It’s hard to imagine how the restaurant chain Comptoir Libanais could brandish its Lebanese identity more blatantly other than by chaining Terry Waite to a radiator in a side room and keeping him hostage.
Its recently-opened Birmingham restaurant – one of 23 in this country and the Netherlands – could hardly be more kitsch.
There’s garish stained glass, lots of tiles, hammered metal table-tops, displays of gaudy bags and boxes and paintings of various famous people wearing a fez, including a young Queen Elizabeth II.
I sought out a picture of the headgear’s most famous wearer Tommy Cooper but, alas, there could find none.
Which is regrettable for I was hoping the comedic magician might be able to wave his wand and transport me somewhere that felt more authentic.
This city’s branch of is located in Grand Central, a shopping mall that seems to me to represent the greedy Fourth Circle of Dante’s Rings of Hell.
A spare hour between business meetings – and a rumbling tummy – led me to the restaurant on a late afternoon for I fancied something light, fast and simple.
The lamb kofta fattet that I ordered ticked the boxes.
It was light if that word can be used to signify an ungenerous portion. And it arrived super-fast.
It was also simple – simply rather dull.
Under-seasoned small lamb kofta lay in a pleasant tahini and yoghurt sauce that added much-needed moisture for the meat was dry.
There were toasted shards of flatbread, but I found only one strand of the promised “crispy” onion (the correct word is “crisp”, for pity’s sake) in the earthenware bowl.
A sprinkling of tired fresh herbs and diced tomato did little to enliven things.
It was a dish that I ate with little enthusiasm as I contemplated the places that I might have visited had I not been too lazy to walk – places that are independent and a whole lot more authentic.
Morosely, I finished a glass of roomana – a pomegranate and orange blossom soft drink of such sweetness that I feared for my teeth.
Comptoir Libanais’s menu ticks a lot of boxes – mezzo, salads, tagines, grills and blah blah blah.
But, then, I’m guessing there’s been a major input from fez-clad accountants anxious to maximise their investment by ticking a whole lot of predictable boxes.
There are restaurants in Birmingham serving similar food that are way ahead, I think.
Unit 29, Grand Central, Birmingham B2 4BF. 0121 667 3160.