“There’s prawn oil, meat, tomato and melted cheese.
It’s like eating a deconstructed pizza, except I prefer the comforts of a regular pizza”
It’s supposed to be a pop up restaurant for a few months at the former Cafe Pacifico site for Finnish born chef Pasi Petanen who spent eight years as head chef at Sydney fine diner and three-hatted Marque.
But its popularity has seen its lease renewed for yet another year till December 2015. Fine dining or otherwise, the food style of Petanen is known to be ‘edgy’ with ‘surprising twists’ designed to push your taste boundaries.
Being the old-fashioned ‘traditionalist’, I am keeping an open mind because this restaurant is Mysaucepan‘s choice for her birthday dinner.
Cafe Paci, Darlinghurst
The dining room has an ‘industrial warehouse’ feel with its stark, minimalist decor and high ceilings. But it’s the menu we came here for.
The seasonal set menu is the only choice for 9-course dinner at $95 per person while Friday lunch menu is $45 per person.
Course 1: Snacks
Rice custard together with egg butter is one creamy and savoury mouthful when wrapped with a soft rye tortilla.
A potato tart is an impossibly thin potato crisp cradling shredded cos lettuce, smoked almond and egg yolk.
Crisp and crunchy grissini is laced with mackerel mayo and dusted with raspberry powder.
The flavour of mackerel paired with tangy red powder is rather quirky and from what I have heard about this restaurant, these snacks are no less the prelude I have come to expect.
Limpu is a Nordic style fermented rye bread cut into thick slices. The crust is rather firm, chewy and dense with a sweetish tinge of molasses brushed over it.
I hold back on this bread to leave room for Petanen’s kung fu.
Course 2: Blue swimmer crab, mustard, pickled melon
Mysaucepan and I fall on a common consensus with the second course.
Thin slices of pickled melon sit like floral petals on blue swimmer crab meat tossed with seeded mustard.
The pickled melon is sweet and slightly chilled. Paired with luscious crab meat, this is one summer dish I am happy for seconds.
Course 3: Vitello tomato
“It looks like the shape of Tassie” I say to Mysaucepan as I gaze at this vitello tomato.
Slices of tomato and prawn oil are hidden under a thin layer of veal, then drizzle with milky cheese and capers.
It is chilled as a tartare style dish should be.
There is tomato, cheese, meat and it’s beginning to taste like a pizza minus the bread. Given a choice, I prefer the comforts of a regular pizza.
Course 4: Broccoli, anchovy, egg yolk
A sprig of broccoli is sliced lengthwise then sauteed with anchovy and topped with bits of rye.
The broccoli florets are crisp with the salty flavour of anchovy. Crunchy rye bits elevate this humble green into a vegetable you might actually love to eat more of.
Course 5: Photato
Chilean sommelier Dennis Roman with his unmistakably bold moustache tells us ‘photato‘ is a play on the iconic Vietnamese pho noodles.
The potato noodles take on sour and garlicky notes with just a squeeze of juice from a charred lemon wedge. Enoki mushrooms are fresh and sprightly while beefy flavours from a supposedly BMS score of 9+ are bold though fat marbling did not seem to indicate such a high score.
So what if the noodles are made from potato?
I’m not sure if ‘photato’ is the most appropriate name because it tastes nothing like a hearty bowl of Vietnamese pho. It’s in fact a rather poor take. I dislike the sour and garlicky taste in my mouth. The more I taste this dish, the more I am yearning for the real thing instead.
Mysaucepan might have been influenced by the bold brooding looks of Dennis Roman’s Chilean moustache.
A 2007 Las Mercedes Ensamblaje is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and malbec varietals from Chile. It shows from the soft tannins with hints of cigar box and oaky tones from French oak barrels.
Course 6: Carrot, yoghurt, liqourice
I’m not a big fan of liquorice. A dollop of yoghurt arrives, sprinkled with black liquorice dust.
“Take a whole spoonful to the bottom of the plate so you experience the combination of flavours” our waitress tells us.
Chilled carrot sorbet and liquorice are hidden beneath the yoghurt. Thankfully the liquorice is rather subtle and the sorbet refreshing for a palate cleanser.
Course 7: Strawberry, plum, parsley
Sydney chefs seem to have gone a bit gaga with herb-flavoured sorbet these days.
Parsley sorbet adds a grassy taste to the sweetness of ripened plum petals and the strawberry mousse beneath.
Course 8: Pork and fennel
Are you a fan of sweet and savoury in a mouthful? I’m not.
Because I rather have the savoury crunch of pork crackling and fennel on its own. And chocolate on its own.
This dish is like the pairing of Angelina Jolie with ex-boyfriend Billy Bob Thornton. It’s unlikely and that is why they are no longer together.
Course 10: Corn and butter
Candy floss has never been my thing even when I was a kid. And it’s still the same for me though I guess a sweet ending is important to keep the birthday girl happy. How about popcorn and butter flavoured candy floss?
Cafe Paci’s food is edgy with some unusual play on flavours. Perhaps a bit too unusual for the traditionalist in me. And I’m not a fan of desserts either. So four out of nine courses being dessert is a little overwhelming to say the least.
I believe iconic dishes like Vietnamese pho that has remained true for generations should not be messed with. It is unlike Godowsky’s transcriptions of Chopin’s works that are so intricately beautiful and logical, they are recognized as important works in their own right whilst paying homage to the traditions of the great composer himself.
Petanen might be a good chef but he is no Godowsky because I doubt ‘photato’ will be around in a year’s time.
So dear readers, would you eat a ‘modern and deconstructed’ pizza or pho over the comfort of the traditional Italian pizza and the piping hot bowl of Vietnamese pho?
95 Riley street, Darlinghurst
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 93687000
Opening times: Dinner Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm, Lunch Friday from 12pm.
Note: A 2% surcharge is added to all credit and debit card payments.