Given the changing season, cooler days and easing of summer crowds, now’s a good time take the drive to Victoria’s glamours Mornington Peninsula. While inland Red Hill winery restaurants in recent years have captured the crowds and won many of the accolades, seaside towns like Sorrento and Portsea have shared less of the limelight. But with this summer’s opening of Morgan’s Sorrento, positive change has arrived making a firm footing and marking a line in the sand; confirming a commitment in quality dining with thanks to Melbourne hospitality heroes Head Chef Paul Wilson (Botanical, Albert Park Hotel Oyster Bar & Grill, Icebergs, Wilson & Market) and his charming wife and front of house manager Bec.
Morgan’s is an open plan, bright and airy restaurant space featuring a line of concertina doors opening onto a patio dining area that sits adjacent to Sorrento’s front (bay) beach foreshore; close to the Sorrento-Queenscliff ferry terminal. Morgan’s head chef Paul Williams explains how crowds disembarking over summer have easily filled the restaurant with sometimes as many as 400 people dining within a matter of hours. Now, with the summer season officially over, things are more casual; presenting a welcome reprieve prior to the Easter holidays.
Indoors the dining space is softly formal, with polished Victorian ash dining tables and blond farmhouse style spindle backed chairs sitting comfortably atop polished concrete floors. Shiplap panelled walls and touches of sandstone incorporated into the design presents a fresh take on Sorrento’s historic building textures. We are seated outdoors where timber bench seating and tables allow ample space for large groups and family and friends to spread out. A laid back contemporary cool music soundtrack adds to the buzz of occasion; uninterrupted bay views, framed by lines of Norfolk Island pines, compliment the glimmering turquoise waters in full view.
At the table sleek and stylish speckled sandstone-look porcelain plates and finely polished gleaming designer cutlery further sets the scene. The overall set table appearance presents a soothing ‘feet in the sand’ natural canvas that’s helps the mind and body relax prior to dining.
First to the table is a large bowl of Spring Bay Mussels, served ‘Genovese Style’ – it arrives with a magically crafted aroma that’s both nutty and sweet. Plump flavoursome mussels cooked in a little white wine and butter are topped with just made, fresh pesto, toasted pine nuts and salted ricotta. Sides of chargrilled sourdough allow one to mop up the ample amounts of soup like pesto, seafood stock sauce. Best described simply as ‘utterly delicious’, the mussels are a totally unexpected delight. The pesto and cheese adds a greater umami depth of flavour.
Skipping continents, in theme, Paul’s King Fish Ceviche is served with a gutsy Peruvian chilli relish and pickled vegetables. It’s a wildly colourful dish and tastes fresh and light, perhaps excepting the heat kick of the chilli. It’s one of those surprising food creations that ultimately becomes etched in memory due to its marriage of pleasing tastes and textures: the smooth silkiness and clean flavours of the fish paired with the creamy textured relish that packs a punch in terms of heat and aroma. It’s worth the drive from Melbourne, or beyond just to sample this plate.
Fresh from Port Ferry, Victoria, are Paul’s Smokey Grilled Sardines with Gazpacho Salad – a brightly coloured dish featuring lovely hints of charred smoky flavours. A classic Spanish gazpacho forms the salad base and is topped with croutons, capers and cherry tomatoes. It’s all together another wonderfully fresh and fragrant dish that doesn’t detract from the clean simplicity of the fish.
At this stage of the meal, Bec suggests a local gem of a wine: Quealy Musk Creek Pinot Gris. Well suited to fresh seafood it bursts from the glass with a full, floral bouquet of citrus, melon and grapefruit. The palate is aided by toasty barrel ferment lees characters that round out and broaden its flinty/mineral clean backbone. It’s sheer perfection.
Given the change in season to cooler weather, a classic fish and chips or fish pie might appeal at Morgan’s and according to Paul, due to the unusual summer growing season, a change to a new autumn menu has been delayed.
‘The inconsistent weather means autumn produce won’t be in abundance until post April.’
The obvious choices therefore are the pie, as-well-as the range of locally caught grilled fish, ranging from delicate and sweet fish like: Blue Grenadier, Garfish (a highly underrated wonderful choice) and King George Whiting; through to more meaty/firmer options like Monkfish and Snapper.
‘The pie has a retro seafood charm and features snapper, leek and garfish, with a comforting tarragon velouté sauce – similar to a famous Cornwall classic star gazey pie,’ says Paul.
Paul is also serving his refreshed take on Kilpatrick using giant New Zealand storm clams. Paul’s beer battered fish is also steps things up a notch, served with a classic house made tartare sauce, a side of mushy peas and lightly dressed fresh watercress. The side of seaweed sated chunky chips offer the perfect balance of ultra crispy outers with fluffy and light interiors; their seasoning is just right.
While there’s a wide selection of modern Australian options on the menu, including Marine Steward Council sustainable fish, there’s also a friendly layer of classic Brit appeal at Morgan’s. With such care in preparation from Paul, and fine and warm service from Bec and her floor staff, Morgan’s manages to turn a humble outing of fish and chips into a perfected work of art; thus continuing the historic appeal of the iconic Australian fish café.
1 Esplanade, Sorrento, Victoria