Sammy’s Kitchen was one of the first restaurants I visited when I moved to Canberra in 2000. Civic was somewhat bleak then; even at the height of lunchtime, it felt like a ghost town. However, the food at Sammy’s was always consistently good, the service excellent, and I always left reassured that Canberra couldn’t possibly be bad if it had decent food.
Fast forward to 2017 and Sammy’s has now opened a second restaurant in the more upmarket Kingston Foreshore precinct. “Sammy’s at the Foreshore?” I can almost hear you thinking – Has it moved from Civic?
The Civic shop, now in more upmarket premises at the base of the Canberra Centre than where I dined seventeen years ago, is still there. The same owners opened a second restaurant on the Foreshore last year, with the same tried and true menu, and some interesting new banquet choices. But despite doing good business, an informal poll of my friends indicates that the word has not yet gotten out – and it really should.
I have dined there twice in the last six months; the first time at a Christmas party where we ordered a set menu, and more recently on a date. Both times the service was warm, unobtrusive, and fast. The food was of the high standard I have come to expect and I really like the interior of the new venue, with the large open plan restaurant looking out onto one of the best views of the Foreshore.
Despite it being a busy restaurant, it feels spacious and open, a bit posh, yet relaxed. But the real clincher for marking this as a ‘must return to often venue’ was being the last patrons to leave pre-Christmas, watching the staff thoroughly scrub the kitchen from top to bottom. It was spotless. Gordan Ramsay would be impressed.
My all time favourite dish at Sammy’s remains the Shantung chicken ($19.50). This twice cooked chicken covered in vinegar is based on Northern Chinese cuisine, and while it might sound odd in a Malaysian Chinese restaurant, Sammy’s really nails it. There is such a lovely mix of warm and cool, of spicy and sour, and of crispy and soft.
We also ordered the sizzling Mongolian beef ($24). With tender beef pieces which were decent sized (no hunting through the veggies for the elusive morsels of meat), this was a tasty dish a cut above the country town Chinese restaurant classic.
My previous banquet experience ($35/head) contained several dishes, if which two I recall as standouts. The first was the hot & numbing grill cumin lamb. While you might not initially associate lamb and cumin with Chinese food, there is a rich tradition of using middle-eastern style spices while grilling lamb in China’s North West provinces. This was rich, fatty, and reassuring. Not as numbing as we expected, but a dish that had us all going back for more to taste-test.
I also really liked the steamed barramundi with ginger and shallots. Fish is one of those dishes that can be done well or done badly, and steamed fish in particular risks tasting bland. This was subtle, flavoursome, generous and cooked just right. I felt healthy eating this, which was just as well because I indulged too much on the lamb.
Overall this is new venue is a thumbs up for me, and will be top of the list for venues for the next work lunch or celebration.