Our restaurant critics' picks of the latest and best eats around the country this week including Café Paci, Gangnam Pocha, Wee Bar, and Chop Chop Chang's.
Could Finnish Mexican be the next big thing in food? The rye taco at Café Paci makes a strong case for the affirmative. It's a beautifully wintry little handful of warm rice porridge, raw onion, chives and egg butter cupped in a soft, thoroughly rye-flavoured tortilla that would, I'm sure, puzzle the locals in Helsinki and Oaxaca equally. On Riley Street, though, it makes perfect sense as one of the snacks that kicks off the tasting menu at this odd and fascinating brand-new eatery. A temporary arrangement on the former Café Pacifico site, it's the brainchild of former Marque head chef Pasi Petänen, and it happens to serve some of the most interesting and unusual food in the country. Truth be told, the taco is the only explicit reference on the menu to the venue's tequila-bar history; elsewhere Nordic flavours and ideas intermingle with tastes drawn from Asia and beyond. The "pho tato", for instance, plays garlic butter-dressed potato "noodles" off a fine sheet of Blackmore wagyu and grilled Meyer lemon, while pomelo is the surprising contrast in a luscious dish of roast cabbage, mussel butter, bone marrow and cavolo nero dust. Desserts are completely bonkers in their inspiration and brilliantly precise in their execution: down-soft fairy floss flavoured with buttered popcorn, say, or salted liquorice cakes enshrouded in carrot sorbet and a mousse of yoghurt and sour cream (pictured above). And just wait until you get a load of the petits fours. If cutting-edge dining with a unique accent is what you're after, look no further. Café Paci, Level 1, 95 Riley St, Darlinghurst, (02) 9368 7000. PAT NOURSE
Gangnam Pocha is a notable arrival on the block of Bourke between Russell and Exhibition streets that's fast becoming something of a hip pan-Asian precinct unto itself. It's a Korean street-food shop that combines flock wallpaper, carpet and K-pop (the logo incorporates a cartoon rendering of "Gangnam Style" mastermind Psy) with a compact menu of fiery, big-flavoured and possibly addictive flavours. There's a hot stone bibimbap complete with the requisite crunchy rice crust, a brilliant seafood pancake, and red-hued, slow-burning bulgogi, but the pork ssäm (pork belly and a variety of sides, including a kicking kimchi that you roll up in sheets of crunchy cabbage) might just inspire the most return visits. Gangnam Pocha, 141 Bourke St, Melbourne, (03) 9078 8882. MICHAEL HARDEN
Wee by name, "whee!" by nature. The front of Iain Lawless's Mount Hawthorn cooking school has been reborn as a merry neighbourhood hangout that has been quickly embraced by locals. Like Lawless's Miss Kitty's Saloon, the fit-out here is a masterclass in op-shop kitsch - think lace curtains, mismatched furniture and bathrooms wallpapered with pages torn out of Time-Life The Good Cook books. Rather than American flavours, this time around the small bar's menu takes its cues from France and Britain. The result? Fun, well-priced eats: gorgeous duck confit pies, for instance, and cute platters of cucumber sandwich triangles served alongside great house-smoked salmon. The tight drinks package includes well-priced wines - bottles of dangerously drinkable gamay from Jean-Marc Burgaud for $40, say - and, along with bubbly service under Danuta O'Kane, adds tremendously to this new arrival's charm. Wee Bar, 406 Oxford St, Mount Hawthorn, (08) 9444 3406. MAX VEENHUYZEN
Chop Chop Chang's
It's already being referred to as Brisbane's Chin Chin, and there are certain parallels - the sunny Asian pick'n'mix menu, the no-bookings policy, speedy service at the whim of the kitchen. This newcomer, its name a nod to the first chimpanzee shot into space, is as much fun as a barrel of monkeys. The freewheeling street-food menu is sliced into market segments: everything from a snack-laden "walkabout cart" to hawker barbecue and wok stalls. A more substantial bowl section offers the likes of fragrant yellow fish curry and (slightly too) sweet caramelised pork, topped with a hot sour herb salad (sriracha added at the table helps restore the balance). Sichuan and black pepper taro chips get things underway with brio, and a shaved spiced beef dish dusted with roasted rice and dotted with coriander and mint keeps the flame alight. Can't be bothered to decide? The market feed for $54 will treat you right. Chop Chop Chang's, 185 Boundary St, West End, (07) 3846 7746. FIONA DONNELLY
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