Conti's Restaurant, Woodvale

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For those who follow Urbanspoon you may be familiar with the “wish list” feature on everyone’s profiles.  This is a handy way to earmark interesting restaurants for later reference.  Whenever I have the freedom to book a dinner outing wherever, I try to whittle away at this ever lengthening list of mine.

The Boy and I had just started our holidays and I needed a Bestie time instalment before the two of us headed off to Bali for the week.  After seeing some delicious pictures of my sister’s meal at Nine Fine Foods, I was reminded that this restaurant has been on my wish list for quite some time.  Previous attempts to eat there had been thwarted by a variety of reasons, but this time it looked like we were good to go with an available booking.

I was so delighted with the prospect of eating some interesting Japanese fare but as I eagerly told my Bestie where I had booked us for dinner, I was met with a distinctly grim and nearly nauseous expression on her face. She had recently visited an all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant and the very thought of another slice of raw salmon was enough to turn her similar shade to our nephew on the way to Rottnest.

As I was yet to see her new residence in Perth, she suggested we enjoy some drinks at her house and then go to a local restaurant at a winery called Conti’s.  Feeling a little guilty that our catch ups seem to always end up back at my house and not hers, we agreed this sounded like a good plan. On arrival to put us all in the mood, we drank some delicious Bombay Sapphire Gin accompanied by sparkling fruit juice and fresh lime.  So refreshing and uplifting!

For a bit of a history lesson on Conti’s humble beginnings; Sicilian immigrant Carmelo Conti moved to Australia in the 1920’s where he grew veggies for the local market for just over a decade until he decided to diversify and planted vines in 1948. The Conti family have been making wines ever since and it has remained a family owned business which impressively is now entering its third generation of wine making.

The restaurant is housed in the original homestead built in 1927 where the family raised their eight children. The house is beautifully restored maintaining the stunning wide jarrah floorboards and high ornate ceilings that are typical of this era.  I simply love old character homes, our own home was built in 1928 and shares many similar features.

The menu described itself as “a deliciously wholesome menu, commonly referred to as international French style combined with traditional Australian cuisine”.  We all puzzled over this fact. Here we have a Sicilian family that are cooking French food with a traditional Australian twist?  How does one cook such cuisine? My mind wandered with visions of steaming hot bouillabaisse, sumptuous foie gras, comical frogs leg’s and other French delights only to become perplexed how such distinct flavours could ever combine successfully with meat pies and lamingtons!

My Bestie and I are big lovers of oysters. One of our favourite ways to commence shopping expeditions together is to head into the City and make a beeline for the Oyster Bar in David Jones.  Once we are fuelled with a few glasses of champagne and a dozen oysters we are both in the perfect frame of mind to shop. So on this evening, we were quick to decide that ordering a dozen to share was a must.  Unfortunately, Conti’s oysters were definitely not freshly shucked nor were they actually fresh at all; in fact they tasted nearly off leaving an unpleasant aftertaste lingering on the palate.

Grilled field mushroom filled with prawns and seafood puree, topped with smoked salmon and melted brie

Believe it or not.  Under this bizarre mound of salmon pictured above lies a mushroom.  You may just be able to see the dark earthy rim around the edge. Topped with a criss-cross made with Brie the visual presentation of this dish started to drag me back to the eighties. Despite the meal being a bit of an eye sore, it was actually fairly tasty in a hearty home cooking kind of way!

Garlic prawns: king prawns cooked in butter with garlic onions and spring onions “A Conti speciality”

The Boy opted for garlic prawns. A simple dish that is easy to do well. In his rush to gobble them up he burnt his tongue. Doubtful he will learn a lesson, he is definitely the fastest eater I have ever met. He enjoyed his entree although he did feel the amount of onion was excessive. This is not one for the fructose malabsorbers!

Australian camembert: Crumbed camembert cheese, deep fired and served on mixed greens with spicy dipping sauce

 The Bestie ordered the crumbed camembert. I didn’t get to try this as the crumb was not gluten free. I noticed each of us had the same styled side serves of salad that were similarly eighties themed.

Conti carpet bag: Fillet of beef wrapped in bacon, stuffed with “fresh” rock oysters and topped with prawns and a reduction of beef jus, mushrooms and onions

I had never heard of a carpet bag steak until Bestie’s man Timmy started to describe it to me over NYE celebrations at the Greenhouse.  Apparently it is an American dish that was very popular in Australia and NZ in the 70’s. Ah haa! The presentation of the meals is starting to make sense. This is where the traditional Australian comes into it all!

The other three all ordered this insane dish. It was met with mixed responses. The Boy initially said it was disgusting but on further questioning he said it was purely just the cooked slippery oysters that were embedded in the steak that he found gross. The rest of the dish was quite flavoursome. Unfortunately, the key component of the carpet bag steak is in fact the oysters, so I’m figuring overall this was a thumbs down. To be fair, the Boy hasn’t been the greatest advocate of oysters since an accidental ingestion of one that subsequently gave him food poisoning.

Grilled medallions of venison served on a mushroom sauce and topped with asparagus and cranberry sauce

I ordered my venison rare. I struggle to eat beef or venison beyond rare as the meat loses its soft texture and delicateness. It was served medium rare and some of the medallions were heading towards medium and were fairly chewy.  The meat was drowned in sauce which managed to inject some much needed moisture back into the neglected meat.

Fresh strawberries in a meringue tartlet with Crème de Menthe and Grand Marnier, topped with chocolate sauce

My meringue dessert comprised of an exploding volcano of strawberries tumbling out of a dry and stale meringue tartlet that tasted shop bought. Curiously balanced on top of this fruit  eruption balanced a nearly phallic shaped cylinder of more meringue.  Next to this a mint leaf was speared into the centre of a squirt of presumably canned cream.  I was thankful that everyone was sharing their desserts as my choice was not enjoyable.

Hazelnut “zelante”: Rich hazelnut gelato encased in a smooth chocolate coating

Timmy ordered the hazelnut gelato, once again there were some oddly positioned pieces of fruit decorating his plate, nearly resembling the elegant female form.  The gelati was hard and icy, and tasted like it had spent a little too long in the freezer prior to serving.

The Bestie has the Brandy snap basket which I completely forgot to photograph as we had worked our way through a fair amount of Paul Conti’s crisp Unwooded Chardonnay. I did manage to sneak a couple of mouthfuls from her and it gave me definite dessert envy!

Overall for the price Conti’s desperately needs some shazam injected back into the kitchen. Their food appears tired and old fashioned, and some of the ingredients used were not fresh.  Having the history behind them of being a self-sufficient farming family who grew everything for themselves, they even made their own cheese and milk; they should get back to their roots and carry this core value into their restaurant today?

Conti’s Restaurant
529 Wanneroo Road, Woodvale 6026 | (08) 9409 1516 |
Price:          $$$$ ($18-22 entrée, $31-38 Mains)
Food:          2.5/5 (need to update presentation and use fresh ingredients)
Service:       3/5 (pleasant and efficient)
Ambience:   3/5 (beautiful old homestead)
Drinks:         4/5 (definitely worth a try, maybe skip the food)
Total:         12.5/20
Conti's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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