Le­banese food in fo­cus

HI­LARY SCOTT vis­its Comp­toir Libanais in Read­ing’s The Or­a­cle and is whisked to Le­banon and all its de­lights. Pic­tures by DI­JANA CA­PAN

The Wokingham Paper - - LEISURE -

YOU can­not fail to no­tice the new branch of Comp­toir Libanais on The Or­a­cle’s River­side.

A multi-coloured glit­ter­ing box with a ter­race, it looks ex­cit­ing.

And it is – for packed into this lit­tle box are all the colours, flavours and smells of Le­banese food, the most un­der­rated food un­til a few years ago, when it spread out of Lon­don.

Flo­ral chairs, se­quinned bas­kets, sil­ver teapots, retro boxes of Turk­ish De­light, big bowls of nougat and pas­tries are crammed into nooks and cran­nies and pic­tures of fa­mous faces wear­ing fezzes like Nel­son Man­dela, Bob Mar­ley and Ge­orge Michael adorn the walls.

And while the in­te­rior is glo­ri­ously kitsch, the real glory is in the food.

Our mezze plat­ter (£9.95 for one) was packed – silky hu­mous spiked with chick­peas, satiny baba ganoush, sumac-dusted pitta, a nutty freekeh salad, a ver­dant tab­bouleh, grilled minty hal­loumi and neon pink pick­les.

It’s £16.95 for two but you need a big ap­petite.

A fat­toush salad, a favourite of mine, was ex­cel­lent – crispy Ro­maine, toma­toes, onion, mint and pars­ley with lit­tle slices of toasted pitta and dot­ted with pome­gran­ate seeds (there are lots of pome­gran­ate seeds on dishes which we loved).

We fin­ished off our vodka lemon­ades – mine an ap­ple, gin­ger and mint va­ri­ety and my din­ing com­pan­ion’s pome­gran­ate and or­ange blos­som - with our mezze and just ev­ery­thing was zing­ing with flavour.

Our mains were equally gen­er­ous – a lamb and green peas tagine (£10.95) was but­tery lamb, green peas and baby car­rots in a spiky tomato and co­rian­der sauce with cous­cous was pro­nounced divine.

And what we left of the big por­tion we got to take away.

My Chicken Shish Taouk (£10.45) was six hefty chunks of ten­der mar­i­nated chicken breast with gar­lic, ap­ple vine­gar and thyme served with a sweet roasted tomato and ver­mi­celli rice (rice and ver­mi­celli strands).

It had a dol­lop of minty yo­gurt on the rice and two dip­ping sauces – creamy and sharp yo­gurt and warm­ing harissa.

I defy you not to ask for a rest be­tween mains and dessert – the ar­ray of bak­lawa dot­ted around will mean you will be tempted too.

Af­ter a de­cent pause, we plumped for a se­lec­tion of six pieces of bak­lawa (£4.25 and a dis­cus­sion with our lovely Al­ge­rian waiter Adam about the pro­nun­ci­a­tion of bak­lawa as I used the Greek way!).

Th­ese came dot­ted with sliv­ers of pis­ta­chio nuts and were drenched in syrup. A real taste of hol­i­days and though I have no idea what it’s called my favourite was the di­a­mond shaped one with a thick nut fill­ing. We also had the pret­ti­est Rose Mouha­l­abia Milk Pud­ding (£4.45), a tra­di­tional Le­banese milk pud­ding flavoured with rose syrup and toasted pis­ta­chios. This was not over­sweet as we had thought it would be and proved a re­ally re­fresh­ing fi­nale. Comp­toir Libanais’s staff could not have been more help­ful – su­per­vi­sor Vic­to­ria and waiter Adam happy to ex­plain dishes and give rec­om­men­da­tions. We were so full af­ter we could not face pick­ing a flavour of Turk­ish De­light to take home – de­cid­ing to pop in an­other day just for that. The pack­ets and boxes start at un­der £3.

I don’t think I have en­joyed a meal out more this year – the Le­banese flavours are bang on and the at­mos­phere is great.

Don’t wait un­til you’re on a shop­ping trip to go there – it re­ally is worth a trip just to eat there.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.