The restaurant has a long open kitchen which gives us a chance to meet Head Chef and Morena co-owner, Alejandro Saravia. A Peruvian native, Alejandro tells us he wanted to open a restaurant showcasing Latin American food in a more fine-dining setting (which is quite popular in Peru), rather than focusing on street-food which is what many of us associate Latin American cuisine with. Sounds good to me!
We're here for a six-course degusation that starts off with an Amuse Bouche of Yellow Chilli Granita with Orange - it's punchy and spicy, yet coolly refreshing at the same time, and certainly wakes up those taste buds. This is followed by a Bread Roll with Chilli that actually has quite a sweet flavour and soft texture (it reminds me of the buttermilk bread roll I had from Denny's in Hawaii - sacrilegious to compare the two I know).
Our first entree is the Solterito Salad - a delicate plate of Andean homemade cheese, dry olives, white corn, poached cherry tomatoes with an an aji amarillo dressing. It's a beautiful dish, quite light and "summery".
Chef Alejandro kindly sends out a complimentary Peruvian Ceviche for The BFF and I to try. Our waiter proudly tells us this is the "national dish" of Peru and it's known to cure all sorts of ills (including a hangover). In Peru it's often drunk with the popular soft drink known as Inca Cola. The Ceviche is FANTASTIC - plump pieces of pink snapper served with cancha (toasted corn - which is DELICIOUS) and caramelised sweet potato. It has a little bit of a chilli kick to it which I love. We also get to try the Vegetarian Ceviche (which is part of the degustation) which is a medley of white funghi shimeji mushrooms, baby artichoke hearts and baby radish. We both really like this dish, but agree the "regular" ceviche is the pick of the two - it makes out mouths come alive with some much texture and flavour.
Seeing as I've tried the national dish of Peru it seems only fitting to give the national drink a go as well. The Pisco Sour ($17.00) looks like a frothy little milkshake but it packs of of a punch for this "one glass wonder". The drink is a mix Santiago Queirolo Pisco (brandy), lime juice, gomme syrup and an egg white and is shaken vigorously to give it its "frothiness" and served with a dash of bitters.
The Pork Belly Chicharon (free-range of course) is this dish The BFF has been waiting all night to try - and he's pretty happy when it arrives at our table. The Pork Belly is tender and topped with a good tile of crackling. The dish comes served with caramelized onion and sweet potato crisps.
The Pisco flambé Queensland king Prawns are a real winner for both of us - the surprise dish of the night in terms of flavour and enjoyment. Served with an aji amarillo and panca sauce (hot yellow chille pepper) the dish has a real kick to it which goes well with the deliciously charred prawns. The little dots of coriander mint salad help alleviate some of the heat - phew!
The BFF may have been here for the pork, but I'm here to try the Alpaca! Alpaca is quite a popular dish in Peru (just like Kangaroo is quite popular in Australia - they're cute, but tasty too just like lambs, piglets and chickens) however Morena is only one of three restaurants in the country to serve it (the other two are in Berry, close to the free-range Illawarra Alpaca farm). The Alpaca shoulder (in the background of the shot) has been braised for 48 hours with roasted Andean ajies (chilies) - it's fall apart tender and rich with the flavour of chillies. The Alpaca shank croquette is my favourite element on the plate - the texture of the crispy croquette shell marries really well with the tender, shredded Alpaca meat.
When I was eating this dish I kept thinking "what does Alpaca taste like"... the meat looks kind of like lamb, but "feels" more like beef, is it gamey like goat? I was trying desperately to associate with something I was already familiar with other than just a cute wooly Alpaca with big doe eyes. But really Alpaca tastes like Alpaca - it's quite lean and is a unique flavour, it's subtle and exciting - not gamey at all. I'd be keen to come back and try it in some other cuts and dishes but Alpaca definitely works well in a slow cooked dish like this!
And that's the end of the main event - we move on to a palate cleanser of of pisco sour jelly (I get a sense that the Peruvians are kinda fond of the old Pisco) which readies us for the delicious desert to come. The Tres Leches might not look fancy, but this traditional Latin American sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk was so flavorsome, so delicious, so moreish that I woke up the next morning wanting more. The cake was sweet and dense with milk and came served with a zesty roasted pineapple ice cream. A perfect end to a perfect trip to Latin America!