At first, you might think you’ve accidentally wandered into someone’s front room, what with the blue floorboards, mismatched wooden chairs, plant life and scattered Japanese knick-knacks. Rest assured: you won’t be charged for breaking and entering, for this is Papirica, eatery and temple to Japan’s much-loved savoury pancake, the okonomiyaki.
Although there is a modest supporting cast of other meals – including toast with sweet red beans, soba salad and, as an occasional special, tonkatsu (panko-crumbed fried pork) – the menu is dominated by okonomiyaki, a word that translates to ‘grilled stuff you like’ (really). And we really do like – nay, love – Papirica’s version: chunky, sticky and comforting. For that, we must thank owner Yutaka Matsuda, who migrated here ten years ago, first selling his authentic okonomiyaki at various pop-up stalls before finding a home on Smith Street.
As big as frisbees and loaded with cabbage and leek, these are pancakes for the positively peckish. Our seafood version has tiny prawns and crunchy calamari folded into the batter, while the porcine option comes with crisp slices of pork belly draped on top.
Whatever’s aloft, every okonomiyaki sports a golden-brown bottom, crunchy edges and a fluffy, light interior. It’s all slathered in the typical hatched pattern in sweet and tangy Japanese barbecue-style sauces and mayonnaise that Matsuda makes on site, with plenty of umami goodness. You can supersize your pancake with extras, and we loved the floppy folds of fiery homemade kimchi and the oozing, gooey richness of a fried egg.
In more carbohydrate news, the menu includes a noodle salad in which strands of soba noodles are coated in a konbu and shiitake sauce. Sesame seeds deliver crunch, and fresh tomato and salad leaves keep things lush. It’s pretty and fresh, though unremarkable. There’s also handsome toasted sandwiches – teriyaki chicken or a vegan grilled eggplant with miso dressing.
The drinks list has an unsurprising Japanese bent with filter coffee, green teas, a throat-soother of a ginger lemon soda and a white sesame smoothie with soy milk and banana. If you have space – and that’s a big if – there’s also green tea matcha tiramisu and gluten-free brownies.
While Melbourne-Japan deals are getting ever cheaper, Papirica makes it easy to get your okonomiyaki hit without the jetlag. And the experience is refreshingly simple: you’ll get fuss-free authenticity with personal service and a casual, at-home vibe. Skip the pallid bain-marie food court versions and get to Papirica.