Friday, 15 November 2013

EDB13 Perth Trip - Cantina 663

We were in Perth with full bellies from a fantastic lunch from Balthazar (see post here) and we had a few hours to kill before we would be catching up with a handful of Brisbane bloggers for dinner.  We had never been to Perth together before, so we had a really good opportunity to explore the CDB a little bit and being honest do a little comparison with Brisbane. 

The first thing we noticed is that the Perth CBD is long and skinny. I mean really long, the main street seems to go on for ever.  Thinking that we would tackle the long walk back to the hotel, we cut through a cool little arcade that transported us to London, England.  It was no wonder, it was called London Court and is a well known spot in Perth and I could see why, it was so cute with great little shops and a very Edwardian feel.

As we continued to walk around Perth, we noticed quite a few similarities to Brisbane, the climate is hot and people are pretty relaxed.  I mean really relaxed, there were more singlets and shorts wandering around the CBD than I have seen in a long time!  There's also not one mall but two, with one of them reminding me of Rundle Mall in Adelaide and the other a little bit like the Queen Street mall back home.  After a few hours of wandering around and finding where the hipsters live (around the hip and cool King Street), it was time to walk back to the hotel and get read for our visit to Cantina 663.

I'd heard a lot of great things about Cantina 663 and when I did my obligatory tweet to WA bloggers for recommendations, Cantina was one of the handful of restaurants that was almost universally loved.  I had arranged to meet Melissa Loh and Aga from A Matter of Taste at the restaurant but Aga had asked if she could bring another blogger along for the night, which was of course OK.  This was how we met Rachi from Le bon vivant who rounded out the six for dinner with Melissa's SO and SC.

SC and I were the first to arrive and we were warmly greeted by our waitress, who like all the other wait staff was decked out totally in black.  We were taken to our table, which was not actually in the restaurant but in the strip mall next door.  As the others arrived, it became an interesting discussion point that we were seated in what amounted to a run down mall and we couldn't decide if it was cool or a little disappointing.  

We had each been given a menu upon seating, which we later found out was brand new on the day of our visit.  SC and I had been waiting the longest, so had a pretty good idea of what we wanted but as our waiter, who we privately called Eraserhead due to his haircut, proceeded to sell us the merits of the chef's family style menu.  The idea behind the menu was that you pay $65 dollars and the chef would send out a selection of entrees, mains and desserts on big share plates for the table and it was a matter of diving in.  The only problem was that it was all in or all out and we couldn't get full agreement to go for the option.  

Cantina 663 has a 'thing' where the staff don't write down the orders, which quickly turned farcical when the six of us proceeded to order our entrees and mains.  Eraserhead did his best to take our orders but he had to keep coming back and repeat our orders, over and over and over again.  In the end, he just took our entree orders, then came back a short while later to take our mains.  It's fair to say we lost a little bit of confidence that we would get our ordered meals and it became really clear why the staff were pushing the chef's family style menu, no need to remember the orders.

As we waited and chatted about the upcoming food bloggers conference, Eraserhead came over to ask us if it would be OK to split the entrees, half first then the rest once they had been delivered.  It was a bit annoying, but we agreed anyway and I was happy to see that my order of rosa's chorizo was amongst the first plates delivered.  Accompanying the chorizo were some pickled carrot, cucumber and radish which worked nicely with the well cooked and delicious chorizo.  The chorizo was quite mild and was of a very high quality but unfortunately was mostly cold, which didn't detract too much from the dish but certainly had an impact on the overall flavour.

While the chorizo was a little cold, it didn't matter about the next starter which SC and I had ordered to share. We both love jamon and the conquistador jamon serrano was a dish that we couldn't pass up.  The jamon was presented very simply on a wooden board and was sliced incredibly thin.  There is a wonderful simplicity in jamon and the flavour of the conquistador jamon serrano was lovely and salty with an intense flavour that can only come from perfectly cured meat.  I would have loved some freshly sliced baguette to have accompanied the jamon to help balance out the very intense flavours.

Cantina 663 obviously had the idea to send out the cold food first as SC's beetroot carpaccio with aged goats cheese and hazelnuts came out along with Rachi's duck liver parfait with onion jam.  The beetroot carpaccio was an incredibly simple dish with thinly sliced beetroot with scattered cheese and hazelnuts over the top. There's not actually a lot you can say about the dish, it was beetroot, cheese and nuts and while it was a nice salad, it was a little pricy and maybe not good value for money

Rachi's duck liver parfait with onion jam was the total opposite with a major slab of really creamy duck liver parfait delivered with lots of toasty baguette slices and a zingy onion jam.  I had a little bit of the parfait and it was incredibly creamy, so creamy in fact it was dominant flavour with only hints of the gamey duck shining through.

After all of the cold entrees (including my chorizo, which should have been hot) were delivered, the hot starters came out.  I didn't get to sample any of the dishes but they all look pretty interesting, with the SO's grilled sardines with escabeche migas looking the most appetising.  Melissa was the bravest of us all and ordered the fried lamb brains with mojo verde and pickled cauliflower.

A short while after our mostly empty entree plates were taken away our main courses started to arrive.  We had been a bit dubious whether our correct orders would turn up but were pleasantly surprised when they all arrived at the same time and were correct.  Unfortunately our buzz from good company and interesting starters quickly turned with the sad realisation that the mains were not going to pass muster.  In fact, we all really struggled with our main courses.

I had ordered the arroz caldoso with cuttlefish and morcilla crumbs, which is a spanish rice dish not too dissimilar to a risotto.  Roughly translated arroz caldoso means frothy rice and while the dish looked quite appetising, I really struggled with the flavour combinations and the cuttlefish.  The dish was really quite heavy, much heavier than you would get with a typical risotto.  What I really didn't like about the dish was the pumpkin that was included in the dish, a vegetable that I really don't like.  With such a dominant flavour though-out the dish, it should have been noted on the menu, I would have selected another option.  The morcilla crumbs kept me interested in the dish and I tried to like the arroz caldoso but could only eat about a third of it before I gave up, it just didn't sit well on my palate.

SC and Aga both ordered the open lasagne with caponata, pecorino, rocket and pine nuts.  This dish was a disaster.  Aga took one mouthful before she gave up, there was a concentrated sweetness in the lasagne that was difficult to eat.  SC fared a little better and ate about half of it before giving up, there was something not right about the dish, the balance of flavours was out and there was just too much going on.  

The only other main that I had a little sample of was Melissa's Freemantle swordfish, with green bean, oregano salsa and almond.  We had never seen swordfish presented in this fashion before, usually it's flatter and there are definitive 'swirls' in the flesh.  The swordfish looked as if it was cooked well, but the texture was a little strange, it was firm and I mean really firm.  Interestingly enough it was still moist inside and had OK flavour, not too strong but you could certainly tell it was fish....

Of the five different mains that we ordered we were underwhelmed by all of them and in some cases, outright disappointed.  After a promising, if disjointed start to the meal, we expected much more from one of Perth's top restaurants.  We discussed the option of dessert but couldn't really bring ourselves to order any of the desserts on offer, they just didn't excite us.

The staff were really friendly on the night and, apart from the ordering hiccup, were there when we needed them on the night and regularly checked in to see if we need more beer or water for the table.  As one of our waiters took away our mostly full plates, she asked us if we were local and when we confirmed we were from interstate followed up with a 'what brings you to Perth' question.  With sheepish grins we all admitted to being in Perth for a food bloggers conference, so I can only imagine what she was thinking after she took our plates away.....

I felt a little responsible for the group as I had recommended Cantina 663 as a destination for dinner, which simply didn't measure up for us on the night, especially given it holds an Australian Good Food Guide chefs hat.  We couldn't be sure if it was just because of the new menu but would have to assume that this was mostly the cause of our sub par mains.  Unfortunately, we wouldn't be able to go back to find out, it's just over 4,300 kilometres away and not an easy trip for a return visit.

We had been in Perth one day and we were running at a fifty percent success rate for our meals.  I really hoped that we would have some more great food before we left to go home.....

The zucchini and chickpea fritters with peperonata and yoghurt were a little dry
Melissa did well with the fried lamb brains
SO thought the organic lamb with silver-beet, eggplant pumpkin and broad-beans lacked strong flavour
Rachi thought the gnocchi was OK but there was too much of it and she was offering it away, left, right and centre
The inside of the restaurant is not so large
Which is why we were sitting in the 'strip mall'.  Eraserhead was busy cleaning away our mess 
Lots of exposed brick and a pretty cool spot overall, the food just didn't hit it on the night

Cantina 663 on UrbanspoonCantina 663

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