MORE than 250,000 people are taking part in Veganuary, according to the Vegan Society. And many are likely to stick with the healthy eating regime, joining Britain’s growing army of 600,000 vegans.

The idea of Veganuary, for health or ethical reasons - or just for a challenge - is one thing. Actually going vegan is quite another. Vegan food is often perceived as bland (usually by people who’ve never tried it), missing flavours and ingredients we’re used to.

Not so at Comptoir Libanais, where vibrant colours and flavours of the Middle East bring an exciting indulgence to January dining.

Invited to try new vegan dishes at Comptoir Libanais in Leeds, I was excited. Frankly, they had me at “Lebanese vegan specials”. I’ve been vegetarian most of my life and occasionally have vegan dishes when dining out. And I love the blend of spices, vegetables and pulses in Middle Eastern food.

Comptoir Libanais was founded by Tony Kitous nearly 30 years ago. He’d just turned 18 when he arrived in London, with £70 in his pocket, and decided that one day he would open a restaurant there. Algerian-born Tony’s vision was for diners to “fall in love with the Middle East and its bold flavours and generous hospitality”. Today there are Comptoir Libanais branches across the UK.

Tony’s love of food stems from the kitchen, where his mother and grandmother cooked delicious meals for the family. He would often accompany his father to markets to buy ingredients for family meals. Later, when the young Tony set up a food stall outside a football stadium near his home, his mother helped him to prepare harissa and merguez sandwiches and fresh lemonade. It was on that pavement, serving football fans freshly made snacks, that Tony understood that a place to eat isn’t just about food - it’s about good hospitality and making people welcome.

We certainly felt welcome on arrival at the Leeds Comptoir Libanais. Located beneath the Everyman cinema in Trinity Leeds, it’s a fabulous casual dining venue with a bohemian vibe - rich in colour, with funky lighting, a beautifully tiled floor and shelves filled with rustic cooking pots and cloth bags.

A selection of Lebanese vegan specials is available throughout January at all Comptoir Libanais restaurants, which already have over 60per cent of the menu offering vegetarian and vegan choices. As Tony says, Middle Eastern food lends itself well to veganism, and there’s no compromising on flavour, since a lot of dishes are based around fresh vegetables, herbs and chickpeas.

The dining ethos is friendly and informal, so we mixed up the vegan specials - Hummus and Falafel with Harissa Sauce, Baked Aubergine, with pomegranate seeds, red chilli, pistachio and molasses dressing, and Slow Cooked Vegetable Tagine - with a mezze salad and hummus dip.

The quinoa tabbouleh, with tomato, mint and onion, was brimming with fresh flavours. We scooped it up in warm flatbread, along with the tasty hummus and falafel in a delicious harissa sauce with pickled turnips. The vegetable tagine - tomato, pepper, aubergine, onion and chickpea stew served with couscous, quinoa or vermicelli rice (we chose rice) - was divine. A perfect hearty dish for a winter lunch. Too full for dessert, we enjoyed refreshing rose mint tea, served in a silver teapot.

The place was bustling with groups of friends and families, and the friendly staff were full of enthusiasm about each dish. With such a lovely vibe, and delicious, freshly-cooked food at reasonable prices, it was a wrench to leave. I won’t need Veganuary as an excuse to return.

* Comptoir Libanais Leeds, Albion Street, Leeds. Visit or call (0113) 3509751.