My only experience with Pisco was when my Grandfather had just returned from a trip to South America, bringing back a malicious looking bottle of it. He whisked the egg whites, squeezed the lemon juice, prepped his glass and added the sugar before shaking the cocktail maker with a cheeky grin on his face. With pride, he filled my glass to the brim, complete with a dash of bitters. Eagerly, I took a gulp of my swish looking drinking. He watched as the liquid ran down my throat and my eyes widened in horror- there had to be something wrong. In shattered response, he gingerly took the glass to his lips. He burst out laughing. Instead of sugar, he had added mountains of salt to his beloved Pisco. So let me assure you, my first Pisco certainly was sour.
So it was with these memories that I sat down for an evening at Morena Restaurant – where I was not only about to re-discover Pisco but also experience my first taste of Peruvian food. With floor-to-ceiling glass windows, an open kitchen and formal dining settings, the space at Morena is modern yet there are various design elements, such as the exposed wooden floorboards and disordered champagne glass display, that create a more “down to earth” vibe. A pisco cocktail arrived promptly at the table and in anxious trepidation, I took a sip. The result was glorious. Not the soap-in-the-mouth experience I was expecting. I finished mine, and my partner’s, and then longingly looked at the waiter for more. He knew I had caught the bug. I was addicted. I had officially discovered Pisco.
Always a stickler for service, the wait staff truly were amazing. It doesn’t matter how good the food is at a restaurant, if the service is comme ci, comme ça, then it still won’t be a good night. Each staff member was equally bubbly, engaging, knowledgeable and warm. It was like they were all old friends. However the food refused to play second fiddle. Under Chef and owner Alejandro Saravia, the menu is described as Latin American, with a strong Peruvian influence. An entree of grilled Queensland king prawns arrived in all its plump and succulent glory with a roasted almond puree that tasted almost chocolatey. A small dollop of squid ink caviar created a textural shift to the dish and the almost-fruity flavour worked well with the rich puree. Two wisps of dehydrated lettuce sat on top, giving the dish height and elegance. The 48-hour braised alpaca brisket was served with a dehydrated quinoa salad which was bursting with fresh herbs however it was the tres leches dessert which won my heart. This traditional Latin American sponge cake was soaked in three kinds of milk which meant it was moist and yet still light however it was the cinnamon in the cake that reigned supreme. Served with a side of roasted pineapple ice cream and an incaberry compote, Morena, I will be back for more. More of your service and more of your cake.
On Bourke Street, Surry Hills.
Read more about Morena here