04 Aug Sezar, Melbourne CBD
I have to admit I know nothing of Armenian cuisine. An inland nation surrounded by Turkey, Georgia, Azebaijan and Iran, there are Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences courtesy of its neighbours, but being an ancient culture, its cuisine has its own unique identity. The team behind The Black Toro introduced contemporary Armenian to Melbourne back in 2013, and their menu comes to the table courtesy of Head Chef Nick Cornell (ex-Ezard).
Sezar is, quite literally, hidden away in a corner of a small laneway. Once you find it, you’ll find yourself in two-level space, where dim lighting illuminates a warm and comfortable dining room.
Sezar has an impressive list of wines and spirits, including Armenian brandy, but we decided to kick things off with some cocktails. The Good Fortune, composed of Noy brandy, pomegranate, chilli and lemon delivers a sour chilli hit. The Bachik Bachik, on the other hand, is lighter, more refreshing and slightly tangy with its tequila, sloe gin, honey, lime and spicy salt rim.
The banquet menu is a good way to take a gustatory tour around their Armenian menu – a great option seeing as there isn’t much of it to be found in Melbourne. A course of small dishes soon arrives, and we eagerly tuck in. We start with the oysters with compressed apple and anise. It’s a deliciously interesting combination of fruitiness and zip. Hommus tahini is studded with whole chickpeas and sprinkled with zaatar. The dip is gleefully scooped up with soft and elastic lavash. The hommus is smooth, both in terms of texture and taste – it’s less sharp than most other hommus we’ve had before. Boreg are paired with Aleppo pepper mayo, the crispy pastry cigars filled with a warm spinach and feta filling. The Bastourma and Egg is almost sigh-inducing. Toasted brioche rounds serve as the base for a delicately cooked quail egg and a scroll of the Armenian air dried beef. There’s a hint of sweetness, possibly from the brioche, and the tasty garlic jam ties things together neatly.
Now for the medium plates. Cured Ocean Trout comes with an apple & fennel salad, crème fraiche and roe. The salad injects brightness, the roe creates little salty pops in the mouth, and subtle spices add some complexity to the dish. Next are the Armenian dumplings, these filled with spanner crab. The silky dumpling skins contains the smooth and springy filling, and the manti swim in a soup of yoghurt and paprika butter. The filling is a tad underseasoned, and the yoghurt soup is a bit too tangy for my liking. Lamb shish kebabs are paired with eggplant caponata, pine nuts and baba ganoush. The lamb is nicely cooked and isn’t too gamey, and I love the added smokiness of the eggplant and crunch that the toasted pine nuts provides.
Our large dish is the bastourma spiced beef cheek and like shish kebabs, also comes with smokey eggplant. The meltingly tender pieces of beef cheek come with a smoked potato puree, which is thick and smooth, making the whole dish even more comforting.
The banquet concludes with a dessert platter. The pistachio frangipane cake is paired with figs, sesame halva, orange blossom and a towering head of fluffy pashmak. The cake is dense and isn’t that sweet, which is appropriate given the sweetness of its accompaniments. The Honey Cream comes with saffron poached pear and is decorated with shards of sweet brik pastry. The honey cream is smooth and almost panna cotta-like, but less gelatinous. The Chocolate Marquise is topped with spiced hazelnuts and argan oil. Its decadent richness defeinitely needs the airy cardamom whipped cream, which comes on the side. Of the dessert, our favourite is the New Style Baklava – just as well the platter comes with two! Crispy filo pastry sandwiches walnut toffee ice cream, and the whole thing is doused with salted caramel and chopped walnuts. There’s enough ice cream to balance out the salted caramel, and we fell in love with this very textural dessert.
There aren’t many places (or any that I can think of) where you can try Armenian cuisine in Melbourne, and the food is thoughtful and not heavy on the spices. Even if you’re simply after tasty, well-executed fare, Sezar is just the ticket.
Disclaimer: I was invited as a guest of Sezar. Opinions expressed here are purely my own and based on my experience at the time of the visit
Sezar also features in the 2016/2017 Entertainment Book. You can also take advantage of their 25% discount offer by buying a membership. 20% of every membership sold through this link will contribute to fighting child poverty with Compassion Australia!
6 Melbourne Pl
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9663 9882