date of visit: Saturday 14 November 2009
As 12 of us sat down to dinner at Mantra on Saturday evening, our host (the birthday boy) turned to me and said “so, will I read about this on Eating Adelaide?”.
This is a tricky question. Someone else has chosen the restaurant and organised the evening. If the dinner is chaos and I write about it, how does that person feel – particularly if they don’t share my point of view? If I only write about places I enjoy, then my silence on others speaks volumes. So, as a rule, I don’t write about venues that have been a part of a group outing.
And then, occasionally, I do.
Mantra is at the Goodwood end of King William Road – away from the stretch full of bars and restaurants and situated on a corner which is almost suburban. The exterior is dominated by a huge door (which, rather spookily, swung open, as if by magic, when we approached) and the restaurant shares its space with a large bar as well as sofas and a coffee table. For larger groups, there’s a comfortable space (not quite a private dining room) at the rear – which is where we were seated.
The food at Mantra was good (and I will expand on that) but the truly remarkable thing was the considerate nature of the service. Our reservation was for 7, yet the party was not complete before half 7: not a murmur. Andy had left his cigarette lighter at home and one was found for him without hesitation. There were some complicated food orders that were accommodated. We wanted a side door unlocked so a pram could be ushered into and out of the restaurant when a (generally well behaved) six month old baby had a grizzle. I suspect we were the type of party that, were we not unfailingly polite (!), give staff a headache.
While terrible service is enough to put me off returning to a venue, good service alone won’t guarantee that I’ll be back. So, what was the food like? Well, there was no garlic bread for the guest of honour, but we started with some good bread and olive oil and followed that with a selection of entrées. At Mantra, entrées are done tapas style so we ordered 10 plates between the 12 of us. Hummous crusted liver excited comment (the most excited from those who hadn’t realised it was liver), the carpaccio was excellent, I missed out on trying the scallops with Spanish blood pudding and the mussels, the sardines stuffed with feta and wrapped in prosciutto were lovely, and we also enjoyed crab cakes, chipolatas, something involving beetroot and goat’s cheese …
With a large group I could really only focus on my own main course, which was veal with sweetbreads (ooooh, one of my favourite things) served with a saffron, deep fried gnocchi. The gnocchi were odd – not in a bad way as they were tasty, but not what you’d expect from gnocchi, and both Andy and I found the sauce a little salty, and I thought my sweetbreads a little over cooked but … it was a lovely dish. The veal was perfect, the portion the right size … I also had a taste of someone else’s duck which was just as good.
No one was hungry enough to order dessert although a few of us wrapped up with coffees. With a small tip it worked out at $60 a head. This covered generous shared entrées and mains, beers and a couple of bottles of wine. That’s probably not the cheapest night out and I’m sure Andy and I could spend more money there if we tried.
And, do you know what? I’m pretty confident we will. I rate a restaurant where the food is good, where casual doesn’t mean sloppy, where offal appears on the menu and where the menu on the website is representative, rather than the week in, week out, fixed in stone offering.
Confident, delicious Modern Australian