Fair warning: you will be spending a lot of time here. The newly-launched restaurant/bar from Jigger and Pony Group is their most ambitious one yet, with a 130-seater at a prime, waterfront location at Customs House. While restaurateurs rush to formulate ever more convoluted, high-concept spaces for a nation of increasingly-jaded foodies (no citation, sorry), Caffe Fernet seems to be going in the other direction, offering a casual, modern take on Italian food and drinks.
I could start off with a long amble about how eating here is akin to “luxuriating in a quaint cafe by the windswept Ligurian cliffsides”, but there is, an unfortunate lack of cliffs or nature in the immediate vicinity. What you do get though, is a generous view of the Marina Bay area, and a constant sea breeze. The space itself is also a delight, sporting a clean, open design with plenty of wood and leather accents which has been described as “modern-trattoria-meets-Roman-Holiday”.
Drinks here are the brainchild of group bar programme director Aki Eguchi, who is on his way to amassing a sizable collection of amari, including various labels of their namesake fernet. A large portion of the drink menu is dedicated to spritzes (drunk as commonly as water during European summers), flavoured froses (frozen rosé, the summer drink du jour), and negronis (why else build an amaro collection?); although there is also a respectable selection of decidedly non-Italian craft cocktails.
We had Eguchi’s contemplatively delicious negroni bianco ($22) made from Roku Gin, Suze (a brand of Swiss/French bitters), fino sherry, and wormwood-infused limoncello. The white negroni departs from standard recipes by swapping out lillet blanc for dry sherry, and using wormwood to add an extra layer of bitterness—a decision that came from Eguchi’s desire to make it “as dry as possible”. Between shots of various amari, there was also an incredibly well-balanced yuzu whisky sour ($22) based on Bulleit Bourbon and manzanilla sherry.
Victuals here are also given equal attention. Helming the kitchen is chef David Tang, who has spent a decade working in the kitchens of various Wolfgang Puck restaurants. It’s not food that an Italian nonna would make though. There are no meat-laden Sunday ragus or eggplant parmigianos prepared with half a bottle of olive oil. Don’t get us wrong, these are delicious, but the food here is lighter and brigher, and served in sharing portions that are perfect for grazing on alongside multiple drinks. Toasted sourdough is served with homemade ricotta, earthy chestnut honey, and thyme ($15); while addictive cherry tomato “poppers” come breaded with feta and topped with truffle honey ($16).
In the proteins department, there is a generously portioned, and generally excellent chicken piccata, where you get a whole butterflied fowl with crisp skin and joy-inducingly moist meat. All this sits on a tangy, salty saffron-lemon-caper sauce that provides additional lubrication and flavour. There is also a moreish, al-dente cacio e pepe ($25) prepared with wavy mafaldine pasta, and four types of peppercorns that act as a nice sharp, warm and floral counterpoint to the salty cheese.
The menu also comes with input from group executive chef Polo Seah, who is well-regarded for his vegetable creations—resulting in dishes like crispy, sugary golden beetroots ($21) served in a red beetroot mole, and topped with a salad of bitter rocket, almonds, and feta.
Save space for dessert, especially their olive oil cake—a treat that’s usually made with the more-buttery-than-spicy Ligurian olive oil. Caffe Fernet’s version comes studded with aromatic candied oranges, and a small mound of mascarpone and olive oil. It’s light enough so you don’t fall asleep at your table, but rich enough to give the impression that you’re participating in some form of indulgence.
The cake is pretty much an analogy for the Caffe Fernet experience: you’re not on a beachside holiday, but it’s probably the next-best thing.
70 Collyer Quay, Customs House #01-05, Singapore 049323. Tel: +65 9178 1105