Sunday, 27 October 2013

Cantina 633 (Mount Lawley, Perth WA)

663 Beaufort St
 Astor Arcade
Mt Lawley Western Australia 6050
(08) 9370 4883

    Mon-Sun 8:00 - 23:00Hours
    Breakfast: Mo-Sun 8am-11:30am
    Lunch: Mon-Sun 12pm-3pm
    Antipasto: Mo to Sat 3pm-6pm
     Dinner: Mo to Sat 6pm-late

Cantina 663 on Urbanspoon

Cantina 633 is located in the Astor Arcade, in the heart of Mount Lawley, in a wonderful spot that has kept spreading at the same rhythm as the popularity of the canteen has along the arcade and over the footpath. The ambience is wonderful, with great music and a gorgeous woody classy rustic inner canteen, and very pleasant in the other areas. Having said so, the seating area in the arcade can be extremely hot in summer despite being covered, and the lack of ventilation makes things even worse, which is a bit of a bummer.  

The place has always a cheery vibe. The place is always crowded, no matter the hour or the day you go, and has a group of regulars from all ages and kinds, and a traditional hangout for hypsters, foodies, and interesting people in general. The place can be noisy, and the space between tables tiny, so don't spill your beans here, but this also part of its charm!

The clientele seems to have decreased a bit in the last few months, as the same pace as the hypsters of the area have moved to Cantina's sister place Mary Street Bakery.

Cantina is an institution in Perth. You have to respect that. Cantina's owners have an eye for anything Mediterranean that is good and not that popular in Perth until they bring it in. Then, it becomes trendy around Perth, like their gnocchi, morcilla, or some of their antipasti. 

Cantina's food is simple and delicious, perfect for vegetarians, vegans and celiacs. They have a very small selection of dishes, and an interesting selection of imported goodies and drinks. 

Their BREAKFASTS have been hit and miss for me, but I have to say that their slow eggs are the best most perfect looking I have found in Perth. I had scrambled eggs for my birthday three Novembers ago and they were dry and salty, quite average in every possible way. A fact that has not brought me back for breakfast until this year. Since then, I have gone a few times and found great dishes and others that were pretty average. 

The Falafel Breakfast was perfect in presentation, serving size, and taste. The slow eggs were absolutely divine, yummy and so good looking that one felt like kissing them not eating them; I would added a bit of more sauce, to moist the whole dish, but this is just a personal preference.  

The Pancetta Breakfast was average by all standards regarding size, presentation and taste. The pancetta piece was first quality, so I felt that they had wasted a big chunk of awesomeness in a mediocre dish. 

The Cantina Full Breakfast was very filling and enjoyable. Unfortunately, the bacon was badly cooked, with the borders burned and the centre not cooked enough. The rest was perfect.

Their ANTIPASTI are delicious, especially the Antipasti Board, with so many different things on it, all of them yummy. It is supposed to be for two people, but it can feed a person with a big stomach if you want a substantial dinner. 

Their imported antipasti used to be quite exclusive in Perth, although the development of Perthies' palate and joy for tapas-style plates has them also available in other places. They might not be that fancy or wow if you are from the country they come from, but they will feed your nostalgia, not just your stomach.

The LUNCHES have also been hit and miss, wish some dishes leaving me wow, and others "unwowed". The nicest thing I have tried at Cantina were the Pesto and Seafood Spaghetti, a traditional Italian dish, that was absolutely yummy: pasta al dente, perfect mix of flavours, right amount of chillies, pity about the serving size! 

The Vegan Rotolo was amazingly good looking, tasty an filling, with a great mixture of textures and vegetarian ingredients. One of those dishes that makes you feel  that vegetarian is yummy an filling, and a decent serving.  

Some of their salads have an odd mix of flavours that I not always enjoy, especially because of the pungent green they use as a base for them. My favourite one has been their Salmon and Egg Salad, which I found to be an absolute winner; the  whole mix was a bit odd, a priory, but it ended being perfectly balanced, filling, flavoursome, balanced, and awesome looking, too. 

The cuttlefish pasta was a decent serving of casarecce, perfectly cooked al dente, light, filling, and perfect for summer. The flavours per se were good, but the cuttlefish is a bit blah per se, so the dish would have needed of some more herbs or spices to be more flavoursome. I always find that pasta with fish, not tomato-based, goes perfectly with shelled seafood or fish, as the shells give the extra punch in flavour that the pasta needs.

I love pan-fried gnocchi in general, but I have had different levels of satisfaction -all based on my personal taste- regarding the mix of produce they use in their recipe, and the degree of fulfilment (of my stomach) I get, as they are mostly vegetarian or vegan recipes. Still, this the flagship of the place, and very good, and you need to try it if you haven't already. 

Cantina's coffee is good and smooth. If you are into strong coffee, the Italian way, you will need a long topped-up macchiato to get what I call a flavoursome flat white. The coffee stand outside, at the moment just used on weekends at peak hours, is great to keep things flowing. 

They always have a small selection of slices, mini-tarts and muffins on the counter, which are lovely to accompany your coffee or finish you meal with something sweet. I have found them to be good, but nothing outstanding.

They also have a two or three sweets cooked in the premises, which is always a bonus, and more my type of dessert. I had the Yoghurt Strawberry Pannacotta, and it was delicious and a pleasure for the senses; wonderfully plated, a lovely mix of colours and a wonderful mix of textures and flavours in your mouth. The mix of the delicate yoghurt, strawberry strips of basil and nutty "dukka" was a winner. 

Their wine listing is one of the most interesting thing in the whole menu, and something you should splurge in if you want to splurge on something at Cantina. I am always pleased with their selection of Spanish wines and beers, which are badly represented in quality and variety in WA. They have Alhambra beer, which are only produced in the city of Granada, in Spain, and I almost cried when I saw it there. I have never splurged in their super-expensive wines, but every wine by the glass I have had there has been excellent.
I do not mind paying a bit for a meal, if the meal is really worth it, if the cooking is sophisticated, and what you eat is artistically presented. After all, you need to pay for quality, creativity, and fine dining. However, each time I visit Cantina, I leave feeling that the food is lovely, but not always worth the price. The pricing is ridiculous for some things. Just to give an example, the fried cauliflower dish costed 14 bucks, but you get a whole cauliflower, in season, for 2 bucks.

Imported goodies and bevarages are a luxury that we need to pay. We are paying for having those wines in Perth and for the high importation taxes that businesses have to pay to have them here, not because they are expensive or very exclusive in origin - I am fine with that.

To be fair, pricing is so ridiculous in most Perth cafes and restaurants at the moment, some of them of poor quality, that I content myself at thinking that at least Cantina the food is good.  

Fact - They are quite accommodating regarding changes and adjustments in their set dishes. That is my experience.

Fact - Some staff members are very friendly, sweet and serviceable, an others are unfriendly, tight, nosey and not serviceable. Generally speaking, there has been an attitude problem that I can barely tolerate. It escapes my understanding why a waiter would feel so high in his/her position to be arrogant to any customer. At the same time, I understand that, at peak hours, the place is packed to the rafters and the staff has to make do the best they can. In fact, it is stressful watching them running non-stop all over the place, and that might be the reason why they cannot provide a better service. I do not blame them, I blame the owners for not having more staff at peak times. The staff is certainly more relaxed when the place is not full or during the week.

Fact - You could arrive after some people have already ordered and be served before they do, or vice versa. Both things have happened to me. 

Fact - They serve your food fast or slow depending on the day, the hour and the moment you happen to walk in. You could be served your whole meal in 10 minutes or have to wait 10 minutes for a simple coffee. Both things have happened to me, too.

Fact - If you arrive before 12pm but after 11.30am, they will not serve you breakfast, or any food at all, they will not give you the printed menu list either until it is o'clock, because "they are deciding and putting together the menu"... Then, you get the menu list and its the usual menu that has been there for a few weeks. I showed surprise last time that happened to me, and the guy looked at me as if I had just arrived from inland Mongolia. I hate being bullxtd.

& The service needs an overhaul, and more people at peak hours, so the staff can attend to customers in a more relaxed way.

& The food menu should change more often. An ever-changing menu brings regular backs, and it is shows the level of culinary creativity of the place. Working with seasonal produce should create a bigger and more changing menu. They change, modify and add some new dishes regularly, but somewhat, most of their dishes are set and change little. 

& They need to add more meat and fish dishes, and/or add more meat/fish to the dishes they already have.

& Servings used to be minuscule, so I would leave hungry and a bit grumpy. The last two times I have visited the servings have been quite bigger, so I have left happy. Middle-sized servings are a a wonderful thing to have in a restaurant for entrees, and big-sized servings for lunches. I can take care of my waist line myself.

& The plating of some dishes could be easily improved. Their plates are mismatched, mix of rustic crockery with modern bone china. Some of the dishes look ugly in their plate because of the crockery. If you have good food, use simple bone crockery to frame it. Plate food with a photographic eye, as this is what people notice when you put a plate in front of their eyes. If you put a "brown" sort of dish on a blue plate, it looks odd and ugly, no matter how yummy it is. 

& The coffee glasses and cups are Lilliputian for anything you order. They need a set of mugs and average-size cups right now., don't even question my statement or raise your eyebrows. It is unacceptable and highly reproachable, that they don't allow you to seat if you have a take-away coffee from their own stand, or to order one from the stand while you are seating. This is, to me, a rip-off practice that doesn't make any favour to the place or the owners. I prefer to get my second coffee or both of them elsewhere, and stay here just for the food. Tap water is free :).

& The coffee stand in the arcade should always be there, even on weekdays peak hours. It really gets things flowing. During weekdays, coffees come out quickly for take-aways depending on the amount of orders that the barista has at hand. I have found them doing everything they can, but this is not always enough. A separate stand for take-aways would just be perfect for everybody. Also, think about this - people wait for their coffee in front or around the counter, obtruding the passage of the waiters to/from the kitchen, so things sometimes do not flow not even at a physical level.

& My eyes pop up out of my sockets each time I see the Italian salt container on the table. Yes, it is Italian, who cares? it is salt, so put it in a pretty salt container, like the pepper, and there will be some harmony on my table.  Otherwise, leave the salt in its original container, so they form a visual item.  

& Paywave is the wave right now. 

& They should be updating the info in their website as the same time their menus do. 

This advice is for free :)

Cantina is one of my favourite cafés and restaurants in Perth. Cantina is your place if you want simple Mediterranean-inspired food and antipasti and wines you are not familiar with. Cantina is not your place if you are super-hungry, need lots of food on your plate, are looking for sophisticated Mediterranean food or just for a quiet place. 

Cantina transports you to warm shores where food is great, but also something that bring people together and make them happy. That is included in the price, and it always makes me happy.

Location: 9/10
Layout: 7.5/10
Service: 6-8/10 (varies)
Food: 7.5-8.5/10 (varies)
Coffee: 7
Pricing: 7/10 

UPDATE 14/9/2014 

It has been over a year since I wrote my last review, and these guys have made the impossible to win me over. Yes, "Cantinasins", you have wowed me lately and you have earned the Five Star. Bling. Crown. Bling.

You have to say "chapeau" to these guys because they have addressed and solved most of the issues that were bothering me in the past, which I mentioned in my long review. Her Royal Crankiness (me!) feels very proud of you.

The long expected take-away coffee available on the table is now available (I consider that my own personal victory), their menu rotates more often, their servings have increased and I have found myself not being able to finish the plate (!), the pricing has kept steady (not cheap but not expensive either), and most of the permanent staff are welcoming and lovely. Yes, there is the occasional Mfckr, but they tend to disappear quickly, so the place remains the lovely friendly place it is.

Don't look at my check-ins, I've been there more than double the number, and I can say that Cantina has a place in my heart... and stomach  - Isn't that the same?

It is not just the issues solved (I love my issues to be solved so I don't have any issue with people who create them) - it is the food. That is what brings me back.

Visiting Cantina has become a sort of weekend ritual - Walking almost 15 minutes, empty stomach with the the anticipation of what they have come up with, first, and enjoying the yummy food and telling myself, it was worth it, later.

Sometimes you look at the new "thing" and tell yourself "this looks unappealing", then you try it and it is absolutely yummy. That was the case with the morcilla, egg and salsa verde on toast a couple of weeks ago. Top notch mix of flavours, and the morcilla was absolutely fabulous. The couple by my table kept looking at my dish, more thrilled by it than by their scramble eggs and lack of conversation :O.

What about the Kedgeree. No, it is not Mediterranean, but it was yummy, man-sized, very filling without being heavy. Perfect brunch. A big "O" came from  my belly. The splash of green salad covering the crunchy but fluffy mixed-curried rice "croquettes" stood proud on a bed of potato salad telling me... eat me all over!

I love their fresh organic juices, au-naturelle but bottled. Still, it would be great having fresh juices available. I love mocktails for lunch. They are so easy to prepare and so missing from Cantina's lunch menu... just saying.... And those salt containers still look ugly...


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