Tony Kitous, acclaimed restraunteur behind Levant, Pasha and Kenza, wanted to bring his love for everyday Lebanese food and culture to multicultural London, with not just a menu full of authentic yet accessible Lebanese food, but also trinkets and treasures from the region. And with that in mind, he set out to establish Le Comptoir Libanais, a place where the earthy flavors of Lebanon can be found in London’s high streets.
Khaleejesque spoke to Tony to find out more about his exciting, and delicious, concept.
How did Le Comptoir Libanais start?
Le Comptoir Libanais started with the idea that I wanted to educate Londoners about everyday Lebanese food, to show them that Lebanese food is healthy, accessible and something you could eat on a daily basis. I wanted to take the burgers, sushi and fast food concept that Londoners are so used to, and adapt it to Lebanese cuisine, to bring Lebanese food to London high streets like it's never been done before. The idea was to show Londoners that you could have Lebanese food for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day! Le Comptoir Libanais is a cultural experience, the ingredients are authentic with fresh cheeses and ingredients brought directly from the region but also you can take away little gifts and reminders of Lebanon from our shop.
What was the inspiration behind the concept?
My inspiration for this concept was deeply personal; it is my travels and childhood that you’ll find behind everything here. Even the tables have a story behind them, the red lining of the tables is found in restaurants in the Middle East, and I remember my mother telling me off for picking at the lining! Food is displayed in traditional Middle Eastern style, with everything on display and the sweets piled up high. The chairs of the restaurant are like the outdoor chairs found in houses in Lebanon. We chose a poster of a beloved Egyptian actress to be the focus of the restaurant and the tiling is similar to tiling found in old Arabic houses. I wanted to bring every day Middle Eastern life to London. For me, that was the way I wanted to represent my cultural heritage to the world.
Tell us about the menu at Le Comptoir Libanais.
Food has always been my passion, and growing up in London, I understand what Londoners want to eat. You’ll find a halloumi steak served with figs and rose syrup, grilled halloumi with tomatoes, mint and honey and a succulent lamb kofta burger. The menu features dishes that are not just average Lebanese fare, with kibbehs that are made from fish and vegetables rather than just the traditional meat and prawn falafel. I wanted to keep the menu healthy, fresh and authentic while being aware about how time conscious busy Londoners are.
Not many people in London are aware of the great selection that Lebanese food offers at breakfast so we introduced that here, with fresh Lebanese jams, organic yogurts, fresh lemonades and juices made from apple, mint and ginger amongst others. Our food is available for take away as well, for those that want to pick something up after a busy day.
The place has a distinctive Arabian Pop Art feel, tell us the story behind its design concept.
We teamed up with Rana Salam to create this poster of an Egyptian actress for the restaurant. Rana Salam is a wonderful artist, who’s worked for Paul Smith, Villa Moda and St Martin’s Lane and is also a dear friend. When we made decisions about the restaurant, we always focused on pleasing the women. Women are always so much harder to please, they have an eye for design, and I wanted to make sure that the restaurant lives up to that. The menu is light, fresh and healthy with this in mind as well.
Are there any expansion plans for Le Comptoir Libanais?
Today we have four restaurants in commercial locations with different types of people walking in every day. In London, you’ll find people of all ethnicities and walks of life, and our restaurant hopes to cater to everyone. We’d love to be in airports around the UK, and we’re working on that. We’re also considering launching our own cookbook, where we hope to continue to work with Rana Salam for its design.
For more information on the restaurant and its menu, visit their website www.lecomptoir.co.uk
– Deepti Chadalavada
Images Courtesy of Le Comptoir Libanais