Living in South Manchester, there’s more Middle Eastern food knocking about round me than you can shake a pitta at, but it’s not a cuisine that has been blessed the city centre with many options in the past. Spinningfields, perhaps more than any other area of the city, has seen an influx of restaurants representing all corners of the globe over the past couple of years but as yet there had been nowhere offering those classic mezzes of dips, breads and kebabs that have become so popular in the UK over the last decade. Comptoir Libanais or ‘Lebanese Canteen’ is set to change all that as the London originating brand sets up shop in Manchester with it’s first branch outside of the capital.
Given that a lot of the dishes on offer are made for sharing, you’re best off going in a decent sized group to give you the best chance of getting through as much as possible. There were just the two of us so we left without trying plenty of stuff, it being Christmas plenty of our fellow diners were in large parties and had proper tablefuls of food, it looks like a good shout for sharers. We did manage to get through a couple of beers throughout the evening. First Almaza, a solid Lebanese pilsner, and then the delicious Tickety Brew Pale Ale, it’s always nice to see restaurants supporting local producers and this stuff deserves it.
To start we had the lamb sambousek, 3 little spiced pastry bites served with a mint yoghurt sauce, tasty empanada like morsels with a soft doughy texture stuffed with tender lamb mince and pine nuts. Jawaneh were juicy marinated chicken wings, charred and crispy. When dipped in the accompanying harissa and garlic sauces they’re a real treat. To seal the deal batara harra, a bowl of crunchy cubed potatoes also benefited from a a dip in those condiments.
We had tried to mix things up a bit with the starters rather than going for the ubiquitous falafel and hummus, but then opted for more of a street food favourite with a mixed grill of lamb and chicken koftas plus chicken shish. It was the best thing we ate, the koftas in particular were the sort of indulgent hunks of glistening meat that make the world of Instagram drool. Similarly photogenic but in truth a little overcooked, a golden, molasses cured salmon fillet scattered with pomegranate seeds that always manage to taste as vibrant as they look.
For dessert it’s hard to resist the baklava, we had the selection of 5 and they were a little dry but went down well alongside rose mint tea. Our waiter also recommended the mango and vanilla cheesecake, it was a good call, a beautifully thick wedge of creamy, slightly crumbly baked cake topped with a mango jelly layer, the slice finished us off.
There are plenty of good reasons to head to Spinningfields for dinner these days, the competition is fierce, and you’d have to say Comptoir Libanais only adds weight to that argument. I enjoyed most of what we ate and the service was friendly and also surprisingly brisk given the amount of full tables that evening. They managed to pull off laid back without the staff being too laid back if you know what I mean. It’s too soon to say if this place will become a real favourite in town but I reckon most visitors will leave more than satisfied.