Location, location, location! The Sampan has one of the first business mantras down pat, making the best of its location along the riverside at Boat Quay, with a great view of the iconic Marina Bay Sands in the distance. A great place for a night out with your family and friends, or for a business lunch, the location couldn’t be bettered.
‘Sampan’ is a flat-bottomed Chinese wooden boat, the restaurant’s name is an ode to the Singapore River’s rich heritage as a bustling trading port in the 19th century. The restaurant is helmed by Steve Collinson, with Ahmadiskandar Akbarruddin as the Head Chef. Influenced by the vibrant flavours of Asia, The Sampan presents cuisines from different Asian countries and cultures, adding in a contemporary twist. The Sampan’s Pan-Asian cuisine offers dishes that seek their inspiration not only from South East Asia – Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, but also the more distant exotic flavours of Japan and India. They have an extensive menu with an impressive range of vegan and vegetarian dishes that were more than enough to keep the vegan in me happy. The Sampan also caters to the Gluten-Free and the Dairy-Free.
We started our meal with Mushroom Choi Bao (S$9), an interesting and tasty alternative to the traditional meat version. Served on romaine lettuce, with a clean presentation, you are hit by a lovely garlic aroma in the first bite that is yum and inviting. Shitake mushrooms give it a unique earthy flavour, and the homemade soy sauce adds an umami flavour that perfectly balances the whole dish.
What’s a vegan meal without a salad? The Seasonal Mixed Beans Salad is a salad of julienned carrots, cabbage, edamame and oranges, with a generous sprinkle of sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds in a mild and refreshing cilantro lime dressing. The salad makes for an interesting and light side dish but the name is a bit deceiving as beans aren’t the dominant ingredient here, the focus is more on fresh, seasonal vegetables.
From the grilled section, we tried Seasonal Roasted Vegetables, Coriander Couscous (S$16) and I thoroughlly enjoyed the Middle Eastern element of this dish. Couscous is a staple food of Maghreb (Northwest Africa) that works well with the roasted veggies done Asian style. Sweet, spicy and juicy glazed babycorn; crunchy peppers; smoked oyster mushrooms and asparagus; perfectly grilled and pleasantly spiced brinjal; French beans and juicy tomatoes make a lovely composition of flavours and colours on the plate. If you love your vegetables, you’ll love this dish as much as I did.
Japanese food is the inspiration behind the Mixed Mushrooms Soba Noodles. The dish is on the menu in its meat avatar but can be done vegetarian/vegan upon request. The Buckwheat noodles have a slightly nutty flavour, cucumber adds freshness and the surprising addition of avocado brings a comforting creaminess and adds a contemporary element to the traditional Japanese version. The salad is garnished with pickled yellow radish and spicy pickled ginger, giving it a slight kick. The Soba could make for a light lunch on its own.
Now coming to my absolute favourite dish at The Sampan – Sampan Aloo Gobi, Pita Bread (S$15). The Sampan’s Aloo Gobi is more than your usual potatoes and cauliflower. The Chef plays with extras like broccoli, peas, chickpeas and cherry tomatoes, adding not just more nutritional value but also new flavours and textures to the traditional Indian favourite. Fried onion, dried fenugreek, cinnamon, and a hint of chilli, play well together, blending more flavours into the dish. The homemade vegan Pita looks like tiny Indian chapattis (homemade flat bread) but tastes very much like Pita, adding a Middle Eastern element to the dish. I know I’m biased towards Indian food but I couldn’t find fault with the dish.
Time for dessert and they haven’t forgotten the vegan diners! Thai Sticky Rice with Mango Sorbet is infused with lavender and osmanthus – a marriage of East and West culinary traditions. For the uninitiated, lavender is commonly used in French or English cakes and sweet Osmanthus from China can be found in some local desserts. The sticky rice is satisfyingly sweet, topped with fresh mango and served with homemade mango sorbet.
The Sampan: Verdict & Vegan-Friendly Factor
I will definitely be going back to The Sampan. The place shines on the Boat Quay food scene with its delicious food and fabulous presentation. They don’t just offer an impressive vegetarian menu, it was one of those rare meals that had me bursting at the seams with their range of vegan dishes. I also appreciated their attention to detail (homemade soy sauce!) and the seasonality of their products. You can sense the pride of The Sampan team in their food. Give it a try; it’s well worth it.
The Sampan: 63 Boat Quay, Singapore 049851. P: +65-67321698 / 1687. Website