Morena Rebooted: A Journey Through Latin America in Sydney's CBD

Morena, Sydney

Remember Morena, the Peruvian restaurant in Surry Hills by Peruvian chef Alejandro Saravia from over a decade ago? Well, Morena is back but it's different. Located at The Fullerton Hotel at 1 Martin Place in Sydney's CBD it focuses on polished Latin American cuisine from Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina, Cuba and Colombia. Come along as we see what it's like!

Morena, Sydney

Sophia and I are walking around The Fullerton Hotel wondering where Morena might be located and then we find it in the north west corner of the hotel. Morena is ambitious - it's a large restaurant seating almost 200 people both inside, at the front steps of the hotel and within the atrium lobby. There are two kitchens at Morena: one inside the restaurant and a cold kitchen within the atrium. We're here for the media preview dinner just before the official opening.

Morena, Sydney

Lima born Chef Alejandro first arrived in Australia on the 30th of December 2006. He first settled in Sydney where he held dinners featuring his native Peruvian cuisine. A restaurant Morena (1.0) followed in Surry Hills. After that he moved to Melbourne where he established himself with restaurants Pastuso and Farmer's Daughters. "We got the opportunity to come into the GPO building and develop a food and beverage concept here. Sydney is a growing market and evolving. The majority of Latin Americans are in Sydney," explains Alejandro.

Morena, Sydney

While Morena 1.0 was Latin American it did skew more towards Peruvian while Morena 2.0 really focuses on all of Latin America. "Part of my growth and evolution has also taught me not to pigeon hole myself or a concept too much," says Alejandro adding, " I feel like if we had just gone with Peruvian it would be too niche. This gives me the option to be more diverse like working with charcoal and cooking Argentinean and Caribbean cuisine."

Morena, Sydney
Pan de Yema, cultured butter, charred corn leaves MEX $9

We take a seat inside and take a look at the menu. Every dish has a country code next to it to show where it comes from. The bread is served with cultured, salted butter and finely ground charred corn leaves. The bread has a surprising sweet element to it courtesy of brushed treacle on top.

Morena, Sydney
Eggplant arepa, roasted pepper and enoki salsa VEN $6.50

Arepas are made of ground maize dough and these are canape sized version that are great for a snack. The idea for these came from the group head chef Samuel Rivas who is from Margarita, Venezuela. Alejandro tapped members of his key kitchen team to get involved with the menu to highlight their heritage. The arepas are deep fried and stuffed with braised eggplant and chillies. On the side is their "umami sauce" inspired by Venezuelan guasacaca sauce made with roasted and fresh chillies. Tip: keep the little squeezy bottle of sauce at the table because it goes well with everything!

Morena, Sydney
Yellowfin tuna, aged soy dashi, daikon, aji rocoto, daikon, wasabi leaves PER $26

One of the things that Peru is known for is fusion cuisine. Nikkei or Japanese Peruvian cuisine is one of the main fusion cuisines. Here the yellowfin tuna is paired with aged soy dashi, aji rocoto (a Peruvian chilli pepper), pickled daikon, thinly sliced daikon and torn wasabi leaves. This is a beautifully fresh dish and the aged soy dashi gives the raw tuna a lovely complexity with a bit of heat from the chilli.

Morena, Sydney
Goldband snapper ceviche, leche de tigre, sweet potato, chulpi $26

If you enjoy a bit of theatre at the table then the ceviche is made at the table. The fish changes depending on what is at the market and today's is Goldband snapper, kingfish and octopus tossed with tangy leche de tigre, seaweed, sweet potato and chulpi or dried corn kernels. It is well balanced with both flavours and textures.

Morena, Sydney
Goat cheese custard, Andean crisps, aji panca and huacatay oil $22

Whatever you do, you have to order the goat's cheese custard. It's so wobbly and creamy that you just need to scoop it up with one of the Andean sweet potato chips. It is served with aji panca (Peruvian red pepper) and huacatay herb oil as well as a herb salad but honestly I just enjoy it by itself without the herbs as I enjoy the textural contrast of the creamy custard and the crisp chip. It's now that I suddenly realise that I need more savoury panna cotta in my life.

Morena, Sydney
Ox tongue anticuchos, Peruvian dried chillies, carretillera sauce PER $13 each

One of my fondest memories is standing on the streets of Cusco and having anticucho skewers. Anticuchos are skewers usually made with beef hearts but this version is made using ox tongue. The tongue is marinated in apple cider and chardonnay vinegars, soy sauce, roasted garlic, onion, oil and a blend of sun dried Peruvian chillies. I had all intentions to just try a bit of a skewer given I knew how much food was coming but I hungrily devour the whole thing and then look at the remaining skewer very tempted to devour that too. Peruvian food has a lot of sauces and all of the sauces really complement the food.

Morena, Sydney
300g/10.6oz Swordfish Milanesa, yerba mate sauce, sea herbs ARG $55

While Argentina is known for its meat it also has a strong Italian influence and this dish is inspired by that. In our section of food writers everyone raves about one dish: the swordfish Milanesa. It's golden crumbed and comes with a yerba mate sauce (the popular South American tea) and sea herbs which is like a tartare sauce but with South American flavours. The cutlet is a loin with a segment of the spine attached to it like a rib eye. Swordfish is a judicious choice, it's meaty and uniformly thick and in a Milanese the swordfish is similar to chicken with its meaty texture.

Morena, Sydney
Fore quarter Kaloola suckling pig, jus, mojo CUB $260

For the Kaloola suckling pig they take a 5kg/11lb pig and cut it into quarters and then slow cook it overnight. It is then dried and hung and finished in the brasa charcoal oven to bring out a smoky, charcoal flavour. The suckling pig is served with a concentrated jus and a herbal chilli sauce. The price at $260 is a bold move in this economy although in the expense account end of town it may be work. However I do wish that the skin was more glass-like and crisp though which is one of the best parts of suckling pig.

Morena, Sydney
Roasted palm heart, taxo vinaigrette, shallots, avocado, herbs ECU $16

Alejandro explains, "Palm heart is a traditional ingredient in Latin America from the Northern and Central parts of South America." Here they use palm hearts from a farm in Queensland. It is a refreshing side dish perfect with the meat mains. It's roasted palm hearts, sliced palm with a taxo vinaigrete, cubes of ripe avocado and herbs with a surprising sweet element to it from the honey.

Morena, Sydney
Hand cut potato chips, aji amarillo mayo AUS $15

The only item from Australia on the menu are the hand cut potato chips. Peru is known for its many varieties of potato (around 3,700!) and Alejandro has sourced potatoes from the Spud Sisters. He describes how they run around Melbourne in a white van to restaurants selling a wide variety of potatoes grown from NSW to Victoria. These are their Andean Sunrise potatotes that are hand cut and served with aji amarillo (Peruvian yellow chili pepper) mayonnaise. These fries are so moreish and I end up diving deep in this bowl for more.

Morena, Sydney
Pink Guava slice, cheese mousse, almohabana cake COL $16

The almohabana cake was inspired by Morena's Colombian pastry chef Simon and is a soft cake topped with meringue style cream cheese mousse and a sweet and tangy pink guava fruit leather disc on top.

Morena, Sydney
Coconut Sponge, Oblea, Coconut Diplomat Cream, Dulce de leche ARG $16

The coconut sponge is soft and light and is filled with coconut diplomat cream and dulce de leche and sits under the shade of an Oblea. This is a crisp, sweet wafer similar to a waffle cone and is often spread with dulce de leche. I tap the wafer with the bottom of a spoon and the contrast between the crisp wafer, soft sponge, cream and dulce de leche is very moreish.

Morena, Sydney

And a little extra: if diners want to send a postcard, Morena will have postcards available to send because just around the corner is one of Sydney's oldest post offices!

So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever been to Latin America? Have you tried much Latin American food?

NQN attended the media preview as a guest of Morena but all opinions remain her own.


Sydney GPO, 1 Martin Pl, Sydney NSW 2000

Phone: (02) 6305 3820

Monday to Saturday 11:30am until late

Coffee Window from 7am

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