OF ALL the new arrivals at the Westgate, none have caught the eye of Oxford diners as keenly as Comptoir Libanais.

A strong reason is its enviable location – right at the main entry to the centre with street access from Bonn Square. What, a few years ago, would have been considered an unfashionable, even insalubrious, address is now shopping and eating ‘ground zero’ – the city’s new centre of gravity.

But it takes more than location alone to pull people in – and that’s what Comptoir Libanais has been doing since day one – with queues forming outside before they’d even opened the doors.

It’s understandable. The restaurant looks like an Aladdin’s cave – a colourful space lined with bright tiles, Moroccan teapots and fez hats hung from the walls beside bright pictures and stained glass. There are unfamiliar-looking oils and sauces from North Africa and the Middle East beside piles of pomegranates and brightly-coloured preserved fruit. In a world: exotic.

The space inside is vast but broken up into convivial booths – some spaces perhaps a little bit too convivial, especially on the smaller tables.

It is also made cosier by low lighting from dim lamps and tealights. While certainly romantic and adding to that air of exoticism, it may be just a little too dark. Arriving early in the evening and seated close to the window, we found it almost impossible to read the menu, relying on the torch on our phones to decipher it.

Still, it all added to the sense of adventure.

Sat beneath silver teapots and pretty Turkish-style lights it felt more like being in a souk than just off Queen Street. And, fortunately, the same goes for the food which is authentic with no ‘watering down’ for western tastes.

We started, as one must, with mezze. Taking care not to let curiosity get the better of us and over-order, we kept it simple with a silky smooth hummus (£4.95), pleasantly smoky baba ghanuj (£5.50) – the baked aubergine given a sharp edge with lemon juice and, pleasingly, fresh pomegranate seeds – and, best of all, muhammara (£5.95) – a wonderful dip of ground roasted nuts, roasted red pepper, cumin and olive oil. It was sublime – the pepper giving a subtle warming heat to the smooth scoops of tangy nutty loveliness, which we heaped on to floppy triangles of pita. I could have eaten it all night. In fact I may well go back and do exactly that.

We also had some pleasantly spiced chargrilled ‘jawaneh’ chicken wings (£5.50 for five) prepared with garlic, lemon and pomegranate molasses. They were succulent, just a little sweet, bursting with flavour... and disappeared in seconds.

Feeling hungry and going on a recommendation from our cheery waiter, we next went for a mixed grill (£13.95) – a generous plate of grilled lamb and chicken kofta and chargrilled chicken shish taouk.

The meat was abundant, and while a little dry, was rescued by being dolloped into pots of creamy labne yoghurt and harissa sauce. It was served with vermicelli rice – super plump and unfeasibly long-grains mixed with pasta. It worked perfectly.

We also shared (because, after all, that’s what Lebanese food is all about) an aubergine tagine (£9.50) which was rich and fragrant – a delicious tomato and chickpea sauce cooled by a dollop of mint yoghurt. A little more sauce might have been welcome but that is, perhaps, being over picky. It was served with the same wonderful rice – though you could also choose couscous or quinoa instead.

These were washed down with light Almaza Lebanese beer (£3.95) and a slightly heavier, and more refreshing Casablanca (£4.25) from Morocco, of course, and sent on their way with a plate of oh-so-sweet bacalava (six pieces for £3.95) – gooey, flaky, syrupy and deceptively filling, they were possibly the best I've had this side of Istanbul.

This is comfort food, Middle East style: fun, relaxing, and while not especially cheap, it is tantalisingly tasty.

I'll certainly be back.

* Comptoir Libanais, the Westgate, Oxford. comptoir libanais.com