Last Updated: November 18, 2018
Be honest with us: when you hear the term “modern Southeast Asian cuisine”, doesn’t it make you roll your eyes knowing a place has the potential for pretentiousness? You’re not alone. I am one of them, but I was about to get my prejudices checked.
A new entry to the Boat Quay enclave is The Sampan, a three-storey restaurant and bar that puts a fresh spin on cuisines that can be found scattered across Southeast Asia.
This refreshing take extends beyond their food menu into a line-up of cocktails that borrow traditional ingredients to marry with classic liquors.
Speaking of booze, The Sampan’s rendition of the Pandan Old Fashioned (S$18) was punchy and unforgettable. The alcohol didn’t smother the smooth, gentle flavours of pandan, which allowed us to breathe in its unmistakable aroma.
The finish was sweet and served well as the first tipple of the evening.
Should you wish to sip on something that’s just as refreshing but non-alcoholic, the Lychee & Lemongrass Iced Tea (S$6) is a great consideration.
As we know, one whiff of lemongrass transports us to the beckoning call of an indulgent spa day, but for now, we had to settle for a thirst-quenching drink.
The nutritious-conscious will truly love the Pina & Spinach Smoothie (S$10), with fresh pineapples, organic honey, fresh spinach leaves and fresh coconut water. One sip of this and I wished I were sitting on the beach without a worry to bear.
For starters, we were served the Pani Puri (S$12), which is unlike the kind you’d expect at your common Indian stall. Stuffed with stracciatella and curried lentils, these poppers were highly addictive.
The creaminess lavishly coated our entire mouths, and the heat from the curry simply made us want more. The only downside to this dish is that it doesn’t come in bigger portions.
Another crowd favourite (or so we heard) is the Pork & Chicken Choi Bao (S$3.50 each). It’s our duty to give you fair warning that these lettuce cups filled with meat, water chestnuts and lap cheong (Chinese sausage) may look tame, but their flavours are anything but.
The spiciness hit us almost instantaneously, but we couldn’t stop chewing given how flavoursome the meat was. There were hints of soya sauce, fish sauce, sweetness from the water chestnuts and an incredible crunch from the lettuce.
Chef Alfie Ali, who is a self-professed adrenaline junkie, loves to utilise uncommon cuts, as seen here in the Szechuan Pepper Chicken Spare Ribs (S$12 for six pieces). Who would’ve thought to harness the chicken’s ribs to create a snack similar to the pedestrian fried chicken wing?
The version at The Sampan was incredibly crunchy, especially given the extra crunchy batter and the wonderful Sichuan pepperiness that we’ve all come to love.
One of the two salads we ordered was the Crispy Chilli Beef And Mango Salad (S$18), topped with a mountain of crispy noodles. The word ‘crispy’ is essential here, as it’s the overarching character of the dish that made it a win.
The beef, laced with sweet chilli dressing and carrying notes of green mango, had a really interesting and appealing essence that leaned towards savoury-sour. The immense crunchiness of the salad just made everything utterly satisfying.
The other salad (that you must, must, MUST order!) is the Blue Swimmer Crab And Pomelo Salad (S$14). First of all, the price point is a resounding YASSS. Second of all, the generous pile of blue swimmer crab meat was impressive and very succulent.
There was a natural sweetness that permeated throughout, highlighting the freshness of its ingredients. The pomelo and the sweet and sour chilli dressing contrasted beautifully, creating a zesty, crisp and outstanding salad.
Normally, we’re not huge fans of sandwiches, but when we heard about The Sampan’s Bahn Mi (S$12) with braised pork neck and Castaing foie gras, we knew we couldn’t give it a miss. In short, it was best damn sandwich we’d ever had.
The creaminess of the foie gras was a blend between custard and soft butter, while the braised pork neck provided a toothsome bite that unionised every mouthful to be just the perfect balance of flavours.
Make room for dessert here, as you’ll want to a take a sizeable scoop of their Mango Pudding (S$12) with coconut sago and mango sorbet. The pudding was smooth and saturated with a deep mango taste.
Chocoholics, don’t despair. The Valrhona Chocolate And Tofu Mousse (S$12) with chai-spiced shortbread and passionfruit curd will delight your senses. What made this special was the pepper-like nuance from the chai, which, when combined with the passionfruit curd, gave off a pronounced acidic boldness to the creamy dish.
It was rightfully, an ever-changing profile with every scoop.
Boat Quay is crammed with seafood restaurants, pitting themselves against one another to attract the most attention with diners. That is where The Sampan stands out. Not associating their style with the establishments that flank them left and right, their cuisine is comprehensive and speaks for itself.
The food at The Sampan is unobtrusive while allowing the ingredients to meld with one another, producing tantalising and irresistible Southeast Asian fare. Trust us, you won’t find modern Southeast Asian fare done so right.
Expected Damage: S$20 – S$30 per pax
Price: $ $
Our Rating: 5 / 5
63 Boat Quay, Singapore 049851
63 Boat Quay, Singapore 049851