Peru-born chef Alejandro Saravia introduced many Melburnians to Peruvian cuisine for the first time between 2014 and 2021, when he ran the kitchen at CBD restaurant Pastuso. In recent years, his focus has been more local – Saravia’s CBD venue Farmer’s Daughters, which sprawls over three storeys in the city’s luxe 80 Collins precinct, is dedicated to the produce of Victoria’s Gippsland region, while its more intimate sister, Victoria by Farmer’s Daughters, is one of Federation Square’s signature culinary experiences, heroing local producers from across the state.
Now, Saravia is looking beyond state borders, opening the 220-seat Morena in a breezy, high-ceilinged space inside Martin Place’s historic GPO building. The site was formerly home to Italian diner Intermezzo. It’s the second iteration of Morena for Saravia: before he moved to Melbourne, he ran a restaurant of the same name in Surry Hills from 2011 until 2013. This time, the brief is bigger and bolder.
“It’s a project that’s been in the making for 15 years,” Saravia tells Broadsheet. “When I started introducing Peruvian cuisine to Australia, there was a lot of misinterpretation of what [it] was. Everything was mixed into one pot without the clear recognition of [whether it was from] Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico. Morena 2.0 is the culmination of all these years, and rounds up my experience as a chef and restaurateur.”
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The menu will include dishes from across Latin America, with Cuban, Mexican, Venezuelan, Argentinian and Brazilian influences all playing a part. Peruvian dishes, though, will star (“I can be a little biased,” Saravia jokes) in a dining experience that the chef wants to be somewhat educational, rather than a Latin American-Australian hybrid.
Take ceviche, which will have multiple iterations on the menu. “We want to see a comparison of this iconic Latin American dish that comes from Mexico … then as one of the star dishes of Peru. In Latin America, every single country has its own version of ceviche.”
Saravia wants diners to leave with “a good understanding of how a mole tastes from Mexico, or how a moqueca [fish stew] should taste in the north coast of Brazil, or the difference between a Peruvian and Colombian ceviche. We’re very mindful that we’re representing different cultures.”
Saravia will be championing the producers and suppliers of New South Wales, with some imported ingredients “to preserve the authenticity of the flavours” of the regions he’s putting on a plate.
He points to chillies as an example.
“The diversity that Latin American chillies have is going to be a strong drawcard ... From Mexican chillies that are smoky, earthy – [they] almost taste like dried fruit and nut – and the fresh and citrussy chillies from Peru to [chilli] oils from dishes in Brazil that have a strong Portuguese and African influence. You’ll find ones that blow your head away [with] how spicy they are, but there’s also chillies that are very mild, flavoursome, rounded.
“We don’t want to water down the palate of Australians now, we want to give them a good punch of flavour – those that are round, bold and big.”
The ground-floor Morena will have seating out front for those wishing to dine overlooking the busy square. Inside, the styling will remain pared back, allowing the grand heritage space to star.
Morena is slated to open in the GPO building at 1 Martin Place, Sydney, in November.