“We’re trying to break all stereotypes surrounding Middle Eastern dining,” says Ergun Elmas, the co-owner of Souk, a new restaurant in the CBD. “The dishes are as far from traditional as possible.” Elmas has come from managing his uncle’s Turkish restaurant Lezzet in Elwood, and Arabesque in Elsternwick.
So at Souk, you’ll find dukkah-covered soft shell crab served in pita pockets, and fattoush salad comes in crispy zaatar bread cones.
In the kitchen is Mexican-born head chef Rogelio Almanza, who has spent the last decade in the kitchens of Tokyo's Conrad Hotel and the Los Cabos Hilton, Mexico.
"Getting to know Middle Eastern flavours has been a challenge," Almanza says. "But the presence and reliance on spices in both cuisines makes it easier."
"I've applied some Mexican techniques to particular dishes, too. For example the pulled lamb is cooked in a banana leaf, barbacoa–style."
KFC here stands for “Kuwaiti fried chicken”, which is paired with a harissa toum (Lebanese garlic sauce). Chargrilled octopus comes with muhammara (red pepper and walnut dip). Wines come from Turkey, Lebanon and Greece.
Souk occupies the space that used to house laneway bar The Deanery. Artist Tom Adair – known as Juan Mcarb – and interior designer Robyn Levin transformed the interior, which seats 130 upstairs and has a separate bar downstairs. The bar is drenched in pink light with graphic murals on the wall, and there’s lots of neon throughout.
"Tom did a lot of research into different Arabic sayings and incorporated them into his artwork," says co-owner Vlad Kovacevic.
One of the murals, for example, is an Arabic idiom that states “the eye doesn’t go higher than the brow”, which is a “way of saying don’t go higher than your given status”, Kovacevic says.
You’ll find the entrance to the restaurant at the end of Bligh Place – you won’t miss the large neon pink sign. It’s not until you get nearer that you realise it says “Souk”, written backwards – an homage to the fact that Arabic is read right to left.
13 Bligh Place, Melbourne
(03) 8597 5444
Mon to Fri 11.00am–late
Sat to Sun 5.00pm–late