Sometimes going out to eat is more about going out than eating. It's about the pleasure of seeing eyes sparkle and smiles burst across the faces of people you don't even know. It's about the pleasure of watching plates of food sail across a dining room, coming in to berth on tables where it is merrily devoured. It is the pleasure of having your wine poured for you to the background jostle of a kitchen in full swing. When you're in that kind of mood, something familiar — fresh pasta, classic salads and desserts that go down easy are just the thing. And what would you know, Casoni in Darlinghurst does just that.
Casoni shyly greets Oxford street from its corner next to the courthouse behind Taylor Square, beckoning you in for a plate of house-made pasta. Not that it's a hard ask to step into the smart little dining room, done in a Scandi-industrial palette of grey, white and leatherwood honey-coloured timber. Perhaps the only difficulty is deciding whether you'd prefer to start with an Aperol Spritz or a Negroni — both of which are on tap. If you'd rather get straight into the Italian-leaning wine list, the cheerful, attentive staff are happy to point you in the right direction.
The menu is a roll call of classics. The trout/pickle/caper/sour cream/dill combo, executed here as a carpaccio ($18), is painted in fresh, light strokes that unfortunately suffer a little from an imbalance of sweetness. By contrast, in the well-loved salad combo of white cheese/beetroot/walnut (done here with buffalo mozzarella, $18), sweet candied walnuts are a welcome accent.
No prizes for guessing they do pasta with meatballs ($25) and pumpkin ravioli ($22). Cavatelli (tiny, chubby little hand-rolled, hyphen-shaped pasta), cooked perfectly al dente, swim in a pleasingly homey tomato sugo. They circle some meatballs that bring the Pringles slogan to mind. Pumpkin ravioli in good ole' burnt butter and sage arrive as pretty as a scene of boaters in an autumn breeze, sprinkled as they are with pistachios and sweet potato crisps. Both these dishes would have been excellent but for slight imbalances in seasoning - the ravioli are beautifully textured but slightly sweet and the meatballs are nicely spicy but too heavy on salt.
Tiramisu is like Italian opera — glorious yet dreadful in excess. Mascarpone lain beside coffee and booze is both seduction and torture, fluttering aria and ringing death knell that beckons you and then sends you rolling into bed. Casoni's tiramisu ($12) is different — it's just as easy to dig your way through its light, not-too-blood-alcohol-raising, not-too-artery-clogging strata as it is to dig for the nicely chewy caramel bits in the salted caramel semifreddo ($12).
In the nearly full dining room late on a Wednesday night, eyes are sparkling and smiles are bursting as plenty of other people do exactly the same thing, which is the whole point after all.