A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Published March 16th 2017
Souk brings new sophistication to middle eastern favourites
Souk means a middle eastern market or marketplace, a bazaar. And so you should expect all the flavours, tastes and textures of cuisine of the Middle East, North Africa and Anatolia when you visit Souk Restaurant and Bar, newly opened in the Melbourne CBD.
The bar at Souk. The decor is bold and modern.
Tucked down a laneway off Flinders Lane, close to Elizabeth Street, the decor of Souk is not, however, middle eastern. Rather it is bold and modern, with a bright pink neon sign out the front. Inside is a large space, featuring a long bar area as you walk in, an elevated area with tables under pink lighting to the left, and many more tables in a third area upstairs behind the bar. As popular as I expect this place to be, with seating for around 130 people, you'd be unlucky to miss out on a table, even if you don't have a booking.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to a special opening event at Souk last night, giving me the opportunity to sample a wide selection of dishes from the menu. On the strength of my experience, I have already arranged a return visit for tonight! Yes, it really was that good.
On arrival, we were handed one of the range of house designed cocktails - the Omar Sharif (egg white, gin, lemon juice, orgeat, creme and rose water, shaken and garnished with pistachios and Persian fairy floss) ($21). Instantly appealing because of its pretty pink tones, it was a well balanced and thoroughly enjoyable drink.
The award for the cocktail name that most tickled my fancy must surely go to the protein sheikh (mastic infused gin, tonic and watermelon spritz) ($16) - I will have to try that one on my return.
Scanning the food menu, it is clear the dishes offer a level of sophistication and refinement you wouldn't see at a typical Turkish or Lebanese restaurant.
We started with chipotle hummus (chickpeas and chipotle, drizzled with burnt butter and paprika) ($9). While hummus is a firm favourite as a middle eastern starter, Souk's additions of the chipotle (smoke-dried jalapeño) and the paprika gave it a tanginess and a slight chilli kick that made it interesting and memorable.
Next up was the prawn falafel (served on black tahini with coriander mayonnaise and tomato oil) ($12 for two pieces). This was my dining companion's favourite dish. The addition of the prawns to the falafel gave them a chewy texture that was most pleasing.
Prawn falafel - beautiful flavour and texture
The next course, the KFC: Kuwaiti Fried Chicken (chicken ribs fried in harissa and paprika breadcrumbs and ras el hanout) ($14 for two pieces), was probably my least favourite dish of the night. It was, in fact, a tasty enough dish, it just seemed to me that its inclusion was a bit of a departure from the otherwise more sophisticated menu items. Nonetheless, it might be a good late night bar snack to accompany one or two of Souk's fantastic sounding cocktails.
KFC (Kuwaiti Fried Chicken) - tasty, but not my favourite dish of the night
A lighter dish followed - the Kisir (Turkish tabouleh) ($10 for two pieces). Ahead of the dish being tabled, I was wondering how the Souk kitchen whizzes could make a tabouleh look appealing and interesting enough to be a dish in its own right. They succeeded - by serving it in little canoes of white endive. The addition of mint and pine nuts lifted the flavour to new heights.
Octopus was the next dish in this feast, served with hot muhammara sauce (a hot pepper sauce originating from Syria), roasted potato and herb oil ($18.50). This was my 'dish of the night'. Two pieces of tentacle that had been cooked over charcoal to tender melt-in-the-mouth perfection. I know what I'm having when I return to Souk!
Stomachs rapidly filling, we nevertheless were impressed by the appearance of our next dish - chicken and apricot kofta, which was served on lemongrass skewers with beet hummus ($18.50). The kofta slid easily off the skewers and proved to be tender and delicate, with the subtle citrus tones of the lemongrass complementing the sweetness of the apricot. The beet hummus and fine beet dice added another level of texture and complexity.
Chicken and apricot kofta - tender with complex flavours
Finally, we reached dessert. We had the Adanali Osman (slow cooked black tapioca pearls in a sweet Turkish coffee cream and white crispy tapioca) ($13.50). What a treat! Served in small glass bowls, the dish again looked instantly appealing. The little pearls of tapioca are flavour explosions in your mouth, contrasting with the crispy tapioca, which has the consistency of a rice cake. Talking later with head chef, Mexican-born chef Rogelio Almanza, he explained that he'd been quick to recognise Melbourne's 'coffee culture', and that was the inspiration for the coffee cream in the dish. The combination is a knock out.
Dessert - slow cooked tapioca with a sweet coffee cream which pays homage to Melbourne's coffee culture.
Souk's drinks list is worth a mention, too. As well as Australian and European wines, it seems Souk has gone out of its way to include on its list an extensive range of middle eastern and Anatolian wines, including some from Lebanon and Turkey. We tried the 2013 Vinkara Winehouse Öküzgözü (Ankara, Turkey) ($41), and found it very good drinking - soft and smooth.
There is also a good selection of wines by the glass from around $10, and a range of beers on tap and by the bottle.
All round it was a very positive experience at Souk. Not only was the food thoroughly enjoyable, the wait staff were attentive and engaged, and seemed genuinely interested in our dining experience.
Highly recommended! Make sure you call in soon.
Souk is open seven days; from 11am til late Monday to Friday, and from 5pm til late Saturday and Sunday. You'll find Souk at 13 Bligh Place, Melbourne.
The images in this article were taken by the writer. They are not to be reproduced in any form without the express permission of WeekendNotes.