Comptoir Libanais, O2 Centre, Finchley Road

Update May 2010 - The O2 Centre branch of this restaurant is now closed.

Scores out of 5: Veggie friendly : 5/5; Vegan-options available: Yes; Value for money: 4.5/5, Quality of cooking : 3.5/5; Ambience : 4/5; Service: 4/5 ;Atmosphere: 3/5

Earlier this week, a new branch of the popular Middle Eastern chain Comptoir Libanais opened at the O2 centre in Finchley Road , thus injecting a small amount of diversity into a fairly bog-standard shopping centre in NW London.

We visited just 2 days after Comptoir had opened and I for one, was impressed by the warm yet unsimpering welcome accorded to us. The waiting staff are fresh-faced youngsters and this branch has an unusual laid-back yet upbeat buzz. The walls are decorated with artisan bags, Lebanese goods and glossy posters and the ambience is pretty vibrant.

There is a kebab shop-style rotating grill at the front display, but don't let that put you off ordering the dishes if you're strictly veggie. We have been assured that they are careful not to cross-contaminate and have separate fryers for chips too.

For our meal, we ordered the Baba Ghanuj (a smoked aubergine dip) served with warm pitta breads and an olive and halloumi wrap. We also had a side order of the spiced Levantine fries and sampled the non-alcoholic raspberry beer from Lebanon, which was tart, quite refreshing and a bit like continental fruit beers.

The pitta breads that accompanied the Baba Ghanuj were fresh and warm; the dip itself was okay-ish, not quite smokey aubergine-y enough for me, but nice enough. The wrap was served warm, stuffed with the halloumi cheese and olives and very tasty. I asked the manager if they check for slaughter-byproducts and rennet especially in cheese-based dishes. He looked perplexed and said he would ask the chef. The chef didn't know either, but when I offered to check the cheese packaging for ingredients, he willingly brought the wrapping to me. It contained non-animal rennet, so that was good. And the manager said (unprompted) that now he knew what to look for, he would. So that was quite reassuring.

The spiced Levantine chips were the highlight of our meal. Little golden morsels of potato coated in a mildly spicy selection of Middle Eastern spices and paprika. Very more-ish and certainly one on the re-order list. I would suggest that you order two portions if you do like your chips, because the portions served are quite tiny.

All in all, I was very impressed by Comptoir Libanais. Except for a few minor teething problems (they had billed the wrong items on our bill), this little restaurant certainly is of a high standard and well-deserving of the five star reviews it has received in the London press. Our bill totted up to under £15 for two including a drink and that, to me, is definitely value for money given the quality of the food. Comptoir Libanais has certainly brought some charm to the rather soulless O2 centre and spiced up the mix of restaurants, and I for one am going to visit again.

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