Comptoir Libanais: a visual and culinary treat

Food Student Life

It’s easy to say the new Westgate centre has transformed the Oxford shopping scene. Much like a spaceship that has only recently touched down, the shopping centre has catapulted Oxford into the 21st century. Alongside its momentous, monochrome entrance, lies a smaller, rather more colourful establishment: a restaurant called Comptoir Libanais. Like moths to a flame, the EarthyEats team were drawn in by the pretty patterns, so popped by last Wednesday to try their wares.

What is most initially striking about the restaurant is the interior decor. Clashing patterns, colourful tiles, and more fez (what is the plural of fez?) than I have ever seen in one place before. They have baklava built in mesmerising, concentric patterns in the window, and a beautiful salad counter with fresh food laid out. The result is a space that seems fresh and exciting with every turn.

In terms of presentation, the dishes are beautiful

If the interior design is carnivalesque, the food continues the party. We are greeted by a man called Josh, (who I kept calling John via email – sorry Josh), who gives us an insight into the company’s family ethos and welcoming spirit. He tells us more information than I can detail here – or indeed, remember – but it is clear he is incredibly passionate about the food they create. He tells us the falafels are hand shaped and subject to frequent testing by their head chef; that the dressing in the Fattoush salad is ‘unlike anything’ he’s ever come across, and compares himself and the restaurant to magpies, who like to collect shiny things to put on their walls. In all, we feel informed, welcome, and touched.

Josh orders us some of their principle dishes to try. In terms of presentation, the dishes are beautiful; they are colourful, and often come garnished with pomegranate seeds and olive oil. We try the starters first.

The Cold Mezze options were so delicious, the EarthyEats team think they preferred them to the main course. Particular highlights include the hummus; creamy, smooth and fresh, and the Baba Ghanuj, which was rich and smokey. Another of our favourite dishes was the Batata Harra – potato cubes like you’ve never had them before. These were spiced with red pepper, garlic and chill, and gone before we had tried many of the other plates. We also loved the falafels, which were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. They were served with a silky yoghurt, and bright pink dead sea pickles which was a welcome salty accompaniment.

For mains, we sampled the chicken and olive tagine, the mixed grill, and the aubergine tagine. Of these, our favourite was definitely the mixed grill – the chicken in particular was smokey and tender, with an accompanying leafy salad, long grain rice, and mint yoghurt. To compliment these, we tried some halloumi bread – which reminded us of garlic bread. This was salty and seasoned to perfection.

In all, we ended our meal absolutely stuffed, and impressed. For the feast that we sampled, we thought the price was very reasonable. A meal here would cost you in the £10 – £20 range, depending on your choice of drinks and starters. Indeed, although the meal was a bargain, the Instagrams: priceless.