Thursday, 26 December 2013

A Quick Review of Morsi & Sorsi, Singapore - Nothing to do with the former Egyptian President

I recently had lunch at a new casual eatery, Morsi & Sorsi, on Telok Ayer Road.  And no, the not-particularly-missed ex-president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, has not come to Singapore as a "Foreign Talent".  Rather, this is the newest brainchild of Lino Sauro, the current and soon-to-be ex-head chef of Gattopardo at the Fort Canning Hotel.  And yes, it is the same old Singaporean story of landlords seeking their pound of flesh at lease renewal time, so much so that Sauro decided that it was no longer viable to keep Gattopardo going.

I enjoyed Sauro's food at Gattopardo, although the sales tactics and lack of transparency by the servers were an occasional source of aggravation.  Here at Morsi & Sorsi, Italian for "sips and bites", he has swapped his lavish fresh seafood display for a glass counter which prominently displays the produce, drinks, etc. featured on the day.  And because Singaporeans tend not to take to eating at a cold glass counter, more traditional alfresco seating is provided outside the Telok Ayer Road shopfront.  Surely enough, on this Christmas week lunchtime, I count only two patrons at the counter, whereas the outdoor seats are all occupied.


Sauro, a very rare red-haired (or rather bearded) Sicilian, is also a rare cooking talent.  At Morsi & Sorsi, however, he has dialled his food back along with the decor, so hot main courses such as beef lasagne go for $13-$15, starters for a bit less.  The food here is about good, fresh ingredients, cooked simply but with classic techniques, at reasonable prices.  Evidently, this approach is winning something of a following, because after a mere month in business, it is doing well enough such that the prices on a few of the more popular items have already been raised a couple of dollars since opening.

I have to deviate from my usual practice of listing prices in this post because my dining partner, a particularly notorious figure in Singapore's F&B industry, was kind enough to pick up the tab for me.  You also won't get any photos because on occasion, taking photos during a meal can be inappropriate - shock, horror!  In his typically flamboyant fashion, my kind host asked Sauro to cook up a selection of dishes for us, and to the chef's credit, he managed to serve us five small courses and coffee within an hour.

Most of the courses presented were quite enjoyable.  I have particularly fond recollections of a piadina (white flatbread traditionally grilled on a terracotta plate) encasing tomato slices, 24-month old prosciutto and truffled mayonnaise.  I first got hooked on piadine when they were all the rage in Melbourne a decade ago, and I am very glad to see that Sauro is delivering a version that does justice to my happy memories.  

On this cold (by Singapore standards) and semi-drizzly day, I had a craving for the beef lasagne.  Instead, I got a very decent cannelloni stuffed with spinach and ricotta, doused in a mornay sauce before a quick visit to the salamander for some gratin action.  This, for me, represents the classic dimension that so typefies Morsi & Sorsi: when was the last time you had a dish with mornay sauce?  I also enjoyed the bite and flavour of grilled Australian veal ribs, with the nicely caramelised glaze adding some sweetness and intensity to the meat. 

Just to show that he is not all about tradition, Sauro sources some locally-cured bresaola (which is excellent, by the way) and pairs a generous layering of the air-dried lean beef with what I recall was baby spinach leaves and fresh mozzarella.  A quinoa salad hits the lone false note, but I have an irrational prejudice against quinoa and other so-called "super foods", so my views on this subject are perhaps not the most impartial.  Oh, and the coffee is pretty good too.

Conclusion

I like Morsi & Sorsi.  In the city, good value eating options are few and far between once you exclude the hawker options.  Very often, you won't get much change from $10 for a salad or a sandwich.  The Rotisserie next door has made a good fist of it since it opened three years ago, serving a large roasted half-chicken and side dishes for $16.  The main courses at Morsi & Sorsi rarely exceed this amount, and I think they will have some success tapping into the same market.

Just bear with me for a final rant.  While rising property prices are generally a good thing, extortionate rents can act as a drag on the Singaporean economy, stifling enterprise and generally making industry uncompetitive.  In the restaurant context, the restaurateur has to pass on the costs to his customers, otherwise he will go out of business.  And you wonder why so many restaurants in Singapore, even the good ones, often don't last for very long.  While I am glad that Sauro has stayed in the game with Morsi & Sorsi, I just wish that Gattopardo closing wasn't the price we had to pay for it.  I also hope that the future of Singapore dining does not lie with talented chefs dumbing-down their cooking simply to keep their prices accessible.

PS Daniel Yap, who does the PR for Morsi & Sorsi and Gattopardo, wrote to me with some good news today: Gattopardo will be re-opening in January 2014 at 34 Tras Street, presumably where the rent will be somewhat cheaper.  

Tras Street has developed into something of a foodie hotspot in recent years, with the openings (to name a few) of Brasserie Gavroche, Sushi Mitsuya, Fleur de Sel and Bar-Roque Grill.  It will be interesting to see how the new Gattopardo finds its niche in such a crowded neighbourhood.

MORSI & SORSI
51 Telok Ayer Road
#01-02
Singapore 048441
Tel: +65 6222 6530
Reservations not accepted




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