131 King St
Newtown, NSW 2042
For as long as I can remember, it was my dream to become a doctor. But I’m not a one trick pony, oh no. I’ve also always wanted to walk into a restaurant and ask for one of everything, and it’s never been as tempting as it is at Café Paci. Everything on the menu is interesting, even the bread. The staff (who are just the best ever and will even join you in a chant of FRENCH TOAST FRENCH TOAST) will straight-up tell you that there’s no way you can go wrong, regardless of what you choose. This place – half wine bar, half bistro – is basically a higher energy version of the cosy, intimate Embla. And if you know Embla, as well as how much I (along with literally everyone else) loves Embla, then you’ll know that this is a big deal.
Rating: 16.5/20 – sydney embla.
The good: everything. for reals.
The bad: it took booking 3 weeks in advance to get a bar seat on Saturday night.
The lies: they say the menu is designed for sharing but you’ll actually want to keep everything for yourself.
I love bread, but I hate paying for bread. But when we’re promised by two separate people that the Potato and Molasses Bread with Butter ($4.5) is the best ever… well, I’ve never been great at resisting peer pressure. And it turns out succumbing to peer pressure does pay after all, because not only is this bread Asian bakery levels of fluffy, it also comes with a deliciously caramelised crust painted with sticky molasses. And whipped butter too, plenty of it.
‘The Tomato and Mozzarella Calzone ($8ea) is a freebie!’, announced the staff chirpily, after admitting to having pressed the wrong button on the register. Anyway, remember Pizza Fritta 180? This is basically one of their deep fried margherita pizzas, shrunk down to chinchilla size. Ground-breaking? No. Delicious? Absolutely.
The Fermented Carrots with Nduja on Rye ($8) on the other hand, is not quite like any snack I’ve ever had. You’ve got an earthy rye cracker, smeared with smoky, spicy nduja, topped with thinly sliced scales of pickled carrot. It’s an unexpected blend of flavours that nonetheless manages to be both interesting and tasty.
‘Get two, you won’t regret it’, promises our waiter when we tried to order just one of the Rye Taco, Ox Tongue, Sauerkraut ($10ea) to share. And you know what? They were right yet again. Every mouthful of this was sheer smoky, fatty goodness. The balsamic glaze stood in for the usual BBQ sauce, providing a tart fruitiness to balance out, but also enhanced the richness of the meat.
My pick of the night however goes to the Octopus, Green Garlic, Potato, Paprika ($26), which is thankfully a forever item on the menu. Though it may look highly unusual, it is actually a triumph in simplicity; a base of creamy potato discs, a heavy dose of pungent roast garlic cream, and slices of tender octopus. Finish it off with a heavy dusting of paprika, and you have a combination that’s been on Spanish tapas menus since always, and for very good reason.
The other pick of the night – also a forever item, whew! – is the Potato Dumpling with XO Trout ($28). All other gnocchi can go home, because you haven’t had ‘pillowy’ or ‘fluffy’ until you’ve had this. It’s so mind-bogglingly light that even the gorgeously rich and umami sauce falls into second place beside it, worthy companion though it may be.
We were promised that the special of Grilled White Pepper Mackerel with Fried Bread Salad ($28) is a nice little baby protein to round out our meal, so I was very much surprised when we were served a main-sized swimmer. But y’know what? That just means more good times to go around. The grilling was beautifully done; not only was there the obligatory crispy skin, but the fish was delicately sweet and flaky, with none of mackerel’s characteristic pungency. I was especially impressed with the white pepper glaze, which had a serious fieriness to it. And at the bottom, the little concoction of fried bread doused in sour cream was an ingenious way of adding both richness and texture.
The carrot sorbet with yoghurt and liquorice is the signature dish at Paci, but frankly it just couldn’t compete with the Passionfruit Pain Perdu, Salted Caramel ($15) in my books. And omg. Custardy bread, caramelised toffee edges, refreshing passionfruit gelato to keep things fresh so you can carry on eating – this French toast had it all. Though not ground-breaking by any means, I’m finding it hard to think of a dessert more delicious.
Like the menu, the drinks list is eclectic and intriguing. The Heiwa Shuzo Yuzushu and Soda ($16) tastes like an Italian citrus orchard smells (I assume). And no, I don’t mean just the fruit – I mean the entire tree, leaves and bark and all. It is beyond refreshing. And for the non-alcohol drinkers, the Paci Soda ($8) has you covered with its warm notes of ginger and summery lime zest.