Cantina 663

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It’s not your traditional restaurant set-up with Cantina 663. Next door to the Astor Theatre in Mount Lawley, Cantina fronts Astor Arcade that also houses several shops. Depending on where you sit, you can freeze your chats off in winter if it’s cold and windy. I like the snug spots inside near the bar, but I’ve never been lucky enough to score one of those, even with booking way ahead of time.

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Our group of four dined at Cantina prior to a concert at the Astor, and decided to share several dishes. The food here is perfectly suited to sharing and if you do choose to go solo and get a plate of something just for yourself, you may find yourself with massive food envy. I’ve done that before and won’t make that mistake again. Fortunately The Prof and my other two dining pals were keen to share, and this was a wise decision.

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Every restaurant in Perth seems to have Barramundi on the menu these days, and it often disappoints me. Sometimes muddy, obviously frozen, or just plain tasteless, this fish can really be hit and miss. I guess the end product really does depend on the quality and freshness of the fish and in the case of Cantina, the Roasted Barramundi with Jerusalem artichoke puree, silverbeet and capers was spot on. Succulent, super fresh, and served with lashings of Italian parsley, paper thin radish slices, and kalamata olives, it was one of best pieces of Barramundi I’ve had.  However at the exorbitant price of $36 I felt it was excessive. Try dividing that small piece of fish between four;  you end up with a meagre mouthful each. Yes it was beautifully cooked and presented, but it was also overpriced. I can’t help but compare this with my recent Barramundi experience at Heirloom where we were presented with a generous serve of fine quality fish very reasonably priced.

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The duck liver parfait at $17 – sorry about the grainy photo – was silky smooth and rich, and perfect with the onion jam that accompanied it. Although it came with several slices of toast, we had to order more, piglets that we are.

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Are you dazzled by the colours of this next dish?  We were. This side dish of roasted cabbage and cauliflower with bacon and chilli at $10 was crunchy, flavourful and complemented by gratings of fresh parmesan. It was the perfect contrast to the richness of our other dishes. We all really enjoyed this rustic dish, and welcomed the change from the often ho-hum bowls of veggies or salads served as sides.

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Our next plate was the delectable Pan-fried gnocchi with pear and onion puree, gorgonzola and walnuts. Priced at $30, this dish was a knockout. The combination of tastes and textures was superb, from the soft pillows of gnocchi to the crunchy walnuts, to the caramelised pear slices – wow. Now this is one dish I would happily order and eat all to myself. It’s that good.

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Our final dish – yes, we ate a lot – was the Smoked fried potato with buttermilk aioli. Who doesn’t love potatoes? This generous $10 dish of roasty, toasty potatoes smothered in aioli was amazing.  These hot smokey babies were deliciously different and another perfect side dish.

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The Cantina 663 experience is a sophisticated food affair in fairly mellow surroundings. With innovative dishes that encourage your taste buds to explore and experiment, it’s the perfect spot for a few friends to settle in for a few hours and try some dishes that push the plain old white envelope just a teeny bit.  Although the main dishes are small and a bit on the pricey side, the sides  and starters are reasonably priced and you could share several dishes without going overboard. The wine selection is diverse with local and European offerings, and there is a jazz band now playing on Saturday nights.  Sounds like the perfect time to visit.

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