Come for Pasi Petänen’s mould-breaking cooking and a treasure trove of hard-to-find natural wine, or opt for no-nonsense steak frites with sauce diane and a glass of something local.
Newtown has long been a thriving Sydney suburb for drinking and dining, but in Cafe Paci it seems it may have finally acquired its crown jewel. Finnish-born Pasi Petänen first made a name for himself as head chef at Marque before branching out on his own and opening the first iteration of Cafe Paci – a Darlinghurst pop-up known for exciting and hard-to-categorise cooking that took inspiration from Scandinavia, Mexico and Vietnam, often on a single plate.
In October of 2019, after a handful of years in other people’s kitchens and strings of one-night-only pop-ups, Petänen finally laid down permanent roots at the north end of King Street. The space, designed by George Livissianis (known for his work at The Dolphin Hotel, The Apollo and Cho Cho San), is all smart-casual bistro cool: a collage of exposed bricks, deep-blue banquettes, Gianluca Cannizzo posters and a strikingly textural vermiculite ceiling, with a handsomely curved bar that’s nearly as long as the room.
Petänen’s thrilling knack for the eclectic continues here – a sliver of toasted rye carpeted in spicy ’nduja and discs of fermented carrot to start, say, followed by potato dumplings coated in XO sauce made from trout, or a no-nonsense steak frites with sauce diane. The wine list packs just as much interest, dancing right on the razor’s edge of the natural, low-intervention scene. Progressive producers from Italy and France (Barraco, Arpepe, La Grapperie, L’Ostal) are the headliners, many of which are supplied by celebrated importer and distributor Giorgio de Maria. Occasional detours to Germany, Spain, Austria and Georgia round out the 50-odd bottle selection, in addition to a strong line-up of local players, including Tom Shobbrook and Richie Harkham.
Feel like something large format or something with age? Those desires are well catered for, with magnums on offer from the likes of Le Coste and Dario Princic, as well as back vintages that may include a 1999 chenin blanc from Domaine aux Moines or a 2003 Tenuta Grillo Pecoranera. Still thirsty? Chase it with something from the extensive list of digestivi or a tin of Hartwall Original ‘Lonkero’ – a gin and grapefruit RTD popular in Finnish saunas.