oasis, who still puts out a good falafel).

Overall, Comptoir Libanais was a nice example of the sort of chain we really need more of: thoughtfully-composed, fresh food with good, bold flavors and friendly staff. I’d gladly return the next time I’m looking for a refreshing and flavorful meal in that part of London.

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