Blog posts sure do take up precious temporal real estate. The average restaurant writeup takes 5-7 hours of work – copywriting, 2x proofing, photography, editing – not to mention the onerous job of actually hitting up the venue and – good grief – eating. Obviously kidding about the last part (and Poe’s Law compels me to say this), but yes, these things take time – even if nobody reads the content…*cough*.
I’m sometimes known to be – within reason, and especially on social media – unabashedly unfiltered of experiences that either weren’t up to scratch or to my liking. It’s another matter to write such accounts up in blog post form. Why spend so much energy in critique, when the result is usually just Chinese Walls and accusations of being pejorative?
Anyway, the long-winded point I’m trying to make is that it’s so much nicer to write nice things than to do the opposite. Negative critique is also typically more transient – people generally try to improve, not diminish – and so it makes sense to put that kind of explication up on an equally transient platform (it’s social media, people). When it comes to a restaurant that’s firing on all cylinders and seemingly doing everything right, everyone’s happy.
Enter Cafe Paci.
This post is based on two independently-paid visits to Cafe Paci.
Or rather, re-enter. I suspect most Sydney-based readers don’t require the introduction, but here goes for those new to the scene: in 2013, ex-Marque Finnish-born Pasi Petanen chanced across a deserted building, home to a long-gone eatery by the name of Cafe Pacifico. Paci -> shorthand for Pacifico -> rhymes with Pasi -> Cafe Paci was born. The cuisine was hard to pin down, and that was the point – Asian, Meditteranean, Mexican and fine dining influences are all reflected in Petanen’s cooking – with the result breathing fresh life into Sydney’s dining scene.
Any foodie from around that time knows that beyond the bright crimson/forest green door was anything but a ‘cafe’. Cafe Paci served up fermented rye and molasses bread, was one of the original chefs that made cauliflower great (again?), and served dishes like ‘photato’ – a modern play on Vietnamese pho without the soup. Yeah no, Cafe Paci was not its namesake, it was a fine diner charging bistro prices, and it was the place to be at.
I visited in 2015, the year in which Cafe Paci’s Darlinghurst incarnation closed. While Sydney has certainly seen its fair share of excellent restaurants rise (and as of more recently, fall), I think I speak for many when I say that if Petanen were ever to find his feet again – notwithstanding the various pop-ups & temporary residencies he did in the intervening 4 years – we would be at the door.
Well, the door is now in Newtown. The new space could hardly be more different than Darlo’s utilitarian, warehouse-reno outfit. Here, long banquettes, cloud-shaped tables and ample bar seating along the rectangular length of the space provide options for everyone: photographers (guilty) will want to nab the window-adjacent tables, while those seeking privacy can ensconce themselves at the black hole of the back. While the Darlinghurst space had its character, there’s something about the Newtown digs that’s just that much more inviting, warmer, familiar.
Having visited its current incarnation twice now, it’s clear that Petanen’s food has – notwithstanding obvious improvement – evolved. It’s become less fine dining, and more ‘non-junk comfort food’ – as I’m wont to call anything these days that’s seriously big on the flavour but is done in a clean, whole, and produce-driven way. A good call, as fine dining in Sydney isn’t doing crash hot right now. Most dishes are entree-sized – which encourages plenty of sharing – though exceptions such as the whole flounder w/amandine sauce & curry leaves make the rule.
The food was so consistently good that I struggle to single out specific heroes to recommend. This is rare, I know, and surely some Instagram followers are now more sceptical of yours truly when the response is ‘everything’ to the question ‘what do you recommend from here?’ But hey as I said earlier: unfiltered – good or bad.
If anything, you shouldn’t even have to care what I have to say for two important reasons:
- The menu changes frequently. My two visits so far have been five weeks apart, and only around 1/3 of the dishes from the first visit still existed in some form on the second. Good luck trying to stay away from this place.
- Follow your heart – Cafe Paci’s menu is unpretentious and what you see is literally what you get. For example, I think the chicken liver parfait Paris-Brest is one of the best dishes on the menu, but goodness don’t order it if you don’t like parfait. Same goes for, well, everything else: there is always a hero ingredient be it a simple pasta, steak, or even blood cake.
An exception is perhaps the original Cafe Paci’s (Darlinghurst) final masterstroke: carrot sorbet, aerated yoghurt mousse & licorice cake. An unlikely combination that became hugely popular, it is the very definition of a now cult classic. This is the one dish I would say you should at least try, unless your trepidation towards liquorice borders on the allergic. It’s the dish that can never be taken off the menu – Petanen’s timeless signature, as it were.
If I have to be a bit morose in order to bring some balance to the
force review, it’d be this: the service. It slows down significantly when the restaurant begins to pack out (which is pretty much guaranteed during the usual peaks). As such, I’d recommend arriving at opening, or temper your expectations as the meal goes on: It shouldn’t take 15 minutes to get the cheque but it is what it is.
Still, that’s like saying you’d stop driving because you get annoyed by speed bumps on the road: it’s barely worth thinking about. Well, unless you’re a speed bump bigot. In which case, best of luck.
Goddamn, Newtown is lucky to have you, Pasi.
Date Last Visited: 14/Dec/2019
Address: 131 King St, Newtown NSW 2042
Price Guide (approx): $60-90pp plus drinks
This post is based on two independently-paid visits to Cafe Paci.
- Almost…everything? Pasi Petanen’s Asian-European driven cooking showcases the strengths of both with the weaknesses of neither
- With the menu changing as frequently as Cafe Paci’s does, be prepared for the occasional ‘pass’
- Service becomes slothlike during busy times
- Come early to avoid the rush
- Four diners can probably tackle 4/5 of the menu. Bring friends!
Would I return: so when’s the third visit?
F8 | S3.5 | A3
See how I score here
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