There are very few friends that share my unhealthy obsession with food – fortunately my date tonight, Swebb, is one of them. God love her, she’s torn a magazine article out while I was overseas and made a note that we need to take our taste buds on a trip to Peru… so here we are tucked away in the St Margarets complex in Surry Hills, at Morena.
I’d love one of their famed lime pisco sour’s ($17) that we’re offered en-route to our table, but I’m driving.
Swebb’s food intentions were influenced by her plans to visit South America next year, so what better place for her to get inspired and me to share stories from my travels there along the Inca trail to Machu Pichu. I was interested to read in my pre-dinner-google-research that Morena’s Peruvian chef, Alejandro Saravia, has an impressive reputation including a stint at The Fat Duck. If you don’t know me, know this – I have a huge foodie crush on Heston Blumenthal (just like the one I had on Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka when I was young). I’m still working on trying to get a booking at The Fat Duck for 2012!
For entrée we share the 8hr Pisco (Peruvian grape based spirit) cured king fish, herbal oil and squid ink caviar ($20). The Tiradito, traditional style of curing, is a bit too fish and heavy for me – it needs some acidity to lift it a little. I think we should have chosen the Peruvian ceviche with pink snapper instead… but we were trying to go with all things ‘traditional’.
The three week old restaurant is steadily filling up and trays of frothy lime pisco sours are dropped off at tables all around us. I’m drinking an 08 Rabbit Ranch pinot noir from Central Otago NZ ($49/$14)… I’d still love a pisco sour.
We’ve asked for a main size of the Barramundi pachamanca (Traditional Adean sauce) style served with Adean corn, bean sprouts, asparagus, baby spinach and roasted almond puree ($24) and I like the sound of the ‘Asado con Chimichuri’ Charcoal Agentinian style beef short ribs, smoked salt flakes, beats and chimichuri sauce ($32).
The barramundi is moist and I love Andean corn (El Capo in Surry Hills serve a moorish roasted version). The short ribs are melt-in-your-mouth, and along with the punch of chimichuri, it’s everything I hoped they would be… expect for the beats, I love beats but the smear on the side of the plate and scattering of yellow beat segments is a little mean.
It’s dessert time and we ask our waitress – who’s a little oddly and underdressed for somewhere with cloth napkins this heavily starched – what she recommends. She points straight to the ‘Tres Leches’ without hesitation. I love her conviction, but we’re greedy and decide to share the tasting plate of three desserts including ‘Picarones’ – Peruvian pumpkin and sweet potato crispy dumplings with raw sugar cloves & cinnamon syrup; ‘Tres Leches’ – Latin American style sponge cake soaked in three kinds (full cream, condensed and evaporated) of milk and served with roasted pineapple ice cream; ‘Classico de Arroz con Leche y Maiz Morado’ – Caramelised Limeno style rice pudding with purple corn jelly & semidried berries ($28).
The light creamy texture of the rice pudding has changed Swebbs usual aversion to any kind of rice pudding and the purple corn jelly is fun. Sadly all I can taste with the dumpling is ‘deep fried’. I need to take a breath after my first mouthful of the ‘Tres Leches’… Neither of us can speak. I’m sure the sponge has been left to soak leisurely in a bath of condensed milk for days - it’s three kinds of amazing! The tangy roasted pineapple ice cream cuts through the sweet rich sponge like Summer in my mouth.
Morena is a modern take on Latin American cuisine, with fine dining service and a fun vibe (get stuck in to the pisco sours…) but I was hoping to relax a little and experience more of the traditional Peru – perhaps that’s what our underdressed waitress was trying to bring.
Morena – 425 Bourke Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010 – 0405 902 896