When you think of sampans, you’d probably think of flat wooden boats paddled by Asian men wearing conical straw hats. Well, while it’s not a boat, The Sampan along Boat Quay in Singapore similarly derives from a very distinctly Asian heritage, priding itself as a restaurant that serves an eclectic menu of Pan Asian fare, promising to serve you a vibrant array of flavours in every dish.
Founded by Steve Collinson, the former General Manager of famous beach club Ku De Ta Bali, The Sampan achieves similar beachside vibes. From the beautiful wooden dishware to its rivers-side alfresco seating, the three-storey restaurant is perfect for larger gatherings and corporate bookings. In fact, the third level, which seats up to 50, is dedicated to hosting private events and comes complete with a bar adorned with Peranakan tiles.
The Sampan’s modern twist on familiar Asian ingredients and dishes can be seen from the first appetiser, the mini Bahn Mi ($12). Between slices of perfectly-toasted rye bread, you’ll find foie gras, slow-cooked pickled cucumber, fresh vegetables, tender pork neck, and sriracha mayonnaise. Though the portion is not big, it packs a punch of amazing flavours.
Transporting us to Thailand next is their Crispy Chili Beef with Green Mango Salad and Crispy Noodles ($18), which takes it cue from the iconic Thai salad. What makes this dish unique is the wok-fried crisp and salty slices of beef that generously tops the dish.
A great thing about The Sampan is how accommodating their menu is diners with dietary restrictions. They offer vegetarian, gluten-free, and dairy-free options across their entire menu. For example, which the Pork and Chicken Choi Bao ($3.50/pc), consisting of succulent pork and crunchy chicken bites with water chestnuts and lap cheong (traditional Chinese waxed pork sausage), vegetarians can opt for Mushroom San Choi Bao, which replaces the pork and chicken with black fungus, enoki, and shiitake mushrooms.
Of course, some dishes have ingredients that are simply too distinct to be substituted, such as the Sichuan Pepper Chicken Spare Ribs with Spring Onion Salad ($12). Rarely seen on the Singaporean dining table, these oft-neglected parts are paired with a spicy home-made dipping sauce, and is a must-have dish when dining at The Sampan.
Apart from the taste, I must also highlight the visual presentation of their dishes. The bright colours draw you in, reflecting the freshness of each ingredient used. In particular, the Pani Puri with stracciatella and curried lentils ($6.50 for two) stood out. At first glance, the rough texture of the two innocent looking spheres could be mistaken for the soft dough. But when you pop it in, you’ll discover the crisp shell and the artfulness of adding yoghurt to the mix, which gives it a sharper and more unique taste.
The Sampan’s desserts are also not to be missed. Fruit lovers will enjoy the tropical Mango Pudding with Coconut Sago and Mango Sorbet ($12). The firm sago balls complemented the soft and silky mango pudding, and the softer textures provided a buffer against the tartness of the sorbet.
Those looking at a more creamy alternative should try the Valrhona Chocolate and Tofu Mousse with Chai Spiced Shortbread and Passionfruit Curd ($14).
Every element in this dish, from the tofu mousse to the bergamot caramel and shortbread, are all made in-house.
Pushing the boundaries of traditional Asian cuisine doesn’t stop at the food. For the more adventurous spirits, I highly recommend trying cocktails such as their Mango and Chili Smash ($18), a tropical rendition of a Bloody Mary, and the Pandan Old-Fashioned ($16), which features pandan-infused rye, sugar syrup and aromatic bitters.
The Sampan is a place you would leave feeling fresh and light. Stop by to enjoy a gradient of spices by the Singapore River, and take in its easy-going vibes with friends.
The Sampan is located at 63 Boat Qy, Singapore 049851, p. +65 6732 1698. Open Mon-Fri 11.30am – 2.30pm, Mon-Sat 5pm – 12am. Closed Sun.