He’s back. It’s been four years since Pasi Petanen shut the doors on Cafe Paci, his pop-up restaurant in Darlinghurst that ran for two years. Diners were won over by a menu of interesting and experimental dishes, like his pho-tato Scandi-Vietnamese mashup and desserts of carrot sorbet with licorice cake. Petanen draws on influences across Asia as well as his Finnish heritage, finessed with fine dining expertise (Petanen was the former head chef at former three-hat restaurant Marque).
Cafe Paci has now opened in permanent digs in Newtown, neatly tucked in between Bella Brutta Pizza and Mapo Gelato. It’s a win for everyone.
The long and narrow dining room feels more like a European wine bar. Long banquettes along the wall are lined with tables and bentwood chairs. High stools at the bar are ideal for walk-ins and single diners. And the former set menu structure has been casualised in favour of a la carte. That means diners can pop in for a snack or stay for a full meal.
Potato and molasses bread with butter $4 per slice
Petanan’s potato and molasses bread has thankfully been revived. It’s impressively soft and fragrant with a gloriously sheen to its glaze. On the side is a swipe of whipped butter, interspersed with flecks of brown butter. It’s so addictive we run out of butter and plead for more. We’re rewarded with an even bigger portion that we down with glee.
Blood cake with whipped lardo and pickled onion $20
Blood cake is a hearty disc of earthy satisfaction. The pure-as-snow whipped lardo belies its mouth-filling decadence. Petals of pickled onion provide welcome acidic relief.
Raw beef with smoked tomato and parmesan $26
Raw beef with smoked tomato and parmesan is Petanen’s take on steak tartare. It’s not quite the pizza-inspired mouthful he presented at Rootstock and then Cafe Paci in 2014, but there’s plenty to like about this tender raw beef enhanced with the umami of smoked tomato and fresh parmesan curls.
Maltagliati with sweet corn, basil and walnut $24
If you like corn, you’ll love the maltagliati with sweet corn, basil and walnut. It’s beautifully balanced in sweetness, and boosted with the slightly bitter crunch of toasted walnuts. The maltagliati pasta sheets are whisper thin and silky. Next visit, I’d be happy to eat just this with a glass of wine.
Potato dumpling with XO trout $26
Is there a difference between potato dumplings and gnocchi? Methinks not. What these potato dumplings do offer is a cloud of fluffy lightness. XO trout is a little harder to grasp if you’re used to, and expecting scallop and prawn hit of traditional Hong Kong-style XO sauce. This trout version is obviously fishier, with less of the traditional garlicky shallot sweetness.
Flounder with sauce Florentine $38
Whole flounder is something you should order, cooked to just the right level of fork-yielding tenderness. Its mild sweet flesh is perfect for soaking up the lake of creamy sauce Florentine, speckled with mustard seeds.
Dutch cream potatoes with potato anglaise $10
And on the side, a serve of buttery soft Dutch cream potatoes, doused in butter. C’est bon!
Carrot sorbet with yoghurt and licorice $15
One of Petanen’s signature dishes, the carrot sorbet with yoghurt and licorice, has survived the move. This felt like a nonsensical and crazy dessert when we first ate it in 2013. It’s just as enjoyable and enigmatic today. The cloud of yoghurt foam envelopes a quenelle of carrot sorbet like an egg white eiderdown. The licorice cake on the bottom is ridiculously more-ish.
It’s a surprisingly accessible menu from Petanen, which is perhaps one of its only disappointments. The former set menu format forced everyone to join a wild ride, as Petanen ignored conventional flavour combinations and applications. Is this a more economically sustainable option for inner west diners? Maybe. But I’d happily pay more for Petanen’s playful whimsy in a heartbeat.
131 King Street, Newtown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9550 6196
Lunch Saturday from 12pm
Dinner Monday to Saturday 5.30pm til late