Sezar

Laneway hero: Sezar has recently undergone a mini renovation.
Laneway hero: Sezar has recently undergone a mini renovation. Photo: Patrick Scala

6 Melbourne Pl Melbourne, VIC 3000

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Opening hours Mon-Fri 12 Noon–3pm, 5:30–11:30pm ; Sat 5:30–11:30pm
Features Accepts bookings, Business lunch, Degustation, Groups, Licensed, Private dining, Pre-post-theatre, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options, Bar
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Garen Maskal, Franc Bakkes
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9663 9882

It's got to be a good sign when everyone at my table downs cutlery and dips a finger in the sweet, tart pomegranate caramel that's the too-delicious-to-leave remains of Sezar's chicken wings. The dish says a lot about this unsung but fabulous laneway restaurant, open a year and hitting its stride after a mini-reno which means owner-chef Garen Maskel now has the welcoming, expansive, two-level premises to match his ambitions.

Sezar is nominally Armenian, that being the food of Maskel's forebears, but, like many diaspora cuisines, the notion of Armenian food is slippery and it's simplest to think of Sezar as influenced by the Middle East, eastern Europe and the fertile food culture of Melbourne.

Back to the chicken: it's a crunchy, juicy, vaguely Armenian version of the pork hock with chilli caramel that's a signature at contemporary Asian restaurant Ezard. Maskel was Ezard's sous chef and his light-hearted version of an iconic dish features the lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar that give the sticky, smoky sauce its character, along with rather more Armenian pomegranate molasses.

Twice-cooked chicken wings with pomegranate glaze and pistachios.
Twice-cooked chicken wings with pomegranate glaze and pistachios. Photo: Patrick Scala

You get the idea: the food is bigger on flavour than authenticity and that's why we're face down on the plate by the end of it.

I enjoyed everything and was still jealous of food on other tables. Soft lavash flatbread comes with roast pumpkin puree, heady with orange blossom water, rounded by cinnamon.

A canapé of brioche, garlic jam, quail egg and bastourma (air-dried beef) is a cheffy version of a homely Maskel family fry-up. Crab manti (dumplings) are luxurious and silky.

Bastourma, garlic jam and quail egg on brioche.
Bastourma, garlic jam and quail egg on brioche. Photo: Patrick Scala

Barramundi with chopped prawns, spiced chickpeas and butter seems like a clever way of upcycling falafel.

Reworked baklava is an ice-cream sandwich with obligatory salted caramel.

The room is comfortable, the service upbeat and the food surprisingly wonderful. If you're wondering where to book an end-of-year feast do consider Sezar.

Rating: Four stars (out of five)