Papirica review

Osaka-style okonomiyaki at Papirica.
Osaka-style okonomiyaki at Papirica. Photo: Simon Schluter

22 Smith St Collingwood, VIC 3066

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Opening hours Tue-Fri 10am-3.30pm; Sat-Sun 9.30am-4pm; Fri-Sat 6pm-9pm
Features Breakfast-brunch, Vegetarian friendly, Family friendly
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Payments eftpos, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9416 1829

Food courts can be something of a culinary crime scene. Exhibit A: the Japanese pancake. What should be a homely bowl of flavourful comfort food is, more often than not, a pallid puck of misery and stodge sweating under a cheap plaid of plasticky sauce and mayo.

Now imagine the flipside. Picture a dreamy cafe, small, mellow and airy, with languorous plants and pops of quirk – bright pink plastic water cups, mismatched wooden chairs, polkadot projections on the ceiling. The menu offers a few simple Japanese dishes but focuses on okonomiyaki – that beloved Japanese pancake. But this one is sticky and luscious with cabbage, leek, okra and soy beans, and the sauce is spicy and wild. It's made to order by an Osaka native.

That's what you'll find at Papirica, Yutaka "Matsu" Matsuda's charmer of a cafe. Matsu moved from Osaka to Melbourne 11 years ago, working in cafes and opening URA, a Japanese homewares store in Fitzroy. But he noticed that a really good okonomiyaki was hard to find in Melbourne.

Papirica, a charmer of a cafe in Collingwood.
Papirica, a charmer of a cafe in Collingwood. Photo: Simon Schluter

He started making them for friends as his mother taught him, in the Osaka style, combining all the ingredients into the batter (Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is cooked in layers, starting with the batter and adding components on top).

The response prompted him to start doing pop-ups. Word spread and people who'd been to Japan and knew what the real deal should taste like kept coming. So he launched a KickStarter campaign to raise funds to create a permanent home base for this homeliest of Japanese dishes.

Matsu is particularly passionate about the accompanying sauces, which he makes himself using onions, celery, peaches, pears, dates, spices, soy and mirin. The sauces are gluten-free, all-natural – and revelatory.

The pancakes are crisp and sticky underneath and topped with sauce, Matsu's house-made mayo, seaweed, ginger and spring onions.

There are vegan options and, for meat-eaters, a pork version with a thin slice of pork belly on top, the oil from the pork unleashing a rich smokiness into the pancake.

Other dishes on the compact dinner menu include silky, stir-fried ginger pork with soybean-jewelled rice, and a creamy rich vegan curry.

Breakfast dishes feature sweet red bean paste on toast, while lunches are more of the curry and rice variety as well as sandwiches stuffed with teriyaki chicken, salad and home-made sauce, or eggplant with miso dressing.

For a sweet treat, order a glass of "yuzu-nade" and a deep chocolate brownie, cutely dusted with icing sugar in a polkadot pattern.

If you've been to Japan, you'll notice many places choose to specialise in one particular dish. Matsu has brought a little bit of that ethos to Collingwood with Papirica. As he says, "This business isn't mine. It's for the people. I have the responsibility of feeding people nice food that I can create."

Pro Tip: Bring your own container for takeaway and save a dollar.

Go-to Dish: Pork okonomiyaki ($15).