Make no mistake, this is not a café. It’s a noisy corridor of a restaurant with smart staff, bar seating, a short but interesting menu and a list of small-producer bottles.

There was general rejoicing when this instantly busy establishment opened its doors, as it signalled the long-awaited return of Pasi Petänen, the clever cook whose CV includes a three-hat kitchen (Marque) and a well-loved East Sydney venture, the original Cafe Paci. He’s back, with his talented wine importer and sometime winemaker offsider Giorgio de Maria on drinks. Key themes are fermentation, umami and… potato, from the dark, sticky potato molasses bread to the pile of potato dumplings (aka gnocchi) with an intensely good trout XO sauce or the blanched potato straws with crisps and anchovy. Fermented carrot with spicy ’nduja on rye is another flavour bomb, as is a salad of raw artichoke, comté, anchovy and hazelnut.

Go with a gang to do justice to just-cooked whole flounder with a chive-green Florentine sauce or try sourdough pasta with pear and pecorino plus a truly farm-to-table salad from the amazing Living Earth Farm. Don’t miss Petänen’s famous dessert: carrot sorbet, fluffed with yoghurt, on a licorice bed. It’s another surprise and, like Cafe Paci itself, a total winner.

131 King Street, Newtown; (02) 9550 6196; open Saturday for lunch and Monday-Saturday for dinner.

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