Amidst the rabble of hipster cafes and shoppers elbowing it out on Chapel Street's west end, you’ll find a bright cavernous refuge in Shukah.
Garen Maskal and cousins Aret and Sasoon Arzadian grew up eating foods that were spiced, citrusy and loaded with fresh herbs and they’re bringing those flavours to Melbourne.
“Our mission at Shukah is to bring the flavours of home into a new life,” Maskal tells SBS.
If you don’t know what Armenian food tastes like, don’t feel bad; Maskal thinks it's a common blip in culinary knowledge across the country.
“I think Armenian food is unknown because so many people don’t know Armenia even exists. Our country has a very long history and its food has very close ties with its neighbouring countries.”
According to Maskal, Armenia’s rich post-Ottoman history, which led to the displacement and migration of many throughout Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Australia (his own parents were raised in both Turkey and Egypt) has hatched multiple interpretations of the cuisine.
“Our version concentrates on the flavours and makes them more ‘Melbourne style’.”
Armenian food shares a lot of common ground with Turkish and Georgian cuisines, but what exactly does Melbourne Armenian look like?
For starters, there’s a string of mezze on rotation, bastourma (air-dried cured beef) arrives with a quail egg on toasted brioche, spiced lamb manti (dumplings) are dressed in a garlicky yoghurt with sumac, and charred octopus is served with green olives and pistachio.
“We really love what we are doing at Sezar and we found that the diner response has been fantastic, so we opted to go the same way with Shukah.”
Unlike Sezar, the cosy 40-seat Shukah is lighter and brighter, with pastels softening the black granite bar bench . “Shoo-gah” means shop or market in Armenian, so you’ll also find spices spilling out of the shelves, which they’ll be retailing soon. But it’s the kitchen that nabs centre stage, where a Mibrasa oven powered by a mix of charcoal and wood works magic.
“We love to barbecue! That char and smoke is common on the Armenian table," Maskal says. "So we spice and marinate many of our proteins and vegetables before cooking them in our Mibrasa oven. The spices married with the char and smoke give us a distinct flavour.”
Meats aside - the Mibrasa also helps create their ultimate hummus vessel: a house-baked charcoal lavosh the size of a small person.
For dessert, it's tough to look past the baklava sundae - it's got all the hallmarks of an Instagram hit.
Shukah are also making cocktails with common Armenian fruits and spiced syrups, and they’re pouring wines from Armenia, Lebanon, Morocco and Georgia. They weren’t able to import Armenian beer so they’ve teamed with East Brunswick’s Kettle Green Brewing Co. on a home brew called Yan Yan.
“Most Armenian surnames end in ‘yan’ or ’ian’,” Maskal explains, “so we thought this would be fitting.”
Image credit: Shukah's Facebook.
Open Tues- Sun, 5:30pm - late and for lunch Fri-Sun,12pm - 3pm. 104 Chapel Street, Windsor VIC.