Want to sip a classic negroni next to the waterfront? How about watching the sunset while tucking into a plate of delicious pasta? Look no further than Caffe Fernet, a new-Italian restaurant and bar located at the Customs House on Collyer Quay 

By now, Singaporeans will be familiar with Jigger & Pony, the cocktail bar which took the top spot on Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2020 list. Known for their inventive cocktails and easy communal vibe, Jigger & Pony was opened in 2012 and has since been a local favourite.

The success of Jigger & Pony is perhaps what co-owners (and husband-and-wife team) Indra Kantono and Gan Guoyi hope to recreate with their venture Caffe Fernet, which opened its doors in 2018 at the Customs House. Located in Collyer Quay, it overlooks the Fullerton Bay waterfront and the Marina Bay.

Now, restaurants in the CBD are a dime a dozen and many are well-worth the premium you pay for sipping drinks in the heart of the city. But at Caffe Fernet, a new-Italian restaurant and cocktail bar, there is a vibe that makes it a surprisingly great find in the saturated and competitive F&B industry.

As Kantono explained during a recent media tasting, the name Caffe Fernet comes from an Italian amaro — a bitter, aromatic spirit — called fernet. The fernet is also known as the ‘bartender’s handshake’, that go-to drink from one barkeep to another — a sort of insider’s secret among bartenders, if you will. Indeed, there is a sort of ‘hidden gem’ feel to Caffe Fernet. It feels like a place you go to satisfy your cravings for carbohydrates of all kinds, as well as your fix of a great cocktail with friends, for it combines great food and even better drinks.

We recently had a chance to sample Caffe Fernet’s refreshed new food and drinks menu. To start, we sampled small plates of the Mushroom Agrodolce ($24), Burrata ($24), and the Octopus ($32). The octopus, which I did not taste (as I am allergic) is a charred Mediterranean octopus served with a salad of marinated cannellini beans, celery and roasted pepper, and finished with pepperoncini rosso vinegar and fragrant basil oil. The Mushroom Agrodolce, served with fresh bread, was my favourite of the three.

Here, king oyster mushrooms and savoury herbs are caramelised in butter, and glazed with a red wine agrodolce; while polenta and ground sweet white corn are cooked in milk, finished with crème fraiche, parmesan and black Kampot pepper. The result is a deeply flavourful and savoury dish that really begs to be dipped with bread. The Burrata (an Italian cow milk cheese made from mozzarella and cream), too, was lovely — fresh and zingy tomatillos in two textures, contrasts nicely with the creamy locally-produced burrata.

These small plates are best enjoyed with Garibaldi Frose, a mix of Campari, orange juice, fino sherry in a delightful iced ‘slushie’ ($12/$15 per glass). Refreshing, light and sweet, this sets off the savoury mushrooms perfectly and is a great way to start what is surely a boozy night ahead.

There is also a Sicilian Spritz ($13/$17 per glass), made with Italicus, Aperol, olive, prosecco, soda — creating a much more complex, even slightly savoury, take on the classic Aperol Spritz. Not overly boozy or strong, this one really hit the spot for me. After the first round of drinks, we moved on to the mains.

Here, we have Mafaldine Cacio E Pepe ($26), a Caffe Fernet signature dish of parmesan, pecorino, and four different peppercorns; the Tonnarelli Vongole ($29), a spin on the classic spaghetti vongole with squid ink, flower clams, citrus butter and the Rigatoni Vodka ($28) with spicy pork sausage, tomato and cream.

The Mafaldine Cacio E Pepe may seem awfully plain to some, but this was one of my favourites for the night. Classic and simple without any frills, the flavours of the parmesan and pecorino cheese really stood out. The peppercorns add a hint of heat to the overall mix, lifting it up from something that can be quite rich. Also, instead of using traditional spaghetti or tonnarelli, “little queens” or mafaldine — a ruffled, ribbon-shaped pasta — is used to better capture the cheese and pepper sauce.

I also loved the Rigatoni Vodka, which is all about that classic comfort food, packed with flavourful house-made spicy pork fennel sausage made from Australian pork shoulder, San Marzano tomatoes, Calabrian chile and finished with a splash of cream and dry pinot gris.

For me, the pasta dishes hit all the right spots, and so did the Pompano Piccata ($42), a half-fish portion of Golden Pomfret or Pompano, sourced from local fish farm Ah Hua Kelong, deboned and pan roasted until the skin turns crisp before being served with a fresh lemon-butter sauce featuring Amalfi lemon, briny trout caviar and crispy capers. This was really surprising for me — the pomfret is quite a delicate fish and usually does not hold up well to being roasted.

However, the somewhat milky-oiliness of the pomfret is off-set with the Amalfi lemon, and this tasted really fresh. Another main dish we tried was the Peppered Short Rib ($65), a 150-day grainfed Black Angus short rib from Australia’s Jack’s Creek, brined in herbs and spices for two days then lacquered with honey mustard and crusted with black pepper and coriander seeds, before being slow-roasted overnight. This was fantastic. I would have happily eaten multiple servings of this tender, sweet beef. However, the salad of peach, fennel, red onion and vinaigrette could do with being more tart but it was zingy enough to cut through the richness of the beef.

To top it all off, we washed the mains down with some absolutely stellar negronis: the Classico, made with Beefeater Gin, Campari and Cinzano Rosso ($16/$22), the Secco, made with Tanqueray Gin, Mulassano Bitter, and Cocchi Torino ($16/$22); the Elegante, made with No. 3 Gin, Campari, Gran Classico ($23) and the Vecchio, made with Koskue Gin, Campari, and Mancino Rosso ($23).

All were stunning takes on the bitter cocktail, which is quite an acquired taste for many, but my favourite was the Classico — because while the others were subtly different and all equally delicious, my policy is “why fix what isn’t broken?”.

Truly, Caffe Fernet is a worthy trip down into the heart of the city for great views, great food and fantastic cocktails. It is a place to have a nice night out with friends — responsibly, of course — and will surely whet your appetite for some good old pasta