Sipping on a bright-orange spritz cocktail in between taking small bites while watching the world go by in convivial piazzas counts as one of the must-dos during a typical holiday to sun-drenched Italy.
Capturing a slice of this rilassato (relaxing in Italian) vibe in the Central Business District in Singapore is Caffe Fernet, a 130-seat modern Italian restaurant-bar that opens today (March 7) in the historic Customs House. The waterfront glasshouse space is the crown jewel of home-grown food and beverage company, The Jigger & Pony Group that runs five other establishments including Sugarhall, Gibson and Humpback. Spanning 1,800 sq ft, Caffe Fernet is the group’s largest set-up to date.
Diners can chill out to the panoramic views of the Marina Bay Promenade at the restaurant, which was carved out from a once-vacant pavilion that is part of the Customs House, a police coast guard office-turned-F&B-enclave that is run by The Fullerton Heritage.
Mr Indra Kantono, co-founder of The Jigger & Pony Group, decided to name the all-day dining space after the bitter and aromatic Italian amaro (spirit). He says: “Having a shot of Fernet is known as a ‘bartender’s handshake’ - bartenders welcome other bartenders into their bars with a shot of this drink. It is a homage to the bartending community that the Jigger & Pony Group is a part of.”
Caffe Fernet takes inspiration from classic Italian cuisines and cocktails but they do not adhere to them too seriously, making room for more experimental and fun flavours.
Mr Kantono is tapping on the long-standing popularity of Italian cuisine and the classic cocktails such as negroni in Singapore. He says: “Our chefs and bartenders are not from Italy, so we are not trying to be traditional, but we take Italian ingredients and put a lighter and brighter spin to it.”
Making an unusual appearance in the menu are the toasts. They include the Ricotta Toast ($15) - a dollop of velvety yogurt-like house-made ricotta that is topped with smoky sweet chestnut honey. The sweetness of honey is offset by the subtle sourness of the milky cheese. Smear it on the toasted sourdough for a crispy-smooth contrast of textures.
Other appetisers include slabs of hamachi crudo ($25) that is smoothened by chunks of char-smoked eggplant, and are enlivened by a dash of saltiness from olive tapenade that is blended with anchovies and capers.
A melange of textures awaits at the Crispy Golden Beetroot ($21) that has crispy fried beetroot chunks with creamy beetroot puree and served with fistfulls of rocket leaves, toasted almonds and feta cubes.
Looking for something more substantial? The Mafaldine Cacio e Pepe ($25) will pique one’s appetite with four types of peppercorns and pecorino cheese, and meat dishes include the Crispy Porchetta ($38) with pickled mustard seeds and mint gremolata.
Tipples-wise, a sprawling bar that spans one side of the restaurant catches the eye with its fire engine-red shelves. The bar is home to more than 50 Italian liqueurs such as limoncello, brandy, vermouth and Aperol. Staying true to its namesake, there are 10 types of fernets hailing from countries such as Canada and Mexico. (Even the tiramisu here is spiked with the herbaceous fernet instead of rum).
Putting a lighter spin to the classic Aperol Spritz, the Amalfi Spritz ($17) is made with Cedro lemon liqueur that is more tart and drier than limoncello. The citrusy tipple is infused with wormwood to give a tinge of bitterness, and some fizz is injected from prosecco, soda water and lemon juice that is added to the concoction. On top of the classic negroni, there are also versions that are infused with coffee and dehydrated banana slices.
Saluti to that.
Caffe Fernet is at Customs House, 70 Collyer Quay, 01-05, Tel: 9178 1105.