The Sampan

Published - 11 April 2019, Thursday

The Sampan, located right by the river at Boat Quay is the perfect setting for a celebration.

The popular restaurant and bar, has comfortable and roomy indoor and outdoor seating.

The Sampan dining destination is located in the heart of Boat Quay, open for lunch and dinner and pays homage to the history of the Singapore River with a unique Pan-Asian cuisine and an eclectic range of beverages.

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RATED 8 / 8
Walking through the noisy part of Boat Quay I manoeuvred my way to the other end, looking for The Sampan. With options to sit inside or alfresco, I was glad to be shown a table just beside the water; quiet and tranquil ambience. With such perfect weather and uninterrupted views across the river to Marina Bay Sands, I was excited about eating at this restaurant that boasts so many types of Asian cuisine.

Being a purist I usually like restaurants that serve a specialty range so typically I would not have picked this. However the name caught my attention. The Sampan in Malay means The Boat and having grown up in Malaysia I was drawn to early images in my mind where as children, we went out to sea in sampans. I felt the food might just take me back to my younger days and how right I was!

I felt the Indonesian difference immediately. A bowl of emping (Indonesian chips with a slightly bitter taste) which I love, to start the night instead of the usual keropok (prawn crackers). Chef Ahmad rather efficiently pulled together our first yummy dish for the evening – Seasoned Japanese Baby Octopus with Szechuan oil on a lettuce shell. It had a light touch of chilly padi, which is one of the hottest varieties of chilly and used a lot in Thailand and Indonesia.

The baby octopus was crunchy and delightfully light. It was gone in two chomps! Best to eat this with your fingers and allow some of the juice to roll off your hand. Finger licking good but not to worry as wet tissues that looked like marshmallows were provided. A rather ingenious as expands when water is poured on it to become a wet towel.

I moved on to the silken egg tofu served with an extremely light peanut sauce and vegetable fritters. This is a wonderful vegetarian option for vegans as is the mushroom choi bao. So if you are vegetarian there are enough varieties of dishes to satisfy your appetite too.

As one can only eat so much I skipped the salads making a mental note to come back for them. The one that caught my attention was the Malay mixed salad with local anchovies as I have never had one like that ever before.

I decided to try something from the Thai array so decided on the seafood Thai style fried rice. It was infused with a tom yam flavor which was perfect for the prawn and cuttlefish complement. There were so many other noodle and rice dishes that took my fancy like the Indonesian soto Madura with potato croquettes and Kampong Bali fried rice with beef but I had to save it for my next visit.

I have to say hospitality at The Sampan is amazing. I had the privilege of meeting all chefs involved and Chris who is Operations Manager. Each dish was explained in depth and I could feel the passion that exuded from this 100% Singaporean team. They know their food and are proud to present it to the world. That’s a big tick for me!

Moving on to the larger plates, I chose to try the beef cheek rendang as this to me is the test of a good Indonesian chef. The beef was so tender, it melted in my mouth. Perfect cut to use for rendang which requires slow cooking for hours. The fusion of tastes was impeccable – dry fried coconut, lemongrass, galangal and spices all merging into a full flavored dish.

I love rendang and it’s not often that it is made this authentic. Served with grilled vegetables and a small mound of rice cakes I thought it was a very well presented dish.

For those who enjoy grilled food there are four to choose from. I decided on the fresh local seabass with an Asian soya sauce glaze that had some chilly infused and sat on a bed of potato puree. It was my favorite dish of the night as the tender juicy fish (which is sourced locally) was so well grilled and it matched perfectly with the sauce that sat on the crispy skin. To die for!!!

By the time I got to this part of the meal I had tasted so many rich bold flavors that I needed a dessert to cleanse my palette. Again lovely local flavors like coconut were used to make a crème brulee with coconut milk so it is a vegan-friendly dish. I loved this as it was made with coconut milk rather than milk or cream so for the first time I had a crème brulee that was not rich or heavy.

In fact there are three more vegan-friendly desserts – pandan pancakes, Thai sticky rice and local coconut pudding. I tasted the pudding which was created in a kaya flavor and had a kuih (local cake made with glutinous rice) texture. Very clever indeed!

While the night came to an end with regards to food, I was informed that there were other private dining spaces on the second and third floors. A really funky bar designed with Peranakan tiles and the space affords different seating styles too. So if you are planning a private function there are two floors to choose from. Really well created spaces with historical pictures on the walls so take some time to enjoy them!

My take on the night - I love the fusion style in which The Sampan created their menu. They even have amazing set lunches and set dinners which change every two weeks. They have given diners an opportunity to taste amazing Asian food cooked with a fusion touch and presented elegantly. I’d be rushing down to have a taste if I were you!


RATED 7.5 / 8
Like a lot of cool bars and restaurants on the river at Boat Quay this one is super cool with friendly staff and great atmosphere.
The popular restaurant and bar, has comfortable and roomy indoor and outdoor seating.

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