When Tony founded Comptoir in 2008, it was at the end of a long journey that had seen him travel from Algeria to London for a holiday – and decide to stay. He went from sleeping in Victoria station with £70 in his back pocket, to washing dishes, to opening London's first Lebanese canteen.
"I wanted people to understand about our food and our culture, and hopefully say 'One day, I want to go there.' To Lebanon, Algeria, Libya and Palestine – all these kind of countries – and for people to understand the culture there."
So, for the uninitiated, what would Tony recommend if you're getting your first taste of Lebanese cuisine? Can he give us a few dishes to get started? "That's not how we work my friend. We work with a lot of food on the table. It's mezze, if you're my guest and this is your first time eating here, I'll tell you 'Close your eyes, put your hand on the table and help yourself.'"
It's that sense of hospitality again: if Tony's going to entertain you he's going to go all out – and that's the level of passion and thought that you can expect to go into every single dish at Comptoir. His eyes light up as he takes us through a delicious list of what's on offer.
"You have so many things: hommos is a classic, I've heard that it's one of the most popular ready-made food bought in supermarkets. There's baba ghanoush, which is smoked aubergine with tahini. We have muhammara – which is a grilled red pepper dip with roasted nuts. We have labne, which is strained yoghurt – it's like a canvas, you can add anything to it. You can add some za'atar – a Lebanese spice made out of dried thyme and sesame seeds – or another spice called sumac – made with crushed, zesty, red berries from the sumac tree. You can add chopped garlic, onion, olives, mint…"
That's just the dips, folks. "Then you have the salads, fattoush, tabbouleh – Lebanon's national dish – which is chopped parsley salad with a bit of tomato. You have the stews, the grills, the man'ousha flatbreads. Man'oushe for an rab, is what pizza is for the Italians, we eat man'ousha all day from the moment we wake up. You can have it with za'atar, with yoghurt and honey, with spiced minced meat, with halloumi cheese, with feta, with spinach… We don't have enough time to get through all of this."
He's right, we don't. It serves as a good metaphor for the Comptoir experience, you should load the table with food and dig right in – and if you want to do it Tony Kitous style, you can never compromise. "If I have to go to a normal restaurant, I always order double the amount of starters, main courses and desserts. I always find an excuse, I say 'I love food, I love to share, I love to get new ideas.' But to be honest that isn't true– it's simply because I just love food!"