Singapore’s restaurant scene has seen a new-Italian renaissance in the last few years that is not slowing down.
Caffe Fernet, first opened in 2018, is proof of that. The concept under the Jigger & Pony Group has recently refreshed its menu under Los Angeles-raised Chef David Tang. Now, its focus is sharply fixed on New Italian cuisine, which refers to a modern take with the use of local and seasonal produce.
At this time of writing, I’ve visited twice. The first was a work invitation; the second was dinner and drinks with friends.
It’s mandatory to begin your meal at Caffe Fernet with a Frose, which is a grown-up way of describing an adult slushie. Have the recommended Garibaldi (campari, orange juice, fino sherry) or the vodka-and-rosè spiked Watermelon. These go down easy with the starters and small plates.
If you’re here for easy drinking, don’t give the Frito Misto a miss. The restaurant signature is a platter of batter-fried local calamari and tiger prawns, and yellow and green zucchini dusted with paprika, cayenne and parsley. Go for double, triple dippings of the Calabrian chile sauce and lemon.
Have the octopus. It remains deliciously tender despite being charred; bits of smokiness linger in the tentacles in a puddle of pepperoncini rosso vinegar and fragrant basil oil. The locally produced burrata is a delightful mound of fresh creaminess served with tomatillos (husk tomatoes) dine in two ways: roasted in a sauce with a piquant fermented serrano chile, and as a garnish, compressed with lime juice and zest. The mushroom agrodolce is a bed of polenta, cooked with maximum richness from ground sweet corn, milk and finished with crème fraiche and parmesan. Cutting through all that fat is black kampot pepper and a sweet-and-sour red wine agrodolce spiced with star anise and fennel seeds.
Do yourself a favour and order a Negroni before you begin on your mains.
Caffe Fernet offers a selection of four, with each offering different nuances and characters. The Classico with Beefeater Gin, Campari, Cinzano Rosso is a timeless rendition while the Vecchio uses the spicy and piquant aged Koskue Gin with Campari and Mancino.
Truth be told, it’s Caffe Fernet’s riff on cacio e pepe that had me coming back just weeks later. The pasta used is long, thick and indulgent strips of moreish mafaldine that makes the dish all the way more satiating, perfectly trapping all that parmesan and pecorino goodness in its ruffled edges. The sauce is lifted with a quintet of prized Kampot peppercorns – pink, black, green, and white – grown in the Cambodian province.
We also have the tonnarelli vongole. The rich, briny juices of the fresh clams, sourced from Ah Hua Kelong, combined with the squid ink, is given a pleasing punch with cured citrus butter, and the light sharpness of green pepper.
For mains, the pompano piccata is the restaurant’s New Italian spin on the classic dish, with a fish that has also been sourced from Ah Hua Kelong. A crisp skin, piled with trout caviar and capers, gives way to delicate oily flesh that is balanced with the sourness of Amalfi lemons.
Having been here twice, I’d visit again. Coupled with its bayside location and skyline views, Caffe Fernet has scored the winning formula of being a feel good Italian place.
Caffe Fernet, 70, #01-05 Collyer Quay, Customs House, Singapore 049323