For a welcome respite from Christmas shopping, Jo say go West to eat East
Those used to the primary colours and verve of Comptoir Libanais may not realise the connection with the pale aqua tones of Yalla Yalla but this W1 restaurant has been part of Tony Kitous’ stable of vibrant and reliable Lebanese restaurants (Levant, Kenza, Shawa) since 2008, serving the kind of staples found on every street from Beirut to Istanbul.
And this month, if you’re mad enough to go shopping in W1, it could prove to be a useful little bolthole just minutes from Oxford Circus.
The food was predictably good. There are two new Christmas menus offering Lebanese festive flavours as well as providing an alternative to the dreary procession of sprouts and stollen: Beirut Christmas Feast, £24.95, and Lebanese Christmas Feast, £29.95.
My dining companion and I shared both (then needed doggy bags as portions are very generous). In fact, a selection of starters is probably enough for two people, but in the interests of greedy research…
It’s all about authenticity. Each of Kitous’ restaurants is reliable in terms of quality and these menus kick off with a selection of mezze including falafel, halloumi cheese (in this case, a little overcooked), grassy, herby tabbouleh as it should be (none of that predominantly bulgur stuff that you find all too often in the UK).
Add in creamy hummus (plus a dayglo beetroot version to further appease vegans), textbook baba ganoush, kibbeh, cheese sambousek (crescent-shaped pastries filled with feta) and fattoush and, frankly, you could be done.
It’s the kind of food that pleases those new to Lebanese as well as old hands – neither too out there, nor too run of the mill.
If you’re ravenous, there are two mains. The charcoal-cooked mixed grill was a hefty plateful of grilled chicken breast kebabs, lamb kofta and skewers (the latter a little burnt), served with classic Lebanese rice with vermicelli and salad.
The other option was spring chicken, marinated in garlic, harissa and chilli with touches of the chargrill.
It’s not all about meat. For those who prefer fish at Christmas, try salmon shakshuka, a stew marinated in spiced tomato, onions, peppers and chilli; vegetarians can enjoy baked feta and aubergine shakshuka.
We eschewed desserts (baklava or dark chocolate and red berries cake) on the grounds of gluttony having finished us off, but rose and mint tea was a welcome finale.
My only quibble – it would be good to provide large serving spoons for transferring to plates, and the neon lighting really was a touch harsh, especially at night when lower lighting is more appealing.