Imagine taking a walk down the river when suddenly, you come across a cosy looking joint nestled along the rows of restaurants. From first glance it already looks welcoming, with a simple yet unassuming logo that perfectly captures the essence of ‘Asian, yet not pretentiously so’. This, ladies and gentlemen, is our first impression of The Sampan.
Helmed by former Ku De Ta Bali general manager Steve Collinson, The Sampan is the latest addition to Boat Quay’s ever growing, vibrant lineup of restaurants and nightlife, offering up a spectrum of flavours that showcase the tastes of Asia, by head chef Alfie Ali. Says Steve: “And it’s not just limited to our food menu but also our drinks menu as well. Cocktail aficionados can look forward to something unique from their regular tipple.”
He’s not wrong there – there’s a perfectly relaxing atmosphere that The Sampan comes equipped with, helped by its nice al fresco dining area and cosy indoor seating. The Sampan is also led by a strong management team, with attentive staff who draw you right in to this village-like feeling you get when you have a meal here.
Before even digging in to the food, one would recommend trying out their unique cocktails specially concocted by Head Bartender Herman Jasmani. Giving an Asian twist to cocktail standards, one can expect drinks ranging from a chilli tequila-base Mango & Chilli Smash ($18) to a White Sangria ($18) with white wine and Asian pear.
We had a taste of three cocktails and recommend starting off with the Hibiscus & Vanilla Margarita ($18), a well-shaken drink best consumed chilled to refresh your senses in sweltering Singapore. Throughout the night, depending on one’s own preference, one might consider sipping on the sweeter L&L ($18), which stands for lemongrass and lychee, perfect for those who love their lychee martinis, or for those who prefer more kick in their tipple, the Pandan Old Fashioned ($16). Don’t judge it by its instagrammable pandan leaf wrap – the pandan infused rye packs a punch when it hits you upon first taste, before the calming pandan notes arrive thereafter to end each sip.
We began our meal with the pork and chicken choi bao, with water chestnuts and lap cheong ($3.50 each). A good appetizer, the well seasoned choi bao featured well fried ingredients, with fresh, crunchy water chestnuts to give a contrasting texture, while the subtle lup cheong provided an additional layer of local tastes. The Sampan is also acutely aware of alternative meal preferences, and provides a good option for vegetarians with their shitake, enoki and black fungus mushroom san choi bao (also $3.50 each).
Our next appetizer of the night was the blue swimmer crab and pomelo salad with sweet and sour chili dressing ($14). Nicely presented and stacked into a small mountain of greens and crabmeat, the salad acted as a good palate cleanser before moving into the main dishes proper, a refreshing dish that reminded us of achar.
We love chicken, but perhaps a part that you rarely hear about anyone using as the would be chicken spare ribs. Enter The Sampan’s Sichuan pepper chicken spare ribs, served with spring onion salad ($12). This was an innovative way of using unusual parts of the chicken, which was fried to a crisp, well seasoned in the pepper and went well with the Sichuan sauce. Definitely a must order to complement any of The Sampan’s drinks too.
For a taste of South Asia, The Sampan also serves up pani puri with stracciatella and curried lentils ($6.50 for 2 pieces). Fried in a light batter, the stracciatella filling was light and easy on the palate. Throw in a dash of mint and it makes for a satisfactory snack.
No Vietnamese menu is complete without banh mi, and at the Sampan, the restaurant serves up a braised pork neck and castaing foie gras banh mi ($12). While it was a little difficult to taste the foie gras, what we did taste certainly added a touch of the luxurious to this humble but delicious dish, with a crispy and fresh mini baguette that sandwiched the generous serving of pork neck. Braised in a sumptuous sauce, the taste of the meat was also elevated with the slaw that topped it all off.
For our final savoury dish, we were served the crispy chili beef with green mango salad and crispy noodles ($18). While it may be surprising to receive a salad last, this dish is actually pretty filling, and turned out to be one of our favourites of the night. It’s hard to find a good crispy chili beef, but The Sampan delivers here, with the beef fried to perfection, retaining the texture and taste. Complementing it was the fresh green mango salad and crispy noodles, and for a real delight, put them all together in a single spoon and enjoy all the flavours and textures in a single bite.
Finishing off the meal with dessert, we had a taste of The Sampan’s mango pudding with coconut sago and mango sorbet ($12), as well as their Valrhona chocolate and tofu mousse with chai spiced shortbread passion fruit curd ($12). The desserts were an interesting take, and the mango pudding in particular was a fascinating deconstructed interpretation of the Asian classic, with the sago served in separate clumps atop the pudding.
The Sampan offers up tasty sharing plates with a fierce Asian touch, its dishes imbued with intense tastes from the sauces and spices used that’ll leave you hankering for more. Pair that up with their well shaken drinks, and you’ve got yourself a good night out with the colleagues or mates as you eat, chat, and just enjoy each other’s company down by the river.
Where: 63 Boat Quay, Singapore 049851
When: Mon – Fri (11.30am – 12mn), Sat (4.30pm – 12mn), Closed on Sunday
Contact: Visit their Facebook