And a deli. Because you can never have too much Sarafian.

Pound the alarm, Melbourne: Tom Sarafian is opening two new eateries in the CBD this winter. In partnership with seasoned hospo operator Nathan Toleman (Hazel, Lilac Wine), Melbourne’s prince of dips returns to the kitchen with a restaurant named in honour of his late grandfather, Zareh, and a companion deli chock-full of Sarafian dips and Arabic breakfast.

Pronounced “Zaa-ray”, Zareh will draw on the flavours of the Levant and beyond, with a menu rich in local produce and spices imported from Lebanon.

The menu is still a work in progress, but if it’s going to feature anything like the sort of food Sarafian has been dreaming up for his events and pop-ups lately, there’s plenty to be excited about. Trout served kafta nayeh-style, perhaps, the fish served raw and finely chopped, dressed with toum, onions and harissa under a herby nest of radishes and tomatoes. Or khorovets – pork cooked over coals and served with parsley and onions – a dish that would make a lot of sense grilled over the restaurant’s custom Armenian barbecue.

“The general rule is the meats, or whatever you’re cooking on the Armenian barbecue, usually on skewers, shouldn’t be more than 10cm from the coals. The coals, or traditionally dried grape vines, are burnt until they’re covered in white ash, then it’s ready for cooking,” says Sarafian. This method safeguards against the flare-ups that could make for less than delicious results. “The fats should hit the coals and send little bursts of smoke to flavour and perfume the meats,” he says, adding that when done right, it should sound like the crackle of a vinyl record, a format you’ll find plenty of at Zareh, spinning through a Pitt and Giblin sound system.

“I bought lots of records in LA and Mexico City. Tonnes of Arabic music, stuff I haven’t seen anywhere else.” Three three suitcases full, he says. “I’m excited to play them on, what’s in my opinion, the greatest quality speakers in the world.”

He’s handy with a vegetable kebab, too, so his beetroot brushed with toum might make an appearance on the menu, and we expect a full complement of gorgeous sides like okra in a crisp cumin-scented batter, or smoked Iranian rice with barberries and saffron. Signatures such as king prawn and spanner crab hummus and cheese ma’amoul are a lock for the new venue, he says, as is his Middle Eastern-accented take on the classic Gilda tapa.

“Zareh was also a chef and brought my Armenian family to Melbourne from Egypt. I’ve always been inspired by the flavours of my upbringing Arabic and Armenian dishes and I’m proud to dedicate this restaurant to him and my family.” It’s a vision he says he’s worked on for years, brought into sharper focus after a trip to Los Angeles, specifically the neighbourhood of Glendale, otherwise known as Little Armenia.

“Glendale feels like being in Armenia, it’s the biggest Armenian diaspora anywhere. But what’s most exciting is that Armenians from everywhere are there. Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian, Iranian – you name it, they’re there, and they’re cooking amazing food,” he says, pointing to Glendale’s delis as another source of inspiration, each packed with interesting Armenian products. “Everything from jams and pickles to cured meats and cheeses. I’ve never spent so much time in a deli, I was like a kid in a candy shop.”

His companion eatery, simply titled Sarafian, takes inspiration from this more casual approach: a daytime deli set to stock all of the hits of the Sarafian range – toum, hummus and harissa among them – plus exciting new provisions made by the man himself, such as freshly made yoghurt, cheeses, jams and cured meats. It’ll also be a place for breakfast – Arabic breakfast – and lunch. 

Here’s hoping Sarafian’s grandmother’s recipe for ful medames made with fresh broad beans, makes a seasonal appearance. We’d also like to put our hands up for the likes of his fish fatteh, and fried eggs with awarma, Lebanon’s lamb confit.

“I’ve always been really inspired by the daytime eateries and delis in Beirut,” says Sarafian. He sees the space as an extension of and home for the Sarafian brand that took Melbourne by storm during the pandemic. “My dream has long been to expand my product range into a space that offers the finest quality, authentic Arabic mouneh [preserved foods] to use at home.”

While there’s no official opening date nor address for Zareh or Sarafian for the time being, we’re expecting things to sizzle into action this winter. Stay tuned, harissa heads.