Armenian restaurants in Melbourne are a dime a dozen… said no one ever. With a little help from Google, you’ll find out exactly the extent of Armenian cuisine this glorious city has to offer. That being the singular, but nevertheless impressive, Sezar, tucked away on Melbourne Place in the CBD.
When there’s not much competition in the market, it should be easy to stand out, right? Head Chef and Part Owner Garen Maskal has blown ‘standing out’, so high out of the water it’s somewhere over the rainbow. Previously working in the kitchen at The Sebel and Ezard, Maskal is one third of the team that brought Hispanic cuisine to Glen Waverley with the popular Black Toro. The same trio of Maskal, Aret Arzadian and Sasoon Arzadian runs Sezar.
At Sezar, Maskal is letting his Armenian heritage shine, with a modern Melbourne dining influence rounding things out. And lucky for us, we were there to try some of the exciting flavours from the new seasonal menu. Here are some tantalising tastes for you to look forward to.
Not afraid to start things off with a bang, the degustation commenced with two well received offerings; oysters with compressed apple and anise, and a platter of bastourma and egg, that was introduced with the line, ‘quick, dig in fast, before everyone else realises how good they taste.’ Rolled cigars of Armenian dried beef sat next to quail eggs, on top of circles of toasted brioche smeared with garlic jam. If the comfort associated with a cozy duvet, could be combined with the rich saltiness of intense cravings, and compacted into a bite size morsel, this would be it.
Next came the spinach and feta Boreg with Aleppo mayo. To the untrained eye, this dish looks like deep fried spring rolls. Hence we say, untrained, because we all know looks can be deceiving. The crunchy pastry exterior of the Boreg complements the soft creamy inside, redolent with spices and aromas. All tied up in such an innocent looking package, these cheeky little bites pack a punch.
The variety of each dish was a highlight of the evening, as the menu covered such an extensive range of techniques and tastes, from spanner crab dumplings to cured ocean trout, to the most tender of tenderloins, the Wagyu skewers. A particular standout was the BBQ king brown mushrooms with toasted Israeli cous cous, crumbs of sujuk (dry, spicy sausage) and sweet potato puree. This was a prime example of the intense, refined flavours coupled with subtle warmth and comfort seen repeated throughout the menu. The mushrooms were bursts of smokey tanginess, and the cous cous rounded out your taste buds, calming down the rave they were planning.
Speaking of tastebud parties, this experience would not be complete without a totally over the top dessert tasting plate. We’re talking new style baklava, which is presented in the form of sweet and creamy ice cream sandwiched between flaky pastry. Pistachio cake, which will win over even the sceptical—think hints of rose and a deliciously soft and delicate crumbly texture. Also on the platter (which was cleared in record time), almond milk panna cotta and vanilla parfait, with more subtle flavours for those against a rich dessert.
But for those who are well and truly keen on embracing a rich dessert, then the ridiculously decadent chocolate marquis topped with a sour cherry sorbet will be keeping your dreams busy for the next few nights. The strip of cherry pastegh is a unique addition, reminiscent of a fruit rollup, and packed full of intense fruity character.
The techniques and presentation at Sezar is modern Australian dining to a tee, with food styled to artistic aesthetics. The reflection of Armenian culture is all in the taste though, prevalent in the recurring exploration of spices, vegetables, fruit, fish and meats, all combined to create aromatic dishes with extreme personality.
It’s evident that there is a lot of thought put into the menu at Sezar (food for thought anyone?), and the drinks list is no exception. Inventive cocktails are the stars of the show, with fun concoctions such as the Kardashian Fling, introduced as, ‘Just as Kanye is Kim’s fling, come on in and do the Armenian thing.’ This sweet and tangy sipper is filled with gin, apricot puree, chai tea and tonic water. Unusual? Yes. Worth it? Oh yes. There is an extensive offering of international spirits, with vodka and aperitifs from across Europe, gins from the UK, and whiskies from just about everywhere, while the wine list mostly focuses on carefully selected drops from New Zealand and Australia.
The predominant emotions experienced while dining at Sezar, were ones of warmth, comfort and excitement. The soft accents of dim amber lighting sets a cozy scene across the luxurious interior decked out with leather booths and elegant wooden chairs. The service is welcoming, and so far from pretentious it’s truly enjoyable to experience.
This relaxing environment is the perfect place to explore the excitement aspect, that comes in the form of the delightfully creative new seasonal menu.