Step into a tiny spot of South American heaven in Eccleston Yards with Morena.
Founded by sisters Juliana and Valentina, the restaurant brings a taste of freshly roasted Columbian coffee and Latin American-inspired dishes to London, with a focus on carefully sourced ingredients, from perfectly ripe avocados from Mexico, fresh eggs from a Kent farm or acai from Brazil. We chatted with co-founder Valentina about her most memorable dining experiences, the inspiration behind Morena and her favourite autumnal dish.
What inspired you to become a chef and how did you get where you are today?
“It started when I was a child helping my mother out in the kitchen whilst she prepared the food for all seven of us. I remember very well when I made my first rice pot. I fell in love with the kitchen from that moment, it became a routine for us to do it together as little as I could have been helping. From that moment on, my love for the kitchen became my passion. Standing where I am today, I couldn’t be happier with my choice. It took me a lot of hard work. I worked in various kitchens where my skills were not appreciated, and I was being forced to stay in my CDP position. Other places were nicer and realised how much I was able to bring into the kitchen. No matter how bad it was, it taught me to be who I am today.”
Tell us about your favourite aspect of working in your restaurant…
“I cannot express how happy working in Morena makes me! Being as close as possible to my roots, to that roasty, warm scent of our coffee being made at any time of the day, the mixtures of colours and the Latin diversity of our dishes. I am grateful that the Morena family gave me the opportunity to show them what I’m made of. This is more than a business; this is a family.”
What’s your go-to dish to make at home in the autumn?
“That’s a very difficult question. I’m very international with my dishes. I could be making anything from a curry to a Colombian Sancocho to a beautiful stew. You can’t just have one dish when you have so many options for a season where you just want to feel cosy and warm all over.”
Where’s your favourite place to go in Belgravia?
“Peggy Porschen – just around the corner – is my place to go for a delicious afternoon tea. Not only do they have amazing and vibrant colours, but the service is also incredible.”
What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?
“Many dishes have marked me during my life but the first one that comes to mind is a sea food casserole, or ‘Cazuela de Mariscos’, made by my grandmother. It’s a mixture of sea food, slow-cooked carrots, coconut milk and other vibrant ingredients. I was in Colombia, and no older than 13 or 14 years old. I can recall all the patience and love-filled steps she would take to bring the dish to the table served in a clay pot, the colour, smell and taste all blended into a creamy bit of heaven.”
Discover Morena at 10-11 Eccleston Yards, London SW1W 9AZ.