Recently I went on a mum-date with Pip, an award winning food blogger known as The Slimming Foodie. We last saw each other 6 months ago, which as every mum knows is a normal amount of time for last seeing a good friend: arranging to meet up is like trying to get two children out of the door in the morning: it requires planning, persistence and a stroke of luck! So we could hardly believe it when we found ourselves shuttling into Exeter on a Saturday night to sample some Lebanese food and wine; and to catch up, uninterrupted.
We thanked the taxi more times than was needed (he had brought us to freedom!) and got out at Exeter’s Queen Street Dining Quarter. As we adjusted to walking in heels, we could hardly contain ourselves taking in this completely revamped part of the city. What was previously Exeter’s dated shopping centre is now a foodies dream: with exciting eatery after eatery; buzzing with the locals tucking into new flavours and embracing the city’s new brand of cool. I think we realised even before we dined at Comptoir Libanais that we would be coming back for more…as we past each restaurant’s cheerful exterior, I was saying (much like my toddler) “I want to eat there…and there…oh, and there…”.
Talking of small people, the mum-radar is never totally switched off, is it? I noticed a few children eating out with their families. Whilst I was grateful for a night off, I will be definitely trying the food with my little munchkins at some point in the future. The manager at Comptoir Libanais told me they very much welcome little ones: there is a set Children’s Menu and he has obviously thought about the practicalities too: because there are high-chair friendly tables and easy pram access. The menu would certainly appeal to their tiny tastebuds: my girls can quite easily polish off a tub of hummus with my clumsily prepared crudités; so the very generous mezze platter to share would go down a storm. As it was, Pip and I had the pleasure of sharing it just between us: so many gorgeous flavours!! Baba ghanuj (cooked aubergine with tahina); hommos; tabbouleh (a vegetarian dish including tomatoes, parsley, mint, bulgur, and onion) falafel; lentil salad; cheese sambousek, pickles & pita bread…this really is my favourite kind of eating – trying lots of different flavours in small portions.
And what did we drink? Well, it would have been rude not to try the vodka lemonade cocktails that Comptoir Libanais have on offer. There’s a great selection to choose from: I opted for pomegranate and rose flavour, with a cheeky addition of gin. It was tasty but next time I will keep to the tradional vodka (I think the problem is, the answer “gin” rolls off my tongue much too easily these days…).
As I took a sip of my fancy gin I looked around at the restaurant’s vibrant interior: bright splashes of colour and bold patterns: from the tables to the geometric floor and ceramic tiles; to the vintage portrait of the Arabic actress, Sirine Jamal al Dine, who is the face of the Comptoir Libanais brand. The place was bustling yet relaxed; for mid January I was surprised to see how many people were out!
After having a chat with the manager, we sampled the wine. I am a bit stuck in my ways when it comes to the grape; I love a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc the most and then a…Sauvignon Blanc. So I was happy to go with Pippa’s suggestion for a change, which was a sweeter, fruity wine. We chose the house Lebanese white : Clos St Alphonse: it was very fragrant, definitely fruity and incredibly drinkable…it went perfectly with the food so I would recommend choosing this one, whatever preconceptions you have about your wine preference.
We eventually polished off our starter platter (tip: the platter for two is very LARGE) and moved onto our main: I chose a beautifully made aubergine tagine with couscous. It is reasonably priced at £8.95 and is absolutely delicious, healthy and filling. It’s basically baked aubergine in a rich tomato & chickpea sauce and garnished with mint yoghurt. I’d love to make it at home as I think it’s the perfect dish to warm up our bellies during this cold spell, packed full of vitamins and easily mushed up for Babe. (There are actually cookbooks available from the restaurant, which are now on my wish-list…)
We found the service very efficient but relaxed – just the right balance (as Pippa put it perfectly: not at all “licky”!!). The staff talked enthusiastically about the food options available, but in a genuine way, it is obvious that they love to eat what they serve. The passion stems down from the main man, Tony Kitous, who’s vision is to show off his home country’s food to the Western World. He has incorporated his own childhood memories into the decor and the dishes; to fuse happiness and love with food! I’m all for that kind of thing.
Pudding for me was Pomegranate & Orange Blossom Fat-Free Frozen Yogurt as I needed something light and palate cleansing: it was a lovely finish to the meal. For those who prefer a more substantial pudding there were a variety of Lebanese cakes, pastries and ice creams available, prices ranging from 2.95 to 4.95. To accompany it we both had traditional Middle Eastern Fresh Rose Mint Tea, which came in a sweet silver teapot. This tea was really refreshing and sweet, a perfect digestif.
The food was absolutely delicious, fresh and healthy; and the atmosphere relaxed and friendly; exactly what you want from a restaurant. I also thought the prices made it an affordable option, and noticed this was across the menu for different meals of the day.
In summary, we had a fantastic mum-date and next time I’m in Exeter, whether it is for breakfast or lunch or a quick take-out, I will certainly be popping in again.
I carried out this review in exchange for a meal at Comptoir Libanais.
The above review is my honest opinion, in my own words with factual information on the restaurant’s history and ethos provided by their manager and via their website.