Review: Morena (Surry Hills) – Closed

Peruvian chef Alejandro Saravia has been offering cooking classes, degustation events and gourmet tours (from Sydney to Perú) for years under the brand A Taste of Perú. I had a taste of his work in 2010 after the screening of Cooking Up Dreams, a documentary about Peruvian cuisine, and I wondered “when will he open a restaurant”? Last October, my question got answered.

In most Latin American countries, many people have African blood running through their veins. This doesn’t only affect the way we look (morena means dark-skinned woman) but also the way we (they) dance and, of course, the way we cook.

Surry Hills is the perfect spot for this restaurant. It has a trendy yet relaxed lounge-type vibe. Cool music and nice furniture. Great bilingual service.

We didn’t have cocktails but most of them sounded inviting. I’d dare to say that the drinks list is a bit more international than the food menu, which is mainly Peruvian – that’s a good thing, by the way :)

Our friends Susy and José had already spotted what they wanted to order in the online menu. They just double-checked with us, as none of them had eaten Peruvian food before (she is Venezuelan, he is Uruguayan). She ordered the Peruvian ceviche with pink snapper, served with cancha & caramelised sweet potato to start. He ordered the Andean garden: desirée potato & huacatay gnocchi, poached royal blue potatoes & kestrel potato crisps on lima bean purée with quinoa soil, broad bean & heirloom carrots. Both were delighted with their choices, taste and presentation-wise.

Peruvian ceviche w/ pink snapper

Peruvian ceviche with pink snapper ($20.00)

Andean garden

Andean garden ($18.00)

Gladys, Alvaro and I wanted to try everything. We ended up ordering 4 entrées to share: the Peruvian ceviche, the 8 hours pisco cured king fish tiradito, served with herbal oil & squid ink caviar, the chicharrón de pato, confit duck, coriander mayonnaise with eschalot & sweet potato crisp salad, and camarones a la piedra, pisco flambée Queenland king prawns, ají amarillo & panca sauce with cucumber mint salad.

Where to start? Everything looked amazing! As usual, I started with the cold dishes. The tiradito was great, the flavours were subtly mixed. I couldn’t taste the pisco but I’m sure it added complexity to the dish. The ceviche was great, too, fresher than fresh and nicely seasoned. I found the little sweet potato balls a bit undercooked, and missed the presence of thinly sliced red onions. A bit of fresh chilli kick would have been good, too.

8 hours pisco cured king fish tiradito

8 hours pisco cured king fish tiradito ($20.00)

Next I tried the chicharrón. Wow. The best dish of the meal, in my opinion. The duck was perfectly cooked and bursting with flavour. The sweet crispy threads of sweet potato on top were a great complement. The camarones a la piedra were delicious, too. Plump juicy king prawns with a Peruvian seasoning, topped with a fresh salad, what else could I ask for?

Chicharron de pato

Chicharrón de pato ($20.00)

Camarones a la piedra

Camarones a la piedra ($24.00)

We weren’t very creative when choosing mains: we chose two of the same two dishes. José had the escabeche de pato, duck breast marinated in annatto seeds & ají mirasol pepper, served with caramelised sweet potato & orange purée, and Susy had the seco de alpaca, seared alpaca backstrap with traditional coriander & beer sauce, celeriac purée & Peruvian style carapulcra. Gladys, Alvaro and I shared the same two mains.

The escabeche was a remake of a traditional dish with Spanish influences. Normally, escabeches are served with a vinegar, chilli and onion sauce. This one was quite dry, and the onion layers were served pickled and on the side. The duck was tasty but for me the highlight of the dish was the sweet potato & orange purée.

Escabeche de pato

Escabeche de pato ($30.00)

The seco de alpaca wasn’t as saucy as the original version, either. Saucy or not, it was excellent. The alpaca backstrap (the square piece of meat; I can’t remember what cut were the cylindrical bits) had been slow cooked to an unbelievable tenderness, and the celeriac purée was a welcome innovation. Seco is not typically accompanied by carapulcra (a dried potato stew), but the flavours didn’t clash at all.

Seco de alpaca

Seco de alpaca ($34.00)

We were stuffed but the boys had to satisfy their sweet tooth. José ordered chocolate y naranja, Ecuadorian chocolate & cheese dumplings served with candied blood orange & blood orange consommé. Apparently the dessert was as delicious as it looked.

Chocolate y naranja

Chocolate y naranja ($15.00)

Alvaro ordered the clásico de arroz con leche y maíz morado, caramelised Limeño style rice pudding, purple corn jelly & semidried berries. This “classic” wasn’t that classic, but rather a modern “gourmet” interpretation of the humble dessert mix. The rice pudding was rather thick, and served as a slice. The mazamorra morada (purple corn pudding) was served as a sauce on the bottom on the plate and as jelly squares. Alvaro says he likes the original version better but I guess someone who hasn’t had it would enjoy this take on the dessert.

Clasico de arroz con leche y maíz morado

Clásico de arroz con leche y maíz morado ($15.00)

Morena

15/425 Bourke Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
(02) 0405 902 896
www.morena.com.au

11 thoughts on “Review: Morena (Surry Hills) – Closed

  1. Everything looks so beautiful…obviously not street food, but man it looks tasty. Is this the sort of food you’d get at home, but just less “fancy looking”?

    1. Not really, it’s more like an interpretation of traditional dishes. The elements are there, but sometimes cooked/presented differently. From what we had, the cebiche was closest to the homemade version than the other dishes.

  2. LOVE Morena. Such excellent value! The flavours, service, presentation.. everything all amazing! The flavours are better than some of the exy fine diners i’ve been to lately. I ordered the the rice pudding dessert(only gf dessert) and i think it’s comparable to a rice pudding brulee. Loved it. I’m not getting paid to say all this, honest!

  3. Fingers crossed Morena has broken the curse that is 15/425 Bourke Street! I can’t remember the number of restaurants that have passed through this address, but I can remember three. Maybe the Peruvian has better luck because the food looks so good. And like most people I’d order the alpaca just to see what it tastes like. :-)

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