So, after a series of reasonably uninspiring restaurant experiences along Beaufort Street, we were looking forward to something different, something a little controversial (as we have heard both positive and negative reviews) and something that we were pretty confident would be up our alley.
The Brains and The Deliberator’s old neighbours (‘old’ in the sense that are no longer their neighbours, and that they are both pretty old) joined the bloggers for an evening of even more wine than usual, and some conversation that made WA politics’ chair sniffing incident seem reasonably innocent. We’ll call them Fat Bastard and Double Skulls.
The Sponge, Booto and Stinky arrived first and requested a table for 6 (Cantina does not take bookings). The only 6 seater table was being occupied by a couple, while several 2 seaters remained empty. A confrontation was required. Our waiter professionally and elegantly dealt with the situation by asking the couple if they wouldn’t mind moving (they had not started eating yet) but it turned out they did mind. Firm, but polite, words were had and they eventually moved onto a smaller table. With much gratitude, the Stinky family secured a high table and 6 stools at the entrance of the restaurant. The table was in the Astor Arcade itself, so while we had a sense that we were eating alfresco, the heater and the protection of the arcade meant we were toasty warm. (Incidentally, the high table is great for families with babies – we were able to park young Stinky right next to us and easily peer down at him at regular intervals, without the pram getting knocked or bumped).
The Deliberator, the Brains, Fat Bastard and Double Skulls soon rolled in, already warm and loud from Thursday evening pre-dinner drinking. The wine list was quickly requested. We ordered an excellent bottle of pino gris and litre of red from the Swan Valley. The fact that you could buy a carafe of well-priced and very drinkable wine was something we took a huge amount of delight in. Especially when we were given stemless Reidel glasses from which to drink from. The novelty was so great that the white was soon dismissed as more and more carafes of wine were required. Drinking from a carafe gave us such a southern-Italian holiday feeling that we quickly forgot we had work tomorrow and smashed our way through several litres of this holiday happiness during the course of the night.
Finally we took a look at the menu. Half of the menu changes each week, so while it’s short you can be sure you’ll find something different on it. The menu is very well priced for the quality of the food and the location of the eatery – entrees between $14 and $16, and mains between $24 and $32 (the $32 item being the steak, most other things were considerably cheaper). The entrees are designed to be shared, so we ordered one of each offering – grilled chorizo, olives and bread; marinated garfish with blood orange fennel salad; roast potato, spiced carrot and onion salad; and beef cheek with baguette. Each was outstanding. The delicate flavour of the garfish was a nice contrast to the strong flavours of blood orange and fennel, the chorizo (which seems to fast becoming the yard stick the bloggers use to rate restaurants) was smoky flavoured and chilli-hot and we can’t even talk about the beef cheek without dribbling over the keyboard.
After such a successful entrée, we simply had to order a congratulatory litre of wine.
Our mains arrived. Booto and the Deliberator went the slow cooked lamb neck with capsicum and polenta. The meat was strongly flavoured and fell apart with the touch of a fork. The polenta was soft and creamy. Fat Bastard and the Sponge raved about their roasted free range chicken leg and lentils, beans and pork belly. And who wouldn’t, that sounds like the finest combination of foods man can prepare. The Brains and Double Skulls enjoyed the home made pappardelle with prosciutto, courgettes and ricotta stuffed blossoms. The pasta perfectly al dente, the proscuitto uncooked and plentiful and the ricotta blossoms so ridiculously delicious and Italian it further added to our holiday-feel.
A celebratory litre of wine was ordered and quickly consumed through a number of toasts (to the food! to the company! to Stinky! to that guy walking past in the red jumper! to Phil Matera trying but not being able to get a table!).
Our delightful and patient waiter (and part owner) Alex was insistent that we try the last remaining slice of lemon tart. We were grateful for the recommendation, and ordered the lemon tart and then a slice of everything that was left in the dessert fridge. A wonderful array of cakes and pies were presented to us that we enthusiastically shared. Each one was better than the next, and like the main menu, the desserts are ever-changing.
The evening was drawing to an end, but there was of course room for a few coffees and one more litre of wine.
When the time came to settle the bill, not just the restaurant but the entire Beaufort Strip precinct was completely empty. We had been sitting at our marble table for hours. We had no idea it was close to midnight as there was absolutely no hurry-along from the staff. Another massive tick to Cantina 663.
Service: Very professional, friendly, good humoured, patient and most knowledgeable.
Food: Outstanding all round.
Ambience: A relaxed European feeling with a funky vibe.
Highlight: Being able to buy wine by the litre.
Lowlight: The conversation.
Rating: 4.8 hangovers out of 5.
Will we be back: As soon as possible.
Details: While we thought the prices were very reasonable, the bill did come to around $75 a head. But when you consider that we practically had every item on the menu, and we drank nearly 5 litres of wine, this was pretty good value. Cantina does not take bookings and offers wines in a range of prices. We did not make enquiries about corkage, but you really needn’t bother taking your own.