The slow Sampan
Sampan Seafood Restaurant, 16 Main Street, Yung Shue Wan, Lamma Island. Tel: 982-2388. Hours: 10.30am to 10.30pm SUMMERTIME has descended with a vengeance: it's hot and sticky and seems more crowded and noisy than ever, and with one accord the collective mind of Hong Kong island turns to one thing - escape.
Lamma Island is possibly still the favoured destination: it is easy enough to get to - and to return from - while still allowing romantics the sea air and twinkling night skies. And, of course, those seafood restaurants for which it is rightly famous.
The plethora of restaurants brings its own troubles: how to choose where to eat once you are decanted at Lamma Island? First glances give nothing away: all display their wares, still alive, in great tanks; all appear to be full of high-spirited diners and noise levels that assault the ear drums; hygiene is perhaps not all the purist would desire and plastic chairs and tables are everywhere the order of the day.
The Sampan catches the eye for its cheery bistro style trappings - a child's blackboard, red and white check tablecloths - and its proximity to the ferry.
Started up a year ago by three locals, Sampan tends to be frenetically busy on weekends when eight waiters rush around and between the tables with neat upward pelvic thrusts and an air of unabashed disorganisation.
The steamed prawns served here, blanketed in minced garlic, are perfect, and of course, fresh. Squid, too, is perfectly succulent and tender in a crisp, peppery, light batter which suggests a fleeting acquaintance with the deep frier.
Without a doubt, the biggest complaint food-wise is why the bistro theme isn't carried further - the provision of dishes of French bread to mop up the garlicky puddles left behind prawns, or the fragrant soy sauce and ginger broth that cooked a fish, would be an excellent practice.
Both the view and the food are standard Lamma - miles of black sea, unbesmirched by neon reflections, and the freshest of seafood smothered in lashings of garlic - but unfortunately so is the service, which is quite dreadful.
The whole fish served in ginger and green onion proved delicate: white, almost sweet flesh flaking off the bones at the jab of a chopstick.
A tiny saucer of peanuts does little to allay impatience: Sampan serves just one wine, an acceptable enough rough-and-ready white, but it is a bit much to consume two bottles between four before you've had even a whiff of food.
Prices vary according to season (and, folklore has it, the language used to order). On a recent visit the bill for four, with wine and soft drinks, came to $600.
Eating at the Sampan offers a sort of oriental twist on Mediterranean cuisine: garlicky and winey fumes are spiked with soy sauce, chillies and the inevitable wilted choi sum.
But of course it works, and prawns, crabs, clams and other creatures of the sea come in all the usual guises, dressed up in black bean sauce, garlic and ginger.
Additional sauces for dipping also accompany the dishes, giving an extra kick to the spicier dishes.
It is a shame to have to wait so long even for food this good, and the orange T-shirted waiters do little to calm nerves with irritable cries of ''Just a minute! Just a minute!'' Co-owner Mark Wong Siu-wing says he plans to take on more waiters during the weekends to improve the situation.
If he does, Sampan will certainly be one of the better places from which to soak up the Lamma air along with salty-fresh seafood for a perfectly reasonable price.
If he doesn't, and if you're hungry, you may be better advised to walk on by.