Forget fancy million dollar fit-outs and menu prices to match - there’s a new bar in town that’s banking on diners choosing substance over style.
Seasoned Melbourne restaurateurs Ari Vlassopoulos (Pearl, Pei Modern, Giuseppi Arnaldo & Sons) and Joseph Abboud (Rumi, The Moor’s Head) have opened a bar in the city and it’s serving up tasty Middle Eastern snacks from its new digs on Punch Lane.
Modest in design by many recent restaurant opening standards, the pair had no choice but to lean on what they do best. “We don’t have backers or millions of dollars, it’s just us,” says co-owner Joseph Abboud, “So we just had to do what we know how to do well: feed people well and give them great service.”
The idea lives at the heart of hospitality but it can so often get lost in the noise. The pair describe Saracen as “a bar of Middle Eastern appearance”, a tongue-in-cheek reclamation of a phrase used all too often in the press. Much like its owners, Bar Saracen doesn’t take things too seriously, either.
“We asked each other, ‘how would we describe what we’re doing?’” Joseph says. “[The menu] could be [described as] Turkish, it could be Lebanese, it could be a hipster with a beard!
“It’s poking a bit of fun at stereotypes and the rewriting of history,” he adds.
If the humble fit-out is the backdrop, the menu is the star of the show. There’s ‘snack while you scan the menu properly’ plates of green olives filled with creamy labne and crunchy, cumin-scented fried okra. Plus, more substantial (and slightly subversive) fare like lamb heart Iskender: thinly shaved, deliciously charcoal-scented lamb heart served on toast soldiers; or leek muhumarra: sweet, charred leek licked by the spicy Turkish purée of red peppers, walnuts and sweet sour pomegranate molasses.
One thing’s for certain – the menu is anchored by substance, whether served traditionally or with a modern spin.
“For us, everything has to be rooted in some sense of authenticity, but it doesn’t have to be old-school. The leek dish, for example, the spirit of it is the delicious burnt onions from the barbecue that we eat every Sunday at mum’s. The dish is a lot more developed than that but the spirit of it is still there. Unless it’s as good as the original though – I don’t think there’s any point changing something just because you can.”
Much the same can be said for the true spirit of hospitality that’s alive and well at Bar Saracen.
22 Punch Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000
Tues – Fri 12 – 11pm; Sat 5.30pm – 11pm
(03) 8639 0265