When Finnish-born chef Pasi Petanen opened his innovative restaurant Cafe Paci in Darlinghurst in 2013, everyone knew it wouldn’t be there for long: it was in a building slated for demolition. Sadly Cafe Paci 1.0 closed in 2015.
It was a blow to Sydney’s dining scene – Petanen cooked exciting, interesting food, drawing on his Finnish roots but also borrowing from Mexican and Vietnamese cuisine.
Now, Petanen is back for round two. This time round, Cafe Paci is a very different beast. As opposed to it’s original set menu at a friendly pricepoint, it now has an à la carte menu of regularly changing dishes in a much smaller space, with a wine list assembled by vino authority Giorgio De Maria (Giorgio De Maria Fun Wines). It’s a list that’s mostly natural and biodynamic, mainly from small producers.
The Newtown reboot sees him apply his creativity to dishes that not only push boundaries but erase them altogether. A few dishes from the original Cafe Paci have returned – the much-talked-about potato and molasses bread; a tartare; and a carrot sorbet with liquorice cake that was a fan favourite.
There’s also the “very Finnish” herring and potato dish, which is topped with sour-cream dressing and raw onion. Petanen says he’s leaning towards a European bistro or bar style of dining, where people can pop in for a drink and a few oysters at the bar, or settle in for the long haul in the restaurant.
The design is by George Livissianis, who was also responsible for Cafe Paci 1.0’s famous all-grey aesthetic. There’s a shag-carpet ceiling, which helps mitigate the scourge of bad acoustics affecting even the best eateries. Texture is king here, as seen at other Livissianis-designed venues, including The Apollo and the now-closed Billy Kwong. A handsome royal blue bar stretches the length of most of the room, and leather banquettes of the same colour clash with exposed-brick walls and mirrored panels.