Thursday, 30 January 2014

Sezar introduces Melbourne to Armenian barbecue

6 Melbourne Place, Melbourne (map)
9663 9882
Open for dinner Monday-Saturday 5:30-10:30pm, lunch Thursday-Friday 12-3pm
website, facebook, twitter


Melbourne doesn't get much exposure to Armenian cuisine. At Sezar, the Armenian restaurant that opened late last year, the front of house staff describe it as a blend of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine (if you'd like some geographic indicators, Armenia borders Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia). Judging from the menu, the food at Sezar skews more towards the Middle Eastern than the Med, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients rather than going overboard on spices. The menu also features lots of khorovadz - Armenian barbecue - dishes cooked on a custom charcoal pit.

Chef and co-owner Garen Maskal (head chef at The Black Toro in Glen Waverley and former sous at Ezard) has drawn on his Armenian heritage in adapting some of his grandmother's recipes for contemporary Melbourne diners, and he's installed fellow Ezard alum Franc Bakkes in the kitchen. The restaurant site (previously Saint Peter's Trattoria and the Canary Club) is tucked down an alleyway in which a street art mural of Haik Nahapet, warrior-founder of Armenia, points the way.

As is so often the way these days, the menu is split into small, large and side sharing dishes, with a $65 banquet option. My dinner date and I started with the substantial falafel with spanner crab, iceberg tabbouleh and a drizzle of tahini, served on a spongey Armenian flatbread ($17 for two). We highly recommend this dish.

Spanner crab falafel

We ordered a trio of khorovadz dishes to see what this charcoal pit could do: shiitake mushrooms with haloumi and onion on shashlik skewers with grape leaf wraps ($14 for two), lamb kebab with baby gem lettuce and a sour cherry sauce ($19 for two), and eggplant with buttermilk yoghurt, barberries and a fistful of fresh herbs including mint and parsley ($22). We loved the first two (especially with the accompanying grape leaf wraps and the sour cherry sauce) but felt let down by the rather bland eggplant, which needed a salty punch to balance out the buttermilk yoghurt.

BBQ shiitake mushrooms
Lamb kebab
BBQ eggplant

Dessert was a pide (the Armenian version is bread-ier than your usual pide, and pre-baked then warmed rather than cooked to a crisp), covered with a terrific combination of Nutella ganache, hazelnuts, freeze dried berries, white chocolate jelly and fresh basil ($14).

Nutella pide

The licensed restaurant has the advantage of being open on a Monday night, and on the Monday my date and I visited the joint was buzzing. We enjoyed Sezar's fresh take on Middle Eastern dining and I look forward to their upstairs cocktail bar opening in March.


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Australian gin, new Melbourne restaurants and food trends for 2014

Four Pillars Gin CARL still 'Wilma'

A few quick updates on what I've been up to this summer:

- I wrote an article about Australian gins and the use of native botanicals for Fairfax's Good Food/Epicure. At last I'm putting my obsession with gin, and with Australian gins in particular, to good use. Research for the article included visiting Wilma (pictured above), the beautiful CARL copper pot still used to make Four Pillars Gin in the Yarra Valley. Expect to see more gin-related content on Melbourne Gastronome soon...

- Although I haven't published any new blog posts lately, I've been continuing to update my new Melbourne venues page and my upcoming Melbourne venues page. By my count there were 11 new openings so far this month and 23 new openings in December (!!!) so check them out (and, as ever, let me know which ones I've missed).

- Three weeks ago I was interviewed on JOY 94.9FM about food trends for 2014 by the host of the food and drink radio show Cravings, the debonair Pete Dillon. Also on the panel that afternoon was Epicure's Hilary McNevin and former Gastronomy Program Manager at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, Sharlee Gibb. To find out what trends we talked about - apart from me ranting about fake alcopop "ciders" - download the podcast of the show by clicking on the link above.