Hidden down a grungy laneway in Melbourne’s CBD, you’ll find a foodie oasis, much like a Middle Eastern bazaar or souk bursting with colour and personality.
Upon entering, you are welcomed by the clandestine sight of Handsome Bar which opened in mid-August 2019, filled with the charm and intimacy of an underground bar, yet at street level. Handsome is cloaked with gold embellishments, table lamps and candles, vintage lounges, cement rendered walls and vintage styled steamer trunks as tables. It’s rough and edgy, but also elegant: it all just works. Guests are made to feel a sense of exclusivity in a relaxed atmosphere.
Exploring their admirable cocktail list, Handsome creates some of the most curious tipple creations with the likes of fresh sage, Fruit Loops, aquafaba and even beetroot brine.
As a pre-dinner cocktail starter, we tried the Shoplifter ($21) which is a combination of Montenegro, lime juice, blood orange syrup, aquafaba and garnished with dashes of bitters. Similar to the body of an amaretto sour, the Shoplifter shifts on the palate from sweet to bitter – this is a cocktail to be enjoyed at the beginning of any meal or night out – the perfect start to the drinks that follow. If time permits, we would recommend trying the Cereal Killer ($20) with lemon, Aperol, apricot brandy, green apple foam and then finished with our childhood favourite, Fruit Loops – the ultimate blast from the past.
Heading upstairs, the Souk takes a more unexpected approach. At first, guests will be surprised by the staircase walls covered in graffiti-like art. Inside, the Souk is glowing in pink hues thanks to the neon fluorescent lighting featured on its walls. On top of that, Souk embraces its exposed ceiling with hanging chandeliers, creating a playful mood for the flavourful journey ahead.
Launching in 2017, the Souk is described as a futuristic-like Middle Eastern restaurant and cocktail bar. Using traditional flavours, Souk embraces the present and future by combining their dishes with a modern flair. To start, we began with a Pomegranate Dream ($11) mocktail which was infused with pomegranate, passionfruit, sour cherry and lime. It was the perfect accompaniment to all of our dishes throughout the experience as it executed the sweet fruity flavours and was balanced out when paired with the hearty meats that followed.
Beginning our culinary journey, we opted for the charred flatbread with sesame and nigella seed with side accompaniments of hummus, zaatar & pepper oil ($10); as well as our favourite, the fried whitebait ($15) that was garnished with zaatar and a refreshing side of preserved lemon aioli – a true delight, even for those who don’t prefer seafood. It was lightly battered providing the perfect crunch per bite without being overpowering.
Moving onto mains, we were submerged in flavours, textures and of course, deliciousness. Overwhelmed by all of the exotic dishes available, we opted for the salt and vinegar shoestring fries with chilli salt ($12) that paired as the ultimate side to the fried chicken wings with yoghurt ranch and dried, pickled chillies ($14). The mini drumsticks had a light yet crispy skin which created the illusion that they were flash-fried. As for the yoghurt ranch, it was a soothing dressing. The mains were off to a wonderful start.
The final meal was the crispy spiced lamb ribs ($17) that were toasted in a garlic seasoning, mint vinegar and a side of garlic yoghurt to dip into. From experience, lamb can be hard to execute but the Souk aced the concept behind the ribs. The meat fell off the bone and was filling but not heavy – this was the standout dish from our visit. Paired with an exotic Persian baked rice ($9) with butter and seasoned with currents, combined with the Truffled Cheese Borek provolone ($19) which included cottage, feta and parmesan alongside black truffle mayo, we were in heaven. The borek was a light almost puff-pastry-like consistency that ingeniously encased the trio of cheeses inside. It was light and fluffy and when combined with the truffle mayonnaise, it showcased each ingredient beautifully.
Overall, both Handsome Bar and the Souk compliment each other, especially in their prime location. Whether you’re looking for a night out full of adventures, or a trendy spot to eat or drink you’ll find it in this venue. Downstairs guests will find a relaxed space that focuses on creating exotic concoctions and rich textures. Whereas upstairs, much like the vibrant and ecstatic colours of a souk or bazaar, guests will be transported to a vibrant eatery that uses a charming combination of Ottoman Empire flavours mixed with modern techniques to create meze-like creations. We cannot wait to return!