The top end of Chinatown just became a little livelier. Occupying the space that previously housed Rosa's Kitchen and Lucattini's, Bar Saracen joins newcomers Longsong, Annam and Juliet, and soon-to-open Sunda.
It's a collaboration between front-of-house veteran Ari Vlassopoulos and Joseph Abboud (Brunswick East's Rumi, Moor's Head in Thornbury and Carlton).
They've cleared the stacked boxes of Italian tomatoes and chinotto from the Rosa's days and installed long red leather banquettes, a new stool-surrounded bar and a private table beside the kitchen. The restaurant now seats about 55.
Tom Sarafian, whose CV includes Greg Malouf's Mo Mo in Melbourne and St Johns and Moro in London, has come across from Rumi to head the Bar Saracen kitchen.
The food – cheekily dubbed "of Middle Eastern appearance" – is more refined than Rumi's. Highlights include cumin-speckled fried okra, wagyu kafta nayeh (like a Moorish tartare, served with mint and radish), and calamari pieces and chickpeas dotting a swirl of hummus.
The drinks list offers a couple of beers on tap and others in bottles and cans; and a short wine list of Australian and imports drawn "from wherever Arabs have been – Spain, Southern Italy, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon".
They're pitching it as a spot for a drink and a snack, a quick meal before the theatre or for a longer brush with the tasting menu.
Open Tue-Fri noon-late, Sat 5.30pm-late.
22 Punch Lane, Melbourne, 03 8639 0265, barsaracen.com.au