IF you squint hard enough, the white Christmas lights dangle like drop earrings over the shrubs at Sampan. If you fix your eyes beyond Pak Sha Wan Pier and on to Shelter Cove, the sun, if you sit long enough, quenching a thirst, will turn the bay into molten silver. It's easy to convince yourself you are far away from Hong Kong as the sailors drop their sails and glide towards port. Shades of Phuket? Antibes? Maine? Dream on and eat your heart out. One way to enjoy Sampan is sitting outdoors. But make sure your back is to Hiram Highway. Only an occasional aroma wafting from the charcoal grills will force one to turn around and face reality - the drone of the air-conditioner's mantra, the screeching gears of minibuses and traffic racing towards Marina Cove or Sai Kung. But hang on. The beers are wet and cold and, by sunset, the world from two plastic chairs was sheer bliss. It happened on a recent Sunday after a sweltering trudge through hell along the MacLehose Trail. The Sampan staff assured their only two customers at 5 pm that there was continuous serving outdoors. One Sai Kung real estate baron had recommended this Thai restaurant, but encouraged us to grab a takeaway before dinner from the pigeon palace next door. We didn't and it was a good thing. Portions are generous. Sampan's grills are set for serious business. The daily catch - eel, pomfret, black cod, prawns - was arrayed under puddles of melting ice. The usual Thai staples fatten the six-page menu; chef's seafood suggestions claim two pages. At this stage of weariness, we couldn't recognise a black cod from pomfret and surrendered to the grill-man's suggestion - black cod. The crisp, fresh-tasting shrimp crackers arrived with the beers and both went down too easily. The crackers weren't gratis, we later learned at $15 a bowl. Nothing special about the grilled satay (chicken) at $38. The peanut sauce deserved more of a chilli hit and thicker texture. The grilled fillet of beef salad with lime juice and chilli ($56) was quite a consolation prize. Not only did it smack of flavour, fire and coriander, but it tasted like Bangkok street food. The grilled black cod ($138) with Thai ginger sauce was top-notch - two generous fillets, skilfully cooked and moist, with a sweet edge. The snappy sauce and pickled vegetables sliced the richness for a nice marriage. The pad thai ($36) held no surprises. On the moist side, it needed more sprouts for texture and more lime wedges. The sweet-salty edge that makes this noodle dish a classic needs the acidic boost. Dessert wasn't needed but why resist. The taro and red sticky rice with coconut milk and assorted coconut cakes were skipped in favour of the sticky rice with mango. The fruit was fine but the rice was so tough and heavy, it could be better utilised as ballast. There are better Thai restaurants and cheaper ones. But Sampan has a captive audience, an inviting location and the whole package. Sitting outdoors, the charcoal grilling and friendly service make this place worth a visit. The bill for two, including beers, came to $450.