239 Oxford St Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
|Opening hours||Dinner Mon-Tue & Thu-Sat 5.30pm-late|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
If there was a Geiger counter that measured the intensity of fun to be had with wine, then the clicking would get unbearably loud near human whirlwind and wine importer Giorgio de Maria.
You could hear it going off at his ground-breaking, rule-flouting 121 BC wine bar in Surry Hills, at the natural wine festival Rootstock he co-founded in 2013, and at Newtown's Cafe Paci, whenever he was on the floor.
Now it forms a constant background heartbeat to Paski, a two-level wine bar, enoteca and bottega he has opened with fellow wine importer Mattia Dicati, of Vino Mito, and chef Enrico Tomelleri (10 William Street).
Paski is named for De Maria's border collie, who, in turn, was named for a natural wine-maker from Campania. It sits in a – shall we say – transitional part of Oxford Street just up from Taylor Square.
The street-level wine bar and wine shop, Paski Vineria Popolare, leads up to Paski Sopra, a tight-knit dining room of small tables, over-sized leather banquette and bentwood chairs, with one brick wall emblazoned with a giant Last Supper mural from Turin-based artist Gianluca Cannizzo.
The food is seriously good, without being at all serious. The smallish menu covers the things you want to eat while avoiding the cliches (tiramisu, I'm looking at you), and it's all slightly fermented and funky, like the wines.
So a little crostino ($12) is spread with cured fresh pork sausage and cooked-down agrodolce cime di rapa, like ventricina from Abruzzo, or even Thai larb. It goes ridiculously well with a house negroni ($16) built on Vergano Americano and bitters from Mount Etna.
But pappala? What's pappala? Never heard of it. Is it Tuscany's tomato-and-bread pappa al pomodoro, or is it the Veneto's creamy baccala mantecato, made with salt cod? Turns out it's both, whipped together for the first time into a creamy red puree with a little electric current of acidity. Subversive, but good.
Pasta is a highlight; hand-made, resilient. Small, coin-shaped anolini ($29) from Emilia-Romagna are filled with broad beans, parmesan and pecorino, swimming in a kombu broth with more double-shelled broadies and pecorino shavings.
Spaghetti al pomodoro ($25) sees a lush, deeply pleasurable, cherry tomato sauce clinging to tightly wound pasta, lifted with a zingy touch of peperoncino.
The soft leather wine list is like a stroll through the owners' collective contact books, with its cult labels and murky, lively, skin contacts and wild ferments. There could be more by the glass, but there's enough range for those not into natural wines to have a good time as well.
A glass of 2019 Monastero Suore Coenobium ($15/$81), perhaps, for its crisp, citrusy blend of trebbiano, malvasia and verdicchio made by the sisters of the Monastero Suore Cistercensi in Vitorchiano, in the Lazio region, or a fresh, ripe 2020 Guttarolo Primitivo from Puglia ($16/$87).
Pesce all'acqua pazza ($36) is a good choice; the goldband snapper fillets gently cooked in "crazy water", a broth made from the fish bones with a little fermented tomato and tomato oil. Play it against zucchini scapece ($16), served with fromage blanc.
As befits the soul of a wine bar, cheeses take the place of dessert, each with its own accompaniments. A wedge of soft, ash-coated, mixed-milk Carboncino ($14) gets paired with fresh pear, Blue Mountains honey and sourdough baguette; the perfect bait for an Argala Amaro herbal liqueur.
The whole place is bait, actually. It's just the right mix of anything-can-happen adventure, like a wild yeast looking for some spontaneous fermentation; but it's grounded with good food, care, comfort, and a honed sense of hospitality.
Fun but serious. Buzzy and high energy, but somehow relaxed; as if it, too, has had a couple of glasses of wine. Paski, I think I love you.
Drinks A 28-page wine list of mostly Italian, all natural wines, plus vermouths and spirits imported by the owners.
Vegetarian A handful of seasonal vegetable and pasta dishes (gluten-free pasta also available).
Pro tip Note the water glasses with a dimple for your thumb by artist Brian Hirst.