Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Meet Samsen, Adam's New Noodle Place

We were at Chef Adam's last day at Chachawan late last year so I thought it's just appropriate (with a sense of completing a mission) that we came to his new place on their first day of their official opening, some 8 months later since he took off with new plans of flying solo with his own restaurant.

The restaurant, called Samsen, took up a space converted from a local chachaanteng in the street corner of Stone Nullah Lane in Wanchai just opposite the famous landmark Blue House. Chef Adam stuck with his specialty of Thai cuisine, but at Samsen the focus is on noodles, similar to the style being commonly served on the street-side in just about any town in Thailand.

With many of my friends calling Chachawan their favorite hangout joint since it first opened and Adam their favorite chef in town, we were eager to check out this new restaurant once news leaked out of its imminent opening - so much that most of us arrived one hour earlier than we originally planned, just to make sure we secured a table for the eight of us (they adhere to the no-reservation policy) And it was a good idea actually, as the place was soon filled with people.

I loved the rustic chic decor of the place, with the open kitchen/bar on one side facing the dining area with wooden stools and tables in a well-ventilated, high-ceiling space which can seat around 30, with the wide storefront opening up to the quiet street. It's cozy and relaxed, though some might argue that the stool could be uncomfortable to sit on for a long meal.

The food and drink menu was simple, only one-page long with nine different kind of noodles available in soup, stir-fried or tossed, plus a few side dishes, desserts and drinks (juices, mocktails and beers) While we were munching on the sides of deep-fried fish skins and pork rinds (two of the side dish choices), we reached the verdict rather quickly of sweeping the menu and ordered one each (and later, more) of everything to share among us.

The bowls of noodle in soup arrived first, as expected since soup was made in advance and it didn't take long to cook the rice noodles. And all of us were blown away by the intense and complex flavors in each of the bowls. The boat noodles - available either in beef or pork - were our favorite by consensus. The beef one was served with the tender braised wagyu brisket, meatballs, chopped morning glory and vermicelli-style thin noodles while the pork one was served with crispy pork rinds in additional to the sliced pork and meatballs. Both soup base may look similar and have intense flavors but they were slightly different - we suspected the pork one has dried shrimps or shrimp paste added in to give it a slight edge in umami flavor, while the beef broth was slightly sweeter with a stronger meat taste.

I also loved the "dtom yum of pork" noodles, served with the same thin noodles but in a lighter broth with thicker slices of pork, meatballs, deep-fried wontons and half a soft-boiled runny egg. I loved the combination of tangy soup with a slight chili kick (from a tomato soup base?) and toasted peanuts sprinkled on top so much that I finished up the remaining soup even as it's no longer piping hot towards the end. And actually come to think of it I reckon it would just be as great if this is served chilled for a variation, since the flavor did remind me of the Japanese Morika-style Reimen cold noodles.

The wok-fried noodles, coming from the kitchen at the back, fared just as well. There’s a choice of stir-fried noodles with chicken or wagyu beef (which was one of my favorite dishes of the evening), with egg, Chinese mustard green and wide, flat rice noodles and plenty of the gravy-like sweet oyster sauce mixed in. Or the traditional pad thai with the thin rice noodles, prawn and bean sprouts which was decent and tasted authentic, or the glass noodles with fermented tofu, cabbage, prawns, squid and egg, with a slightly sweet and sour sauce which was pretty refreshing. The fried noodles came in slightly bigger portions making them more suitable for sharing in a bigger group.

We were equally impressed with the side dishes - the deep-fried eggs with chili jam was unanimously voted the best of the evening by our table, with the eggs deep-fried with slightly runny yolks and served with a slightly sweet chili sauce. It's not spicy at all but full of flavor and ooziness. It's one of the dishes we asked for an encore, after sharing two servings among us already in the first round. The small plates of crispy pork rinds and fish skins were perfect on its own to go with beers, or even better when dunked into the soup. The stir-fried morning glory/Thai watercress was probably the least popular among us - not that they weren’t good, just that it’s nothing extraordinary like the other dishes.

There were plenty of dessert choices, surprisingly considered the size of the restaurant and the menu. My personal favorite was a toss between the coconut icecream served in a coconut shell, and a bowl of colorful pandan noodles served in chilled coconut cream with ice, fresh jackfruit and black sticky rice. The flavor of the Thai ice-tea icecream was so rich that if they made that into a milkshake, it will definitely be a killer item on their drinks menu. The warm coconut dumplings were carried over from the Chachawan days – it’s good but I prefer a bit more touch of savory taste (in the salted coconut cream that went with the dumplings) for the balance. And I bet you can’t find a better mango with sticky rice dish anywhere in town. All the desserts we tried were on the sweet side but that's just the way I like them.

Let's leave no doubt that when I said we swept the menu we meant we tried everything (some more than once) and literally finished everything - see we had pictures to prove. It was quite a spectacle with all the plates and bowls wiped clean and stacked on top of one another at the small table of ours, all the whilst we were ordering our second round.

All of us had a more-than-satisfying and filling meal and fell in love with this restaurant at first visit. The menu might be short, but I could never get tired of a hearty bowl of noodles with such bold flavors. It's probably the waiting line we should be worried about once more people heard of the place and started to swamp in. There are new restaurants you wanna wait for some time to let them run in first before trying, but this one you'd better not - it's your loss (and our gain) if you decide to procrastinate.

When? August 22 2016
Where? Samsen, 68 Stone Nullah Lane, Wanchai
Menu Highlights? Wagyu Beef Boat Noodles, Fried eggs with chili jam

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