Restaurant review: Samsen in Wan Chai – well worth the wait
Small space selling Thai street food may not accept bookings, but with fast service, great flavours and textures and delicious desserts to devour, we don’t mind queuing for dinner
“This had better be worth it,” I thought as I joined the short queue that had started to form in front of Samsen shortly after 6pm. The restaurant doesn’t take bookings, and my friends and I wanted to be in the first intake of diners when they opened the doors at 6.30pm.
Samsen has been receiving a lot of hype for its Thai street food by ex-Chachawan chef, Adam Cliff, in low-key surroundings. There’s an open kitchen, the walls are concrete, tables are small and the low stools are hard and backless, which doesn’t encourage lingering over the meal.
Food comes quickly, so if you’re trying a lot (as we did – eight dishes plus two desserts for three of us), order in batches, or all the food will come at once.
We hadn’t planned on ordering the green mango salad with tiger prawns and crispy shallots (HK$108) but saw it being served to a nearby table. It was fantastic, with sweet fresh prawns, crunchy, tangy shredded mango, good-quality dried shrimp, and a great mix of textures and sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavours.
Fried marinated pork collar with tomato and chilli dip (HK$68) was a good dish to go with drinks. The nuggets of pork were moist and crisp and the thick dipping sauce was balanced.
A pair of deep-fried eggs (HK$68) with soft, oozing, bright orange yolks came with a sweet-sour chilli and tamarind jam, and fried shallots and garlic, to provide crunch. Wok-fried Thai watercress (morning glory) with yellow beans, chilli and garlic (HK$58) was a delicious accompaniment to stir-fried wagyu beef with wild ginger, garlic, chilli and red basil (HK$128), which had tender meat and an aromatic, spicy sauce.
A crab omelette (HK$108) was well-seasoned, and had a sufficient amount of crabmeat.
Probably the most talked-about dish at Samsen is the wagyu beef boat noodles (HK$128). While the sliced beef and meatballs were good, that wasn’t my favourite part of the dish; I just loved the thick, rich, deeply flavoured sauce that coated the thin rice noodles.
The only savoury dish we didn’t finish was the chopped duck salad with fresh Thai herbs (HK$98); it was a bit one-dimensional, with too much spice.
Save room for dessert. We tried two. Crunchy tapioca-based “red rubies”, served on shaved coconut ice with young coconut meat and pomegranate seeds (HK$48), was pretty and refreshing, but even better was the pandanus coconut dumplings in warm salted coconut cream (HK$52). The dumplings, served warm, were filled with a delicious mix of palm sugar and shredded coconut.
So, was it worth lining up for and eating far too early? Definitely yes.
Samsen, 68 Stone Nullah Lane, Wan Chai, tel: 2234 0001. About HK$300 without drinks or the service charge
Recently reviewed in Wan Chai