Situated just off Flinders Lane, Bligh Place’s newest resident Souk has completely transformed the atmosphere of what used to be a quiet and simple little street, into an eye-catching retro entrance into Melbourne’s newest late-night laneway getaway.
At first glance, with a large pink neon sign splashed across its industrial front door, the Middle Eastern bar and restaurant looks deceptively small and cramped from the outside. However, working in collaboration with interior consultant Robyn Levin and Melbourne design studio Mildred & Duck, owners Ergun Elmas (Arabesque) and Vlad Kovacevic have created a remarkably spacious and bright interior with a total capacity of 130 guests.
Inside, Souk is divided into two sections; a ground-floor bar bathed in the soft glow of pink neon lights, and a warm and spacious upstairs dining area installed with an open kitchen. Despite its strong retro laneway vibes, due to the presence of original artworks created by Melbourne artist Tom Adair (AKA Juan Mcarb), the Middle East is still a prominent aspect of the venue’s atmosphere. However, Souk’s best illustration of the rich Middle Eastern culture isn’t found in the venue’s atmosphere but within the pages of its menu.
Designed by Head Chef Rogelio Almanza and co-owner Ergun Elmas, Souk’s entire dining menu consists of “mezes”, small to medium platters of traditional Middle Eastern, North African and Anatolian food served with various contemporary twists. The definite highlight of our visit to Souk was the charcoal octopus ($18.50) drizzled in herb oil and served with a side of hot muhammara sauce and roast potato. Like calamari, octopus is one of those feature ingredients that people hesitate to order or even cook, due to its risk of turning out rubbery and flavourless. However, with its tender juicy texture and light charcoal flavour characteristics, chef Alamanza’s take on the daunting octopus, was nothing less than perfect.
When it comes to Middle Eastern food, one simply cannot forget the humble hummus which is given a delightful twist at Souk. The chipotle hummus ($9) served with a drizzle of burnt butter, a sprinkle of paprika and four pieces of fluffy pita bread, turned out to be one of the more memorable appetizers I’ve tried so far on my foodie adventures. Although the flavour characteristics of the burnt butter was muted by the heat of the chipotle pepper, its addition gave the chunky hummus a great creamy texture. However, the most surprising aspect of the dish was that despite the presence of both chipotle and paprika, the distinct taste of chickpeas was still a prominent flavour.
For those who love refreshing light meals with a bit of crunch, I recommend trying the Kisir: Turkish tabouleh ($10), a light but filling salad made with bulgur, parsley, sumac, mint, cucumber, red capsicum, tomato, mild chillies, and roasted pine nuts, all served on white endive leaves. The dish is an explosion of refreshing flavours that are elevated to a whole new level when drizzled with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Furthermore, the delicate crunch of the slightly bitter white endives gives an excellent texture contrast against the soft and fluffy bulgur wheat mix, making the Turkish tabouleh a great vegetarian dish.
When it comes to beverages, featuring six signature cocktails, four mocktails, 13 different beers, an extensive list of both imported and locally produced wines, and even a small selection of Arabic soft drinks, Souk has a little something for everyone. And with names such as Aladdin’s Mistress ($17), Lawrence of Arabia ($18), and The Omar Sharif ($21), the signature cocktails section gives a fun and clear nod to the Middle East’s influence on Western pop culture.
Address: 13 Bligh Place, Melbourne 3000
Contact: (03) 8597 5444
Hours: Monday – Friday 11am – till late, Saturday – Sunday 5pm – till late
All photographs were taken by Zaya Altangerel for The AU Review