At 7.30pm on a Saturday, Jack Steer greets a stream of guests at Casoni’s front door. With a slew of hospitality’s big names under his belt (he was executive chef at China Diner and The London, sous chef at Melbourne’s Chin Chin, and events manager at its Sydney outpost), this influx doesn’t seem to bother him.
When Casoni – a little Italian restaurant in Darlinghurst – came up for sale last year, Steer and his business partner David John Quick saw an opportunity they couldn’t refuse.
“David always knew I liked being my own boss,” Steer tells Broadsheet. “So it just all fell together at the right time.” The pair renovated the space over the Christmas break and reopened the doors in January. The overall feel of the new Casoni is more polished than before. The banquette seating and bar have both been reupholstered in black, the tables have been lowered, chalk boards removed from in front of windows, and a pink neon sign spelling out “Casoni” beams a fuzzy pink light into the room from a back corner.
It’s still undeniably Italian-focused – head chef Francesco Chiatante (ex-Garfish and Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel) was born in Puglia – but now it nods towards Asian flavours and techniques too. “My [culinary] background is extensively Asian,” says Steer. “If you didn’t know Asian flavour profiles you might not pick it up because it is subtle. If something needs salt we’ll use soy rather than prosciutto, for example.”
Simple ingredients are incorporated into home-style pastas and share plates, and weekly specials champion the best of what’s shown up in the produce delivery truck. “Last week’s pasta-of-the-week was carbonara that had a kombu base, which gives it that umami flavouring,” says Steer. “Instead of using fresh chilli we use gochujang [a fermented Korean chilli paste].”
But they’ve also left a few classics on the menu to honour Casoni’s past. The pumpkin ravioli with pistachio, burnt butter and sage and the pappardelle with pork belly and rainbow chard remain staples. They’re a must for Casoni first-timers.
The drinks menu is all about biodynamic wines and local spirits. Every drop is offered by the glass, including Ngeringa’s Uncultured pet-nat and the juicy Truffle Hound nebbiolo from South Australia’s Unico Zelo. House spirits include Tasmania’s Cape Grim 666 vodka, Four Pillars Rare Dry gin, Starward whisky and Brix rum.
Each month the team will have a different Negroni on tap to showcase spirits from Australia’s best producers. “I love a Negroni, I think most people in Sydney do. It’s probably [Sydney’s] most ordered cocktail,” says Steer. “I let our producers run wild with it. It’s their Negroni, I’m just selling it.”
This month the program kicks off with Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Negronis. “When I originally spoke to them [Four Pillars] about their gin becoming the house pour, they told me the Bloody Shiraz launch was going to coincide with Negroni week, so I thought that really worked out well,” says Steer.
Casoni’s winter events program is also heating up, beginning with “One Night in Seoul” on July 16. The Korean-focused menu is yet-to-be-confirmed, but there are murmurs of soba linguine and bubble-tea ice-cream. Following that, on August 31, Casoni will co-host an event with Amaro brand Okar. The kitchen will put together a set menu for lunch and the Okar team will design cocktails to match.
Tue to Fri 5pm–late