Cantina 663 has been sitting at the top of Urbanspoon's restaurant list for as long as I can remember, and has been on my wishlist for probably just as long. It's Mediterranean meets Italian meets Spanish cuisine presented as both tapas and main sized meals. And it's perfection.
Nestled between the Astor Theatre and Grill'd in Mount Lawley, Cantina 663 sits unsuspectingly with the restaurant on one side and a plastic tarp continuing the wall as the dining area spills out into an arcade of shops. Throughout the outside area is fans (and heaters in winter I hear), candlelight and tiny little fairy lights which twinkle at you as you peruse the exciting food and drinks menus.
The staff are fantastic; the restaurant absolutely pumping even though it's a Monday night. Thank god we called ahead to secure the last booking before heading down! It's taken us a few tries to eventually get here, so Jeremy and I are pretty excited by what's in store for us.
We're seated in the "outdoor" area; our table intimate but still close enough to see the food that other tables have ordered (yes we are massive food perves). Straight away our adorable Sicilian waitress offers us complimentary still or sparkling water, for which Jeremy and I can't help but marvel over aloud. I don't think I've ever been offered free water unless it's tap - and even then some places charge for it! It's such a nice touch, and the fact that our waitress stops by often to top up our glasses even though the bottle is on our table, shows just how great the service here is.
We'd had a quick look at the menu online before coming down but it's slightly different when we get there, which doesn't bother us at all. We're here for good food, so bring on the dishes!
The night starts off with a dish Jeremy's chosen - the Beef Cheek Tripe Strumpet ($16). I can't remember quite what the sauces were on the side but one was a nice creamy aioli type sauce that had lots of herbs all through it to give it a light green colour. And the other was an incredibly tangy corn chutney of some kind. The beef itself inside the fried outer was tender shredded chunks that tasted good on their own, but other worldly when combined with everything else on the board. The presentation was great, and the combination of textures and flavours was perfect.
Beef cheek tripe strumpet
After the wonderful cuttlefish at Duende, we're both keen to try the one on the menu here at Cantina ($17). It's lightly fried and beautifully prepared cuts of the seafood, sitting happily on a tomato chilli sauce that is thick and demands attention from first bite. A squeeze of lemon over the top elevates the profile flavour and sends me swooning. You can tell that not only do the chefs use fresh, diverse ingredients, they also really think about what will work best with each element and create a perfectly well-rounded dish.
When looking through the menu, I've spied the Duck Liver Parfait with Onion Jam ($15). It's a classic tapas dish and one that is very typical for Jeremy and I to order when we see it on the menu (I blame Cumulus Inc. in Melbourne for starting this addiction).
Without trying to sound like I'm exaggerating, it's the best parfait I have ever had. It is so creamy I actually can't believe my tastebuds upon first bite. The texture is velvety and smooth; the bread soft but lightly grilled to give a bit of crunch to it. And that onion jam is sweet, sticky and has a slight chilli backnote to it. I'm in love - and for both of us, it's the dish of the night.
Jeremy goes for the Jinn Gin ($11) which is on the classic drinks list. It's a refreshing gin and tonic with a nice lime wedge to bring some life into it.
Since we've ordered three smaller tapas style dishes to share, we decide to finish off our savoury portion of the night with a larger item. We choose the Pan-fried Gnocchi with Cauliflower, Hazlenut, Sage and Ricotta ($25.50). It arrives sitting on a silky and creamy bed of cauliflower puree.
This dish is so smart. It's impressive in its depths of flavours and variety of textures. The pan-fried gnocchi is soft in the centre but has a nice crust on the outside; the cauliflower is sweet and still has a slight crunch to each bite. The ricotta is a great addition in it's chunky cube form and each bite is elevated to pure heaven by the generous serving of hazelnuts. It's a heavy handed use of salt and pepper, but if you get each element in your bite, it works perfectly and is actually quite balanced.
It's a very close second to the parfait when I'm recounting back the dishes for our dinner.
We take a breather before moving on to desserts, enjoying the rest to take a couple snaps of the view around us. Shortly after I've fired off some photos on my Nikon, the tables around us are filled up with people who are as happy to be there as we are. You can tell this place is just full of loyal customers who are back again and again.
The outside dining area
The outside dining area
Since we've had a little rest, we decide to order a couple desserts, instead of just one to share (though I'm sure that would have been plenty). For Jeremy, he's gone for the Strawberries with Dark Chocolate Ice-cream, White Marshmallows and Salted Pistachios ($14).
It looks beautiful (the photo doesn't do it justice). The strawberries are vibrant and sweet; the nuts salty as promised and have that satisfying crunch. The dark chocolate ice-cream is too bitter for my liking (I'm not a massive fan of dark chocolate), but for Jeremy, it's right up his alley. He tells me they've taken it to just the right point when it highlights the flavours without being too intense. What I do like though, is those homemade squares of marshmallow. They're sweet but not overly sugary; soft and oh so fluffy. I am a big fan and since Jeremy's nickname for me is Mallow, he kindly splits these with me (being my namesake and all).
Strawberries with dark chocolate ice cream
For my dessert, I choose the Churros with Orange Chocolate Sauce and Caramel Rye Ice-cream ($14). It is a HUGE serving. I count about six or seven churros sitting tall in the glass on the plate, and the pot of orange infused chocolate sauce is very generous.
The churros are crunchy on the outside and aerated on the inside. The sugar coating is light and adds some needed sweetness. The orange chocolate sauce is a bit too intense in flavour for me, but I could see the appeal for those who are fond of that jaffa style flavouring. But that caramel rye ice-cream, well that's a different story. It is wonderful! Creamy and both savoury and sugary at the same time. I find myself omitting the sauce and just combining the churros and ice-cream instead - and it goes down an absolute treat!
I am so happy that Jeremy and I finally found ourselves at Cantina 663. It is a place that I think I'll find myself feeling warm and appreciative over for ever more. It's rave worthy, visit needed, and just an all round pleasurable experience. It is worth every positive rating that has made it the highest rated Urbanspoon restaurant in Perth - and I will definitely be back.
For more information about Cantina 663 visit them on their website or view their menu online.