Tony Kitous is known as the man who made Lebanese glamorous with his Pasha and Kenza restaurants, but he’s channeling a whole new side with Comptoir Libanais. Hg2 caught up with him to get the low-down…
What was the inspiration for Comptoir?
It has been a life long dream to bring Lebanese food to Britain, there’s a fantastically diverse food scene, with so many cuisines from different countries. I knew it was the perfect place to introduce Lebanese street food and home-style casual dining. Affordable and accessible Lebanese cuisine on the high street is way overdue – it’s food that is healthy, full of flavour and easy to incorporate into your lifestyle.
What are you trying to create with the venture?
I wanted to make it fresh and welcoming, with a light and airy ambience. I wanted to see people enjoying the experience over a pot of mint tea, a quick lunchtime wrap, sharing a mezze with friends or a more leisurely evening meal – you don’t have to sacrifice comfort, style or authenticity of food just because the dining is casual.
The décor’s great, why did you choose it?
The bold, fresh design is an expression of my personality and there are lots of influences from my childhood and all the different places I have lived and travelled. It reflects my memories of growing up, as well as my life now and my perception of Lebanon. The monochrome geometric tiling evokes memories of my grandparents’ courtyard and the laminated tables and metal chairs remind me of popular men’s cafes in the Middle East. My friend, designer and collector of vintage pop art, Rana Salam, had an old Arabic movie poster at his house and I decided to use the actresses face as the brand’s logo.
Where else are you hoping to open?
For the time being we are concentrating on openings in London, before expanding elsewhere. We are currently focusing on our opening in South Kensington at the end of November. People from all over the world are approaching me to open Comptoir Libanais in places such as Beirut, Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona but we’re not quite ready to go international yet. I’d love to see Comptoir Libanais in New York!
What is your favourite dish on the menu?
Simple grilled halloumi steak served with figs in rose syrup.
Aside from your own places, where do you go to eat in London?
I love eating on Brick Lane for Indian and Stoke Newington for Turkish. I go to West Kensington for Iranian and to Park Royal for some Lebanese street food.
When you’re not in London, where do you like to be, and where do you eat, drink and stay?
Beirut, it has an energy that I have never felt before. Marrakech is also just magical. If I’m in Beirut I like staying at the Albergo Hotel, a beautiful boutique hotel, and I eat at Al Falamanki. I also enjoy going up to the restaurants in the mountains. When I stay at my house in Marrakech I eat Moroccan street food at the Jemaa El Fna market.
And finally, what makes you a hedonist?
My love of travel through the Middle East and finding delicious street food! I also really enjoy seeing people walking into my restaurants – you see the look on their face and the excitement they get and it makes everything worthwhile.
Buy the Beirut guide here
Buy the Marrakech guide here