‘Food is the way to a man’s stomach’, as the saying goes, and nothing could be truer when that man is entrepreneurial restauranteur Tony Kitous. I was lucky enough to catch up with Tony and speak to him about how he has ‘put the glamour into Middle Eastern cuisine’ with his Comptoir Libanais restaurants in London.
all images via C.M. Franke and Le Comptoir Libanais
Originally from Algeria, Tony has been blazing a trail through London’s restaurant scene since he first arrived in England as a young whippersnapper aged 18. Having fallen in love with the catering business, he opened his first restaurant at the tender age of 22 but quickly realised that he wanted to dedicate his career to bringing the food and culture of the Middle East to the people on the streets.
‘Our culture has a lot to offer. First and foremost is our cultural notion of hospitality. So when I put something together, it’s an experience. It’s all about how you present the food, the way you eat the food. The idea is food to share, I want to do as much as possible where people eat together and learn about our culture.’
Le Comptoir Libanais is arguably London’s hippest Lebanese restaurant, with Warhol-esque faces on the walls and stylish retro touches such as old tins of tomato puree and spices. The atmosphere is laid back and welcoming, more of a café than a restaurant, and as well as selling everything from hoummus to tabbouleh, it also stocks an array of spices and ingredients, as well as handmade Moroccan products from the souqs of Marrakech.
Over a cup of mint tea and the ubiquitous baklava (Middle Eastern sweet pastries), Tony explains how Comptoir Libanais isn’t just about good food and chic decor, but how opening the first in the series of restaurants has been a highly personal experiment for this seasoned entrepreneur:
‘I wanted to create something of my own. I wanted to recreate my childhood memories of growing up in Algeria. From the floor tiles like the ones in my grandparents’ house, to the way we serve sweets – the way that I remember when I was a child.’
It’s perhaps this combination of style and personality that has made the Comptoir Libanais so popular, but despite its fashionability, Tony insists that all he wants to do is bring people together and teach them about his food and his culture. ‘This is the sort of food you don’t have to understand to appreciate. It’s like music,’ he says ‘it’s the kind of food you eat with your hands, you share it with people, you interact with them’.
Tony is a great example of how having vision and drive can turn the seed of an idea into something that really inspires people – and how one young man from Algeria can change the face of restaurant culture in one of the world’s largest cities.
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