The first thing you'll notice when you stroll up to Bligh Place's new bar and restaurant is that it looks really impressive. The designers at Souk know how to create drama. The big, pink neon sign illuminates the laneway, shining like a beacon to all the wanderers on Flinders Lane. It then gives way to a curtained entrance hall and a huge dining space that, somehow, manages to create the atmosphere of a much smaller, and more intimate, venue.
Souk is technically a restaurant but we'd recommend stopping by even if you're just after a few drinks — it's worth the experience. The atmosphere is buzzy and the combination of dining and bar space creates ample social movement.
If sweets are your thing, go straight for the cocktail menu. The Omar Sharif ($21) is a creamy, indulgent combo of egg white, gin, citrus accents, and orgeat shaken with rose water and garnished with pistachios. On the tart end of the spectrum is the Aladdin's Mistress, a blend of green iced tea with crushed cardamom, white and dark rum, topped with fresh mint ($17) for a dangerously fresh tipple.
These cocktails know how to party, so, unless you're heading somewhere else for dinner, you best get stuck into the food. The first thing you'll notice about the menu is that it's refreshingly light on the deep-fried element; it's light but flavoursome, and perfectly seasoned. It doesn't hide behind fat or grease. Considering the relentless diner food craze, this is novel in itself.
If you're obsessed with hummus and find yourself eating it by the bucketful, don't go past Souk's version, which is drizzled with burnt butter and paprika ($9). The Turkish tabbouleh ($10 a serve) is a nice fresh starter, and is served on white endives if you don't want to fill up on bread. We'd also (highly) recommend the chicken and apricot kofta ($18.50), a beautifully balanced skewered kofta served with beet hummus. It might seem like an odd pairing, but it works; the sweetness of the apricot, sprinkled with some spice, makes the kofta a little sweet, very hearty, and balanced out with the beetroot in the hummus. The Turkish dumplings ($16) are also making waves in the dumpling community. They're laced with a delicate Middle Eastern spice palette (no vinegar here, sorry) and served with hot bean sauce, and stuffed with flavoursome low-fat meat — we recommend you try the lamb ones. But beware: one bite and you'll never be able to go back to Chinatown cheapies.
Souk does take a departure to the fried side with their riff on KFC. The Kuwaiti fried chicken ($28 for four pieces and one excellent joke) is one of the most indulgent dishes on the menu, in both price and taste. But it's worth the investment. The succulent pieces of chicken are wrapped up in a spicy, crunchy coat and they're damn good.
If you have the hunger of a bear, don't expect to fill up for cheap at Souk — it's not that kinda place. But if you'd like your night out to feature authentic Middle Eastern food that fills you up without weighing you down, this is the place for you.