I have never been to Comptoir Libanais before, it’s a bit of an admission given it’s reputation in Exeter being so positive. And everyone else I know who, has any sense of ‘what is good food’ has already been.
OK not everyone, but I feel that my first visit was a prelude to everyone else saying ‘oh you’ll love it’ and ‘their vegetarian stuff is amazing!’ and I can say happily that, yes, I did love it and they have a super selection of things for vegetarians and vegans. We were invited (we didn’t pay) to come along and give our two-cents about one of Exeter’s more popular go-to restaurants.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the whole ethical eating thing is important and very much in the headlights of trend for good reason. Eat less meat/Eat no meat is on the lips of various activists around the world, and although not all of us will agree that this is the way to sort things out once and for all, we can all agree that eating less meat is something we all need to do. And Comptoir Lib is the place to start.
It’s been four years since Comptoir opened along with many other restaurants, as part of the Queen St. Dining Quarter. A whole new development that would attract diners to Exeter, showcasing fine restaurants and placing Exeter in a whole new league of ‘places you go to because the dining scene is amazing’.
Some of them were just new, independent chains that were starting out, breaking out from where they had been born (KuPP, Absurd Bird) and others were firm favourites with restaurants goers – there was a notable lack of local independents apart from The Terrace, but that’s a story for another day.
Turtle Bay, GBK, Absurd Bird, KuPP, and Polpo, replaced by Pho, Comptoir, The Stable, The Terrace. All of them opened to fanfare and pomp – and did they all survive? No. We said goodbye to KuPP, GBK and Polpo. But Exeter has really accepted Comptoir as one of their favourite places. This is evident by how busy they are, and how high accepted they seem to be.
First thing you notice when you walk in is the bags. Gilding and colours really stand out, if the designers were going for a feeling of stepping into North Africa, then I feel this was mostly achieved. It still has a feeling of casual-dining to it, it’s familiar and safe but at the same time will have you looking around at the bags and assorted ephemera dotted about.
The menu has authentic sounding names which are hard to pronounce. For the more exciting diner, there are other options, including some quite traditional ones too.
Halloumi & Za’taar Man’ousha Flat Bread £6.95
Falafel (chickpea patties, coriander, parsley, peppers, pickled turnips, tahini sauce £5.45
Spiced Salmon Shakshuka £13.45
Spinach Fatayer (Baked pastry, filled with spinach, feta cheese, sumac, pomegranite seeds & molasses, onion, pine nuts and olive oil £9.95
Almaza beer £4.25
Pinot Grigio £7.55
The standard of food was very high – the tastes and clearly the freshness of ingredients spoke through the strong complex tastes that this sort of the cuisine can bring you. For me, my main was an absolute delight, presented in a tagine with slow cooked tomatoes, peppers and olives, the salmon was meaty enough that it worked well with the strong tastes from the rest of the dish.
My flat bread was more so like a cheesey flat bread with the glorious addition of oodles of halloumi which made this a perfect appetiser.
Tori’s Fatayer was a cocophony of fresh flavours with a whole heap of different salad vegetables. I said to Tori that it was ‘like a salad garden had exploded and ended up in my mouth’, when I had a taste.
We didn’t do a dessert because, well, I know my limits. The drinks were nice enough, I had some Lebanese brand of pilsner and Tori had an Italian Pinot which was a nice accompaniment. Service was always attentive and pleasant.
Exeter has a diverse range of restaurants. Beyond the confines of the centre of Exeter, there are other restaurants that serve a global cuisine but Comptoir has the familiarity of a casual-dining set-up but with some more exotic additions then you might find beyond the usual mainstay.
It’s popular for a reason too as it is good value. There are also a whole heap of choice for vegetarian and vegan diners too, which go beyond the usual fare. On weekends, booking is essential, this place is popular.
The meal provided in this review was gratis. Views expressed are independent of the business and is not seen or approved before publication.