It had been a while since our last meal at Cantina 663 in 2010, which was a very awkward dinner for A and I. The awkwardness was to do with the dinner guests, not the food, but for a while Cantina was a bit tainted in my memory. After two years, A and I decided it was time to return, so we booked a table for our date night and headed to Cantina 663 with high expectations.
We booked ahead as it fell on a Saturday evening and the service on the phone was very friendly. On the night, A and I were running a bit late so I called the venue to let them know. It’s courteous to do so, but also beneficial if you want your table to be held. When I called, a different staff member answered, who was also very friendly.
Cantina is a funky, tiny little restaurant that is only made bigger by placing tables in the Astor Arcade that adjoins the restaurant. We were seated inside, directly under the air con (win!) and at first I was happy to be inside. Due to the venue’s size, the tables are squeezed in very tight. I was lucky enough to get the booth seat, facing the bar, whereas A was unlucky to be facing a badly painted wall and had a limited view of the restaurant around her.
Cantina offers Mediterranean influenced food and I can see a lot of Italian and Spanish influences in their food menu. Cantina also prides itself on its organic, sustainable and seasonal ingredients. The wine list is comprehensive and there are many international wines to choose from. We ordered two glasses of wine to start – I ordered the 2010 Menade Organic Verdejo ($11.50) from Spain and A ordered the 2008 Las Rocas Grenache ($11.50). For our entrée, we ordered the Duck Terrine with Pancetta, Pickled Peach and Charred Bread ($16.50).
The Duck Terrine with pancetta, pickled peach and charred bread was a great dish. The three individual flavours of each element (the terrine, peach and charred bread) went very well together. The bread was only lightly charred however the flavour stood out but wasn’t overpowering. The pickled peach was a lovely accompaniment to the terrine and made the dish a bit sweeter and lighter in flavour. The pancetta was wrapped around the terrine and made for a yummy crust. The terrine was a little harder than the other terrines I’ve tried but overall it was an exciting dish with beautiful flavours.
For our mains we ordered the Twice-Cooked Free Range Chicken Leg with Chorizo, Chickpea and Orange ($25.50) and Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Organic Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil Asiago and 12 year old balsamic vinegar ($27.50). A and I decided that we’d have half of the first dish, then swap our plates. Interestingly, the table next to us did the same thing.
The Twice-Cooked Free Range Chicken Leg with Chorizo, Chickpea and Orange came to the table next to us while we were placing our order. The smell of this dish was sensational. It was the main factor that made A and I order it. When our dish arrived, it looked beautiful with the chicken leg on a bed of chorizo and chickpea. The chicken leg was cooked perfectly and the skin on the outside was a beautiful shade of brown and was full of flavour. The chickpeas were still firm and went really well with the orange, while the chorizo was excellent in quality and taste. Unfortunately, A and I found that there wasn’t much chorizo in the dish, which was a little disappointing, as without it the chickpea and orange element was a little underwhelming.
Cantina’s Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Organic Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil Asiago and 12 year old balsamic vinegar was a really interesting dish. The texture of the fried gnocchi was a new experience for me, but I really liked it. Normally gnocchi is a little too gluggy for my liking, but I liked the aspect of frying off the gnocchi, as it made have a little more defined texture then just a gluggy plate of gnocchi. Accompanying the gnocchi were heirloom tomatoes, which went with the flavour perfectly. Unfortunately, gnocchi is a bit starchy so after a while I couldn’t taste any of the other flavours, including the balsamic vinegar.
After our mains, the service completely disappeared which was really disappointing. I had already decided I’d be having dessert before we even set foot in Cantina but after waiting approximately 20 minutes for a dessert menu, A and I gave up. We asked for the bill and decided to head home for ice cream. It was a really hot evening when we went and I was also starting to feel a bit claustrophobic inside the restaurant. By the time we finished mains, the restaurant was completely full and the noise was really loud. The wait-staff were busy rushing in and out of the kitchen, which was right near our seats and it started to feel a bit frantic. Due to the tables being so close together, it felt really difficult to have a private conversation and at one point the lady at the table next to us began to sneeze repeatedly due to her allergies. It was quite off-putting being in a restaurant with someone so close sneezing uncontrollably (even if she was quite sweet about it). Next time, I will be asking for an arcade table.
We paid $91 for our meal, which was quite reasonable for two glasses of wine, an entrée and two mains. Overall, I definitely see why Cantina 663 is so popular. The fresh ingredients and simplistic food are highlights of Cantina 663, and the wine list is well crafted. The feeling of the restaurant is quite charming with the dark lighting, cosy atmosphere and simplistic, hearty food. I will definitely return to try the breakfast at Cantina 663, as it is highly recommended, plus they use my favourite Fiori coffee beans.
Update: I returned to Cantina 663 and had an amazing breakfast. You can read about it here.