Date of review: October 7, 2016 | Reviewed by: Wilson Fok
Taking a quiet corner space in Wan Chai near the historic Blue House, Samsen fits the image of a neighbourhood noodle bar. The restaurant occupies a high-ceiling space, boxed in with unfinished grey concrete walls where Thai paintings and photographs are displayed.
Memorabilia fills the aged wooden shelves and cupboards, matching with the patterned floor tiles to offer an even more vintage feel to the restaurant. On one side is the open kitchen, offering guests a glimpse into the preparation of the dishes.
Guests can select from a well-balanced menu that doubles as a placemat. Starters such as green papaya salad are particularly great with multiple textural layers, thanks to the crunchy dried shrimps and deep-fried shallots. The snacks and stir-fry section has been expanded since its soft opening. The crabmeat omelette is brown on the edges and golden throughout. We would enjoy it more if the edges were crispier though. The fried pork collar arrived in a small plate, with golden curls of meat piled up, served alongside a sweet and tangy tamarind sauce.
The restaurant’s signature wagyu boat noodle soup is the bestseller, and it is easy to understand the reason behind its popularity. The noodle may appear simple and unseemly, but slices of tender beef, meatballs, and cubed braised beef bring different textures to the dish.
The noodles, soaking up the broth, are soft, bringing out the crunch of the crackling scattered across the top. Stir-fried fat noodles with chicken is another favourite. The “fat” rice noodles are actually thinner than the Chinese "ho-fun" , and are tossed in sweet, dark soy sauce with frizzled ribbons of eggs and chicken slices. The noodles are particularly good with slices of pickled chilli, served on the side.
The signature dessert of coconut dumplings are made in house but they tend to be rather filling. We preferred the ubiquitous Thai dessert of mango sticky rice. Dressed with a thick coconut cream, the sticky rice remains chewy and best enjoyed with mildly sweet Thai mango, as the coconut cream is rather sweet on its own.
Samsen’s nature as a casual noodle house brings a variety of homemade drinks including sodas and teas to the beverage selection, as well as a number of Thai beers. The Thai iced tea is served with two lime halves, muddled by the guests themselves. The iced tea is tangy and refreshing. Thai milk tea is richer and creamy made with condensed milk, a great cure for spicy heat from the main dishes.
Service is quick and friendly at Samsen, as staff members are great help in offering introductions to menu offerings, together with portion control. Dishes are well-timed for the guests, and most dishes come with descriptions. The staff team is attentive and knowledgable, and they offer sound suggestions for beverage pairing with food.
A casual dinner for two including one beverage each amounts to slightly less than HK$600. Samsen offers a quick cure for sudden noodle cravings, and we rate the bustling ambiance and good execution on its menu offerings.