Never one to turn down a party, on Wednesday night I went to the opening of Comptior Libanais in Finchley Road.
It's the fourth site for this Leon-style Lebanese restaurant, which has managed to win over both Time Out's Guy Diamond (it was a runner up in the Time Out Eating and Drinking Awards last year), and the notoriously harsh Giles Coren, who was charmed by both the lamb kofte and the décor.
There's something distinctly cool about the place. Light, bright and strikingly simple, it looks like it's not trying too hard, which is always good. My friends and I barely had time to perch on a silver stool and admire the surroundings before we were offered a glass of red wine, a bottle of strawberry Fanta and a selection of juices. The Fanta had that wonderful sickly-sweet taste of childhood, while the juices – lime and mint, pink grapefruit, and pomegranate were lip-smackingly fresh.
As for the wine, I was impressed to see six whites and six reds on the menu, including Château Musar 2002. Tonight were were drinking Cave Kouroum 2005 Petit Noir, a blend of Cincault, Grenache, Carignan and Syrah my Lebanese hairdresser had insisted I try the last time he was let loose on my locks. It's from the Bekaa region, on the slopes of the Barouk Mountain. We were drinking from tumblers, so it wasn't easy to asses, but it was bursting with red fruit – cherries, red currants, raspberries and strawberries. The palate was smooth and soft, with silky tannins and a hint of pepper on the finish.
It was an ideal accompaniment to the Middle Eastern food, and boy did they roll out the food. From humous with chickpeas and olive oil, to haloumi wraps, spicy chicken parcels, pine cone shaped falafel, and little bowls of cous cous and roasted vegetables. Sybarite that I am, I tried one of everything and soon started to feel like a stuffed vine leaf. Amidst our gastrotour, a harem of belly dancers emerged in scandalously skimpy outfits. They weaved their way through the crowd, shaking their Shakira-like hips to the rhythm pounded out by the over-enthusiastic male drummers.
Through the throng came orange-clad waitresses with trays of frozen yoghurt with rose water, baclava sprinkled with pistachios, cubes of honey-drenched cake and biscuits crammed with nuts. I was too full to enjoy them, but made a gallant effort to try them all. The evening finished with jars of mint tea and a goodie bag full of Eastern treats – baclava, Turkish delight, paprika, cinnamon gum and a tin of spices.
With its laid-back demeanor, chic décor and tasty, affordable food, Comptoir Libanais have tapped into the zeitgeist and conquered a niche culture-hungry Londoners will lap up. Look out Leon.