Like the froyo craze and the Spice Girls, Darlinghurst’s Cafe Paci was around for a good time, not a long time. It was always going to be that way: it opened in 2013 in a block earmarked for demolition, and two years later, it closed.
Now, after several years spent searching for the right space, owner and chef Pasi Petanen has finally named Newtown as Cafe Paci’s forever home.
“I’ve been living in Newtown for 20 years, since I came to Australia [from Finland],” Petanen tells Broadsheet. “Newtown’s changed a lot in the past five, six years. [The new space] had all things I wanted – a walk-in fridge, a liquor licence and a good spot in Newtown.”
While the original was housed in a cavernous 330-square-metre room in Darlinghurst (it took over the old Cafe Pacifico site, which is how it got its name – Petanen used the old sign and just blacked out the last four letters), the new restaurant will be just 108 square metres and seat around 60. The concept has been informed by the casual That’s Amore pop-up Petanen set up with wine expert Giorgio De Maria in Sydney, which also travelled to Melbourne. And he’s once again enlisted George Livissianis (who worked on the original Cafe Paci, as well as The Apollo, Billy Kwong and Cho Cho San) to design a space that evokes European wine bars and bistros.
While at Cafe Paci Darlinghurst, Petanen garnered acclaim for his fun, unusual set menu – which drew on his Finnish heritage and Mexican flavours, and was imbued with the skills he acquired as head chef at fine-diner Marque – the new diner will have an à la carte menu with a focus on snacks and medium-sized dishes.
“I have almost too many ideas,” says Petanen. “At Darlinghurst because it was a set menu you’d have to make sure all the courses matched the wines. Here, it’ll be much more spontaneous. If we get nice stuff in, we’ll put it on the menu straight away.”
Expect dishes such as spring lamb tartare, sourdough pasta with pecorino, and a smoked mettwurst sausage from LP’s Quality Meats. Petanen says he’d like people to be able to come in for a quick glass of wine and a snack or even a couple of oysters before a movie (Dendy Cinemas Newtown is just down the street), or stick around for a two-hour long meal.
Petanen says the way people dine in Sydney has changed a lot since he opened in Darlinghurst six years ago. “While there will always be people who want to sit for one, two, three hours, I do think people now want more choice and a more flexible menu,” he says. “There is always a spot for set menus, but I found we did a lot of special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries – so hopefully with à la carte we’ll have more variety in our diners.”
De Maria will be consulting on the wine list, which will focus on small producers who mostly grow their own grapes. Attention will be placed on the places and people behind the wines. And while recent trends (and De Maria) have been leaning towards orange, cloudy and natural drops, Petanen says there’ll be wines for everyone to enjoy, from the minimally-processed to the traditional.
Cafe Paci is slated to open at 131 King Street, Newtown in October.