Sunday, March 26, 2017

Souk, Melbourne CBD by Benny

Glance down Bligh Place (just off Flinders Lane) and a large, cryptic neon sign catches your eye, drawing you irresistibly to the end of one of Melbourne’s iconic laneways. Congratulations, you have found Souk. Just a short stroll from Flinders Street railway station, could there possibly be a better location for a hip new restaurant in Melbourne?

Souk, Melbourne, octopus
Charcoal octopus

Inside, a stylish ultra-modern fitout on two levels features lighting that bathes visitors in fluorescent pink neon around the bar downstairs, with multitudes of barely glowing exposed filament globes dangling from the ceiling of the upstairs dining area.

Souk, Melbourne
Visual and linguistic puns, referencing the Middle East, are boldly sprinkled around the space: “Don’t keep me kuwaiting” just behind the reception desk; a mirror image of “magic flying carpet” in fluorescent pink neon; a seemingly abstract pattern dominating one wall is Arabic script for “Put him in a whirlpool” – an expression meaning “it totally stunned him!”. Even the kitchen staff get in on the act, looking very funky in trilbies, threatening to resurrect the hat that was last fashionable in the 1980s. This is a place in which to be seen.

Souk, Melbourne
Souk is the brainchild of Ergun Elmas (formerly from Arabesque) and his business partner Vlad Kovacevic, promising “modernised Middle Eastern cuisine” that “extends the infusion of traditional spices”. Their menu is in the hands of head chef, Mexican-born Rogelio Almanza, who, after ten years broadening his experience in Mexico, the United States and Japan, has settled in Melbourne.

Souk, Melbourne
Ruby Grapefruit and I were there for Souk’s media launch, along with about a hundred other guests. Even though Souk had been open for only a week, the wait staff were impressively well briefed on the food and the restaurant, to the extent that I asked our waitress if she was Arabic – I didn’t really think so, but she just knew so much about the food.

Souk, Melbourne, cocktail
After being welcomed at the door by a refreshing Omar Sharif cocktail – gin, citrus mastic, orgeat (a sweet almond syrup), rose water, decorated with rose petals and Persian fairy floss – we were regaled with a succession of share plates featuring flavours from Arabia, North Africa and Anatolia.

Souk, Melbourne, chipotle hummus
Chipotle hummus

Souk, Melbourne, prawn falafel
Prawn falafel

Falafel and hummus wrapped in pita bread might be a common Middle Eastern street food, but there was nothing common about the falafel and hummus that started the feast. Chipotle Hummus (drizzled with burnt butter and paprika) and Prawn Falafel (served on smoked black tahini with coriander mayonnaise and tomato oil) were served separately. The falafel was a great mouthful of flavour, more succulent than (and greatly superior to) the parsley-dominated falafels that I am used to. The hummus was lovely and smooth, but the chipotle and paprika were considerably more mild than we expected.

Souk, Melbourne, Kuwait Fried Chicken
KFC followed. Not from Kentucky, but from Kuwait. Chicken ribs were deep fried in harissa, paprika and ras el hanout. The ribs were perfectly cooked within their crisp breadcrumb coating; however they were unexpectedly mild – Ras el hanout literally means “head of the shop”, meaning the best spices available, and harissa is a North African spiced chilli paste. With such a description I expected the KFC to explode with spiciness but as nice as they were, the KFC didn’t fulfil the brief.

Souk, Melbourne, kisir
My favourite dish of the night was the Kisir: Turkish Tabouleh (Anatolian-style tabouleh with cracked wheat, parsley, sumac, mint, cucumber, red capsicum, tomato and mild chillies with roasted pine nuts) served on a crisp endive leaf. The flavours combined marvellously to create complex mouthfuls of freshness.

The most visually dramatic dish was Charcoal Octopus: two large tentacles served with hot muhammara sauce (a hot pepper dip originating in Syria), roasted potato and herb oil (see first pic). The octopus was beautifully tender, but just like the KFC, unexpectedly mild. Ruby Grapefruit thought it could also have done with a bit more char.

Souk, Melbourne, kofta
Our final savoury dish was a Chicken and Apricot Kofta (skewered chicken kofta with lemongrass, apricot, capsicum and lemon zest served with beet hummus). This was also perfectly cooked, however Ruby Grapefruit felt that this was more Thai than Middle Eastern. And while the beet hummus was very good, it didn’t seem to add much to the koftas.

Souk, Melbourne, adanali osman
Dessert was Adanali Osman (slow cooked black tapioca pearls in a sweet Turkish coffee cream and white crispy tapioca). Under instruction, we shattered the crispy tapioca shard and mixed it with the coffee cream and tapioca pearls. It was like finishing off the meal with a sweet Turkish coffee, but with unexpected textural elements from the slightly chewy pearls and the bits of crisp shard.

Souk, Melbourne

Souk, Melbourne
And that cryptic neon sign? It is “Souk” in mirror image.


We really liked it
We really liked it.


Souk is unashamedly designed to attract the ‘it’ crowd. It has got almost everything right – the location, the fitout, the vibe. Rogelio has the kitchen buzzing, and food is excellently cooked and presented. What is missing is the flavour hit that I expect from Middle Eastern spices.

Ergun had been engaging with guests all night, requesting feedback. Rogelio joined him once the pressure on the kitchen had eased. They are very keen to make Souk work and I have no doubt that only a small amount of fine tuning is needed.

Great for a night out with friends, but not for a quiet romantic assignation – when crowded it is very noisy.

The Eat and Be Merry Crew were guests of Souk.

Find it at

13 Bligh Place
Melbourne VIC 3000
Phone: (03) 8597 5444

Souk Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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