When Pasi Petänen opened Cafe Paci in 2013, his restaurant was described as the most interesting thing to happen in Sydney that year. The $85 set menu – a Mexican-Finnish-ish cavalcade of snacks, rye tacos, carrot sorbet and that memorable "photato" – was as thrilling as the all-grey colour scheme was not.
The catch? It was only around for 12 months, thanks to its location in a building earmarked for demolition.
But six years is a good amount time for the former Marque head chef to take stock. Since closing Cafe Paci in 2015, he's been busy at Lankan Filling Station, Automata and the now-closed Acme, and has run countless pop-ups cooking Chinese (at Lee Ho Fook), vegetarian (at Yellow), and – quite literally – the colours of the rainbow.
Now he's bringing Paci back, and it's here to stay. Cafe Paci is slated to open on Friday 25 October.
The chef has snagged a permanent space in Sydney's Newtown, right next door to pizza hut Bella Brutta. At Cafe Paci 2.0, the set menu is out, with Petänen opting for a "more spontaneous" à la carte menu that runs from small starters to large-format dishes.
"It's inspired by the Italian That's Amore pop-ups I've been running with [sommelier and wine importer] Giorgio De Maria," says Petänen. "There was a really good energy with people just coming and going all day. The new Paci is somewhere where you can come for a glass of wine and oysters for 20 minutes, or stay for two hours."
The rye and molasses bread will make its glorious return, as will that dessert of carrot sorbet, yoghurt mousse and salted liquorice cake. But he's struck out the "photato", that genius Scando-Vietnamese hybrid of pho-as-potato. "I'm keen to do larger dishes, and it's hard to eat 200 grams of potato noodles," he says.
Initially he toyed around with a version of Janssons frestelse (Jansson's temptation), a Swedish-Finnish potato-anchovy gratin; but that could make way for blood pancake with whipped pig's blood and pickled onions. There's more from the wacky-but-it-works Petänen playbook: a blueberry "disc" with lemon palm and parsley; sweet-and-sour squash with pomelo and chilli; potato dumplings with a smoked-trout "sort of XO" sauce. "I wasn't going to do XO sauce because everyone's doing one – that, and stracciatella," says Petänen. "But it tastes pretty good. It's very Finnish slash Italian slash Australian."
He's looked to his Sydney contemporaries for further inspiration, spinning off the spiced devilled eggs available at Lankan Filling Station. "[O Tama] does this boiled egg dipped in a spiced hot butter, with lots of black pepper, chillies, curry leaves, cardamom and paprika," he says. "Ours won't be as spicy as that. Giorgio will get upset."
De Maria, naturally, is in charge of the wine list which will focus on small producers and food-friendly drops. The red-bearded sommelier will work the floor a few nights a week, too. "He brings up the energy of a place by 100 times. He's like the Viking who got left behind," says Petänen.
He's re-recruited George Livissianis, the original Paci designer, to kit out the new space though Petänen promises they'll be putting away the buckets of Taubman's grey. "We're going to spend a bit more money than just painting the space," he says. "The design brief is a French-European bistro and wine bar for the inner-west."
In echoes of 2013, the new Cafe Paci will be one of the most exciting restaurants to open on King Street of late, though eager diners should take note: the Newtown restaurant seats about half as many patrons as its predecessor. "The first space was so huge; here we can have roughly 60 diners. It'll be very compact, with good energy," says Petänen. "Plus I live in Newtown. I can walk to work."
Cafe Paci is slated to open on Friday 25 October at 131 King St, Newtown, NSW, 2042. cafepaci.com.au
Open: dinner Mon–Sat 5.30pm–late; lunch Sat from noon (the Saturday lunch service will commence on 2 November).