The name’s the same, and so is the region represented, but Sambal’s Coco Park rebirth nevertheless marks the beginning of a new restaurant.
When owner Dieter Fehsenfeld shifted shop from Huaqiangbei, he decided to go for more of a ‘dining experience,’ with the new Sambal decidedly trendier. The dim lighting flatters diners, and prominent mirrors on the walls let them check their teeth wherever they go.
The lighting leads to a problem for us as a publication, however. Despite the dishes’ careful craftsmanship and bold flavors, it’s hard to take pictures of the food. In the low-key lighting, soups and curries look unappealing or even indistinguishable.
But don’t let that discourage you from visiting, foodies. The menu capably represents six different countries: Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.
Fehsenfeld’s dedication to his dishes comes out in conversation as he praises the ‘beautiful’ flavors of Malaysian prawn mee. He’s a constant presence in the kitchen, tasting dishes before they are served and guiding the chefs in balancing local preferences with the restaurant’s Southeast Asian roots.
The payoff is obvious in the seafood tom yum soup (RMB58), which wows with its first sour-spicy spoonful. The seafood laksa (RMB52) shines with perfectly cooked noodles served in a smooth, coconut-y soup. Thai-style beef brisket curry (RMB78), loaded with spices, also leaves an impression.
The Malaysian butter and oat prawns (RMB118) are a bit harder to swallow, with the shrimp served inside the shell and suffering from meat so firm it’s almost overcooked.
Overall, though, Sambal impresses with solid signature dishes and smooth service. Over several visits the staff prove their mettle, quickly helping customers and refilling diners’ drinks.
It’s safe to say that Fehsenfeld’s effort at creating a fine Southeast Asian ‘dining experience’ has been a success.
Who’s going: world travelers, Southeast Asians
Good for: authentic eats, classy dates