Sammy's Kitchen is one of those places that has withstood food fads, trends and big name rivals to become a feature of the Canberra restaurant scene. Open at the current location since 2007 but trading before that, its longevity suggests it is doing something right. Sammy's low key approach might be its best asset – it isn't trying to pretend its something other than a quick lunch or dinner option for city dwellers.
Located on the Bunda Street restaurant strip of the Canberra Centre North Quarter dining precinct, Sammy's is accessible by car, tram and bus and smack bang in the centre of Civic. It's a step up from food court dining but lacks the atmosphere and menu to be a destination in its own right. The location makes it convenient for taking some time out from shopping or as an after-work venue. The menu is described as Chinese and Malaysian with main courses ranging in price from$16 to $26. The menu includes vegetarian options.
The décor of Sammy's sets the tone for what is on offer – the bright but sparse furniture isn't too fancy, there's a huge wine and beer display and the tables are packed in and turn over fast as people gulp down their boozy lunches. When we arrived, we were seated quickly but had to spend way too long trying to get the attention of wait staff to take our order. When we did order though, the service was efficient and the food came out quickly.
We ordered spring rolls for entrée, the ma po tofu and combination chow mein for mains and a couple of beers. The spring rolls were on the bland side with a gluggy texture inside and a sweet dipping sauce which didn't add any punch. The spring rolls were ok but definitely not the best ones I've ever tried. The ma po tofu was tasty with more of a sweet spice than a blow your head off heat to the chilli. It was a cool day and it felt like the perfect choice, quite comforting and warm. The dish did lack complexity though – there was no real depth to the flavour so by the time I'd eaten half of it I was ready for something different.
The combination chow mein was served with crispy noodles and had loads of fresh bok choy. It was made with the weird processed meat which is always rubbery and salty and the sauce was quite salty too. I really wish places would charge a bit more and use 'real' ingredients but I think you kind of expect the fake meat at low key Chinese places so Sammy's isn't unique in this regard.
Combination chow mein at Sammy's Kitchen, Canberra
The bill for an entrée, two lunch mains and two beers was around $70; at the low to mid-range price point for Canberra. Sammy's Kitchen is good for a quick, casual feed but not the kind of place for a special occasion dinner. While the food was average, it was what we expected – sometimes you just need something quick and comforting and Sammy's Kitchen was just right for that.