My dining ventures into the Melbourne CBD are usually more of the casual informal style, but sometimes an opportunity preents itself to try something new with a fellow curious eater. Sezar in Melbourne Place off Russell St serves a modern interpretation of Armenian food, which I have never had before. Armenia is located between Georgia, Turkey and Iran and, based on the menu, seems to share some tart flavours with its better known neighbours that Melbourne diners may already be familiar with, such as pomegranate and sour cherry.
My friend and I were fortunate to obtain a table available without a booking in a nearly full dining room on the night we visited. We were impressed with the wine by the glass list, and both started with glasses of the exquisite McHenry Hohnen (Margaret River) zinfandel, despite there being no sign of any Armenian wine (I did not read the entire bottle list), or anything from the region. The native variety of nearby Georgia, saperavi, is being produced by several wineries in Victoria’s King Valley and these wines would go well with the food at Sezar. So next to the food.
We liked the sound of the small plates so we grazed on a number of those, then had more wine including a lovely SA tempranillo, and finished our meal with desserts. Apologies for the dark photos. My arrival in restaurants often seems to invoke the wait staff to turn down the lights, which is not conducive to taking decent photos. The shiny speckled plates, which look like the skin of exotic marine creatures, make these photos more surreal.
From the top down: lamb kebabs to be wrapped in cos with sour cherry sauce; grain salad with labne and sprouts; shitake mushroom and haloumi skewers to be wrapped in vine leaves; cured ocean trout with fennel and almond cream; poached fresh and dried figs with air dried beef and charred eggplant; semolina cake (similar to basbousa) with almond crumble and creme fraiche and micro herbs; and vanilla parfait with cherry, rosewater and pistachio.
The cured trout and the lamb kebabs were the best of these dishes. The mushroom and haloumi skewers were good and the grain salad was enjoyable but I question the inclusion of quinoa, which is of South American origins and therefore not remotely authentic, as well as being an over-rated novelty. There is sufficient novelty in Sezar’s food already and nothing is achieved by giving a nod of conformity the quinoa trend.
The most complex and challenging dish was the figs with air dried beef and charred eggplant. The figs were succulent and the meat tender and deliciously flavoursome without being too salty, but the eggplant puree hardly tasted of eggplant: it had the colour and flavour of mustard and it overpowered the dish, with the mustard masking the eggplant and overwhelming the figs. The contrast of flavours was exciting, but the concentration was unbalanced. The desserts were enjoyable without being remarkable.
I question the tastefulness of the street art style murals on the walls, but the restaurant’s owners apparently turned the space of the former Italian restaurant Saint Peter’s into Sezar in only three weeks, which is impressive and also sensible in not wasting huge amounts of money on a completely new fitout. Given that we didn’t try any of the mains, and there were still more smaller share plates to try, I’d willingly return to Sezar. The service was good and meal was reasonable value, with excellent wine and some intriguing new flavours to explore.