The views are pretty damn sexy; the handsome bar with its red and mahogany hues, even more so.
But it is the food and drink that have our attention. Here, flavour is delivered in spades not just on white plates and bowls but in the glasses within which a block of ice floats on amber drams.
Welcome to Caffe Fernet, a pier-side destination where couples on their third date canoodle in pumpkin-coloured booths, ladies gather for a good cackle over the bar and a moustachioed negroni aficionado who takes his drinks a little too seriously can be spotted frowning into his glass.
The style? “New-Italian” in which all the usual suspects of traditional Italian food is accentuated with Asian ingredients. The two-year-old spot is part of the Jigger & Pony Group so you’d know that even if everything else falls on its face, you could always slam back a stiff drink. Thankfully, that isn’t the case because the venue delivers in more than one area.
As we discovered, the food itself is worth coming for, and there were three particular standouts. We start with the signature Mafaldine Cacio e Pepe ($26), which is nothing short of legendary. Anyone who watched the Massimo Bottura episode of Chef’s Table would be wondering where one could get a decent cacio e pepe in Singapore and we’re here to call it: It’s by far the best rendition we’ve had anywhere on this island.
For starters, chef David Tang, who has sharpened his knives at Wolfgang Puck’s Cut in the US and Dubai, uses no less than four different types of peppercorns to cut through the umami bombshell that is parmesan and pecorino cheese. These add a bright dimension and if you were to pause and truly taste the dish, there is a whisper of a citrus note from the red pepper hiding between the ruffles of the mafaldine pasta.
The result is a pasta dish that stands a head above other Italian spots for its clarity of flavour and sophistication in which a regional ingredient can be the star, instead of simply using regular black pepper. After all, these peppers are sourced from local purveyor Hong Spices which grows them in Kampot, Cambodia. The BBC has even dubbed it “the world’s most prized pepper.”
If for some reason, the cacio e pepe is too cloyingly rich, order the Tonnarelli Vongole ($29) instead, where clams from local producer Ah Hua Kelong are tossed into a tangle of squid ink tonnarelli, cured citrus butter, green pepper and oregano. What arrives on the table is a pleasurable piquant pasta that will act as a zesty balance to your meal.
In fact, acidity seems to the dominant note of the food menu as the other noteworthy dish, the Pompano Piccata ($42) sits on the same flavour plane. Here, golden pomfret — also sourced from Ah Hua Kelong — is deboned and pan roasted until crispy. The little charred bits add a welcomed crunch and bitterness to a dish that sings with life from the oceanic brine of trout caviar and capers, as well as the tanginess from a lemon butter sauce.
These sour dishes — our choice picks for the night — act almost as a blank canvas for the next best part of the menu: the negronis.
We don’t know about you but negronis feel very much like a post sundown drink. If you’re there on a swelteringly hot day (PSA: Caffe Fernet is an al fresco sort of place), we’d strongly recommend starting with the Garibaldi Frose ($15/glass, $68/pitcher). Here, Campari, orange juice and fino sherry are made into a slushie and then poured into a wine glass and garnished with an orange slice dipping into the drink. It’s just the right balance of sweet, sour and bitter — perfect to kick off your experience.
Go a little deeper next; order up the Classico ($22). While there are four negroni variations — if you don’t count riffs like the Americano and the likes — the classic still has our heart. It’s deftly made the way a good negroni should by using Beefeater Gin, Campari, and Cinzano Rosso.
If two drinks are not enough, or if your date has a sense of humour that’s only funny after three drinks, dive into the Vecchio ($23). It’s a shade darker than the classic negroni and is made with Koskue Gin — a gin aged from six to 12 weeks in American oak barrels — and Mancino Rosso for the vermouth.
These selections will guarantee you a decent night out. In a city that’s rife with Italian spots, many of which are places we’d gladly pass up on, Caffe Fernet has found the right formula. The moustachioed negroni aficionado alone by the bar would certainly approve.
Caffe Fernet is at 70, #01-05 Collyer Quay, Customs House, 049323.