We don’t call the Jigger & Pony group a trailblazer for nothing. In its sixth year of operation, this local F&B group by husband and wife owners, Indra Kantono and Gan Guo Yi, just opened its sixth outlet, its largest yet, at a newly constructed 130-seat Marina Bay-fronting space that adjoins the Customs House.
Unlike the rest of its shop-house based establishments, Caffe Fernet is housed in an independent structure with square fluted columns, a vaulted ceiling and glass-wrapped floor-to-ceiling windows that swing open at dusk to embrace the evening breeze. Needless to say, the stonking views of the Marina Bay – including that of the behemoth Marina Bay Sands and its nightly light show – are jaw-dropping.
In keeping with its spirits-focused up-bringing, Aki Eguchi, Group Bar Programme Director, has conceived a menu of cocktails that are riffs on classic Italian swizzles like spritzes (try the Amalfi Spritz, $17++ a glass and $78++ a pitcher) and negronis, and then some (craft cocktails). Additionally, the drinks list also features an array of thirst-quenching fruit-infused Froze, a rosé-based slush drink perfect for Singapore’s all-year summery weather. Pick between Strawberry Froze ($15++ a glass, $68++ a pitcher) or Watermelon Froze ($15++ a glass, $68++ a pitcher).
Veering away from its former mostly-drinks model, the couple has roped in executive chef, David Tang, an alum of Wolfgang Puck in Los Angeles, to create a menu of light and contemporary yet punchy Italian-inspired dishes that are accessible for all, whether you’re here for a full meal or merely to snack on small plates while sipping a glass of Froze. As long as you don’t come expecting classical Italian, there’s no reason why you should not leave satisfied.
The menu description of Snacks, Toast, Small Plates, Pasta, Large Plates, Sides and Desserts is straightforward. If you want light snacks to go with beverages, pick from Snacks and Toast. The rest of the sections feature items more appropriate for dining although Small Plates can swing either way.
Italian Olives ($10++) make for a great start – a trio of Italian olives (the small black Gaeta olives, medium-sized ovals of black Leccino olive and the gigantic bright green Castelvetrano olives) doused in olive oil infused with rosemary and smoked chilli. These salty and meaty-tasting olives are little nuggets of umami and can be addictive.
The Housemade Ricotta ($15++) is must-order. Slivers of toast are served alongside a puddle of the creamiest ricotta, itself topped with a smidgen of chestnut honey and thyme. If you think it’s hard to resist the ricotta, try inhaling it with a dose of nutty sweetness from the honey.
It’s sometimes difficult to love salads but Tang’s rendition of Crispy Golden Beetroot ($21++) is hard to resist. For one, both the yellow and purple beetroot are deep-fried instead of baked. While these are not completely crispy, the process of deep-frying releases the sugars in the beets, lending the vegetable a deep, rich sweetness further enriched by the blanket of spicy red beetroot mole (potato, dried chilli, red beetroot). So that you don’t get a beetroot overload, the riot of rocket leaves, crushed almonds and feta cheese provide a counterpoint.
Pasta options provide bulk for the meal and they do pass muster but are hardly ground-breaking. Pillows of home-made Sheep Ricotta Agnolotti ($28) with saffron, honey and thyme are little pillows of cheesy delight, if overly sweet, while oodles of Mafaldine’ Cacio E Pepe ($25++), a ribbon like pasta, are enrobed in a sauce perfumed with Pecorina and four types of peppercorn.
The arrival of the Crispy Porchetta ($38), which comes a hefty chunk topped with pickled mustard seeds, mint and gremolata, brings with it a tinge of disappointment mostly because the word “crispy” brings with it mounting expectation of the shatter that comes with biting into a great of siew yoke (Cantonese roast pork belly). The good news is: there is room for improvement.
The side of Charred Gem Lettuce ($11++) performs remarkably better although it looks more suited as a Small Plate than Sides. Heads of bijou romain lettuce drowned in a sweet-salty-savoury sauce that speaks of golden raisins, capers and anchovies. Tasty, when applied here, can be an underrated description.
Although the hipster Italian fare can be overshadowed by the sheer panorama and Eguchi’s bevy of cocktails and spirits (on that note, you should try the bitter, herby liquor of Fernet-Branca, $16++ a shot), Caffe Fernet has a fuss-free menu that is both easy to understand and, quite frankly, immensely tasty. Throw in the affordable pricing and we reckon Caffe Fernet provides one of the finest “packages” this part of town.
70 Collyer Quay, Customs House #01-05, Singapore 049 323; +65-9178 1105; caffefernet.sg