It’s safe to say that when it comes to Melbourne’s Armenian food scene, chef Garen Maskal (also Sezar, The Black Toro, and formerly of Ezard) has earned his seat at the table.

With his cousins Aret and Sasoon Arzadian, Maskal opened the sleek and dimly lit CBD fine diner Sezar in 2013. Their next offering, the more paired-back Shukah (which means “marketplace” in Armenian) opened in May 2017 on the Windsor end of Chapel Street.

The 52-seat space was designed with the help of Erika Lancini Design, with minor but characteristic flourishes such as the slightly cavernous white-paint brick walls.

Maskal gathers flavours from all over Europe and the Middle East to creates rustic, peasant-style tapas dishes that seem somehow new and recognisable at the same time. His hummus, for example, is served with a volcanic oozing of sweet and nutty brown butter; or there’s the air-dried beef basturma, which originally comes from Turkey. Maskal coats it with paprika and cumin, serving it with garlic jam on toasted brioche and a quail egg.

More common Armenian offerings include the four-plate starter mezze, with coffee-roasted carrots and wheat berries; roasted beetroot with tahini and dill; tomatoes with stringy cheese, and nigella and a sort of eggplant ratatouille.

Manti dumplings are also a go-to on most Armenian tables, which Maskal prepares toasted and parcelled like crispy little wontons stuffed with spiced lamb, served with garlic yoghurt and sumac.

The tender charred octopus is a must. Maskal serves this with pistachio and olive salsa and a dollop of labne. The taste lingers with a question mark on the tip of your tongue. Greek? Turkish? Armenian? Who cares.

Larger feast-sized dishes include a pomegranate-glazed lamb shoulder; or the barbequed baby chicken with green harissa, yoghurt and flatbread.

Updated: November 18th, 2019

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