Cafe Paci

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Blink and you'll miss it. Chef Pasi Petänen has pulled a rabbit out of a hat with his first solo venture in Darlinghurst, Cafe Paci (ex-Cafe Pacifico with the 'fico' now scrubbed). It is a triumph on all accounts. The restaurant stakes in Sydney have just been edged up a notch, much to the delight of diners. Whether you're a glass half full or empty kind of person, this restaurant is only around for a year. Opening in August last year, Cafe Paci will be closing its doors so I'd advise you get your skates on.

Cue the fanfare! Surely a contender as one of Sydney's best desserts, Petänen's yoghurt, carrot and liquorice Credit: Time Out Sydney

Petänen has kept a rather low profile, working as head chef of Marque for 8 years before searching for a site to call his own. The restaurant is a Spartan grey which has been applied liberally by  George Livissianis (also designing for Apollo), right down to the tables and chairs. It's as if a paint bomb has gone off and the day's work was declared done. The sparse lighting also had the effect of the room getting darker and greyer as the evening progressed. Quite peculiar! Being such a huge garage space, the restaurant has a slightly underground feel which matches the experimental food nicely.

Going for the stark grey on grey look @ Cafe Paci (Pah-si) Credit: Urban Walkabout

The menu gives practically nothing away, purely listing ingredients but behind the scenes is a different story. The technique, time (read: hours) and effort that has gone into each of the dishes is immense! You can almost imagine Petänen 'tinkering' as he experimented with new flavours and ingredients. The restaurant's kitchen sits shrouded behind a heavy grey curtain as if from a stage show (behind is where the magic happens). It really felt like the Wizard of Oz. The menu is set, like a degustation but for the bargain basement price of $85 (oh yes, you read right). We are left intrigued none the less as to what lay ahead.

Part 1. Snacks

The idea is something quite similar to Sixpenny, a restaurant dear to my foodie heart. These offer the perfect opportunity to improvise and try new things with a hungry audience.

A tribute to Cafe Pacifico, rye taco with sticky rice, egg butter, sour onions and chives (left). And (from left to right) rye crostini with dehydrated duck, rose and butter. Sweet corn with butter and shichimi togarashi (Japanese 7 spice). Cripy salt and vinegar barramundi skin. Butter seems to be feature prominently here!

Normally I wouldn't bother to show your bread, because hey - how interesting could it be? But boy, this mini loaf was incredible. A mix of rye and potato, then coated with sticky molasses for an extra sheen. This bread was a mini highlight from the start. The freshly churned butter doesn't hurt either

Part 2. Entrée & Main

Blue swimmer crab, sorrel, plum. A collective "Wow" was breathed when this arrived at the table. Such a beautiful dish showcasing seasonal produce in all its simplicity. The crab mixed with sorrel and mayonnaise was lovely and creamy but I think the fruit topped it off. Such an inventive combination. And that red plum! Probably the best I've ever eaten

Veal tartare, smoked bone marrow, broccoli, anchovies, onion. A splatter of shaven broccoli to garnish the tartare of the finest veal. It was a winner

B.L.B (Bacon, lettuce, bonito). A take it or leave it course (well, compared to the rest anyway) this was a re-worked Caesar salad. The baby cos (vegetable) component was a welcome relief, only to be laced with smoky bacon 

Photato: a new version of the Vietnamese classic. I was expecting a broth to be poured over the top but no. To be frank, the dish barely needed soup because everything works so well. The lightly seared Blackmore wagyu steak was incredibly tender and the fresh Tasmanian wasabi a nice accompaniment. Enoki mushrooms intermingle with potato noodles (resembling rice vermicelli only in looks), garnished with fried garlic chips, watercress and grilled Meyer lemon. A meal in itself!

Part 3. Dolce & Petits Fours

An unassuming dish at first glance, Petänen's carrot, yoghurt, liquorice dessert. Oh my word, this was AMAAAZING. A delicate cloud of yoghurty who-knows-what (perhaps mousse is the best word) hiding a very delicious secret. Inside is a carrot sorbet topping a thin layer of liquorice cake. The carrot is rather nondescript in flavour but the aniseed really comes through, and rather pleasant at that (understatement of the year). A clever play on the humble poached egg

Malt, banana, parsley. It was an impossible task to out-do the first dessert course but this was a stirling effort. A dessert inspired by a Marque original, a rich dark chocolate mousse coated in chewy malt (an inside out malteser), banana purée and parsley sorbet. The candied parsley leaf was a nice touch

Corn & butter (left) and pork & fennel (right). Fairy floss dusted in popcorn anyone? Finally, pork crackling covered in chocolate, salt and fennel seeds. What a Finnish (pun intended)!

Compliments must go to the chef. If this doesn't win you accolades, I don't know what will. Cafe Paci offers some of the most innovative food in town and it is all bloomin' delicious. Pasi Petänen is amongst Sydney's 'New Guard', mentioned in the Fin ReviewTerry Durack gave it a sensational 16/20, a real breakthrough! Probably one of the best things about this restaurant is its creative freedom. Based strongly on technique, Petänen has developed a very interesting and conceptual menu that mixes Finnish, Vietnamese and Mexican influences (go figure). The details in every dish are both intricate and exquisite, a real joy. May I suggest you try it before it's gone for good!

Thanks for reading!
Cafe Paci on Urbanspoon


  1. The food sounds so ingenious here. I totally want the pork crackling covered in chocolate!

  2. You had me at the dessert! Yum! And I'm all over the egg butter too. The food looks wonderful! /Niki



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