Diner’s Diary

Last hurrah for Hong Kong dining institution Sammy’s Kitchen – eat at Sai Ying Pun restaurant while you still can

The Hong Kong favourite may be closing this week, but it is still dishing up decadent delights. We went twice to sample its delights, including a Hungarian-style beef fillet and delicious crêpes Suzette

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 7:18am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 12:03pm

Before the MTR went all the way to the western reaches of Hong Kong Island, I took the bus home and always passed by Sammy’s Kitchen, each time thinking I should try it at least once.

But it wasn’t until the sad news that the old-school Hong Kong restaurant would close in mid-September that I finally visited the institution in Sai Ying Pun. In fact, I went twice in two weeks.

I made a reservation, and the first time I walked in, I didn’t know what to expect. Inside it’s a bit dark, cavernous, kitsch and cosy, with tables in every spare nook. The table cloths aren’t red and white chequered – they’ve been upgraded to Burberry-esque plastic table covers.

It turns out those who smartly booked ahead were seated in a small room off to the right of the entrance. Walk-ins – who are lucky enough to get a table – sit in the other half of the restaurant. On the night we went, many people without a reservation were turned away.

The place looks a little worse for wear, but customers don’t seem to mind. Couples, friends and families gather here as if it’s an old friend they are visiting. The menu is in a plastic file folder that’s been used for many years with the dishes listed in English and Chinese – the former having a few French words thrown in for sophistication – and many of them include “Sammy’s sauce” or “Sammy’s Special”. They are of course referring to Sammy Yip Luen, the chef and co-founder of the restaurant.

He started Sammy’s Kitchen with three friends 48 years ago after having worked in hotels. The restaurant quickly became known for its Angus steak, because at the time the luxury dish was only served in hotels.

Newly opened Second Street Comfort Food & Bar in Sai Ying Pun – big portions, little problems

A neon sign of a cow that seemlessly floated in the air above the restaurant became a beacon for many local diners when it was first located in Centre Street, and later moved to its current location. However, two years ago, the Buildings Department considered the sign unsafe and was donated to the West Kowloon Cultural District’s culture museum, M+.

But back to the food. It can be so hard to decide what to eat with so many dishes to choose from. From where we sat we were able to peek into the kitchen that’s not very large, but still somehow able to produce a constant stream of dishes that come out piping hot.

To start, you can have baked escargots in the shell stuffed with lots of parsley, garlic, butter, cognac and cheese (HK$68), or how about Sammy’s special fresh oxtail thick soup au sherry (HK$58), or borsch Polonaise (HK$35) that definitely didn’t come from a can, thanks to its full taste and no MSG.

We also tried a Hong Kong dish – crabmeat au gratin (HK$70), filled with lots of meat and onions covered in cheese and baked. The portions were on the small side, but very flavourful.

Not many places serve beef Wellington, but here they have “Sammy’s special fillet of beef à la Wellington” (HK$600 for two), but it was enough for four to share. Cooked medium rare, it was served slightly on the rare side, which we preferred. The fillet was stuffed with foie gras pate and seasoned with brandy, and served with a foie gras mushroom sauce.

First impressions of Mr. S. Y. Punti in Sai Ying Pun – reinterpreted Hong Kong dishes fall flat on flavour

Another fantastic dish is the Sammy’s special fillet of beef Hungarian style (HK$230). It featured cubes of beef marinated with paprika and brandy, sautéed in butter and served with onions, green and red peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic and veal stock. That delicious sauce isn’t wasted – it was soaked up by the pasta underneath.

But perhaps the best part is dessert, and there are many to choose from. They’re all old-school desserts, like apricot or banana flambé (HK$75), they even had peach baked Alaska (HK$90) and cherries jubilee (HK$130 for two).

The first time I went we ordered Sammy’s special crêpes Suzette (HK$130). It took a long time to prepare, but as our table was near the kitchen, we could see and smell it being prepared.

One of the chefs made a syrup with orange juice, Cognac and Grand Marnier. Then instead of adding orange zest, he took an orange and poked holes all over it before putting it in the pan with the syrup that was simmering away. The orange flavour was so fragrant, that other diners turned their heads towards the kitchen, wondering what the chef was making.

After the exciting flambé the crêpes were smothered in the fragrant citrus sauce and we savoured each bite.

Another fantastic dessert is the soufflé with Cointreau (HK$130 for two), that is written as “sauffle” on the menu (the Cantonese pronunciation of the dish). After a wait if almost 30 minutes, our patience was rewarded with two very large soufflés. Unlike Western restaurants where the tops are flat, here the extra egg white mix was dolloped on top so it looked like a giant soft serve ice cream.

Our spoons sank inside the soufflé to find it all fluffy and not too wet, and it tasted so light with a hint of booze. What a dreamy finish, but sadly not for the staff and Sammy’s daughter, Ivy Yip Fung-yee, who runs the place for her 86-year-old father.

Sammy’s Kitchen closes on September 15 because the new landlord, who recently took over the premises, increased the rent by almost double to HK$150,000 per month. Ivy Yip doesn’t want to double the prices of the dishes, and hopes to find another location soon.

In the meantime, diners have been streaming in to the restaurant, hoping it’s not their last taste of “Uncle Sammy’s” food.

Sammy’s Kitchen, 204-206 Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun. Tel: 2548 8400