There are no chopsticks on the table at Sammy’s Kitchen in Hong Kong. And that is not the only way this restaurant stands out in a neighborhood clustered with Cantonese fare.
Sammy’s trademark is a large three-dimensional billboard of a cow. It juts out over Queen’s Road West in the Sheung Wan district, a neighborhood where the odor of dried squid mingles with the aroma of herbs from nearby traditional medicine shops.
An elderly, heavily inebriated Caucasian man, sitting across the street on the stoop of the Chun Sing stationery store, gazes incredulously at the imposing bovine while taking swigs from his large bottle of Skol beer.
More sober passersby also do a double-take, and curiosity compels some to explore what the billboard represents.
The unusual sign actually is an endangered species.
Sammy’s Kitchen is primordial fusion both in decor and menu, which may give some diners pause.
A reviewer rates Sammy’s reasonably priced meals as rather mediocre but praises the establishment for friendly and welcoming service. Frommer’s Guidebook adds, “It’s comforting to see a place that remains virtually unchanged over the decades in such a fast-changing environment.”
The restaurant’s namesake, owner Sammy Yip, began cooking at the age of 12 and worked as a chef for the five-star Peninsula and Mandarin Oriental hotels.
He has adorned most of his tables with orange or violet-colored checkered tablecloths. That was an upscale touch when he opened the restaurant in 1970.
The corner booths are laminated tables, bare except for bottles of Del Monte ketchup, salt, pepper, sugar and recycled plastic containers of toothpicks.
One side of the establishment is decorated with faux brick. Tiny white lights have been strung across the top of the walls.
The voluminous bilingual menu runs the gamut from beefsteak through pastas to fried rice but mostly favors dishes that appeal to carnivores. Many are smothered in Sammy’s secret sauce, which has won a loyal following over the decades. Fans include high-ranking government officials.
For a man who has been cooking for 70 years, Sammy Yip appears to have retained his enthusiasm for the culinary arts and what should accompany every restaurant meal – sincere hospitality.
Hong Kong authorities, however, have recently turned an inhospitable eye toward Sammy’s landmark sign. The giant cow looming over Queen’s Road West not only serves as a beacon for diners but also for residents, visitors and taxi drivers.
Anyone heading for the restaurant or anywhere close to it can simply tell a taxi driver: “Take me to the cow!”
Thirty-four years after the illuminated animal first moved into position, the Hong Kong buildings department ruled the signboard was an illegal structure protruding into public space and ordered the Yip family to remove it.
The Yips’ appeals have been unsuccessful, as have customers’ hopes the sign can be declared a vintage Hong Kong landmark.
“The cow will be removed. … We must remove it,” says catering manager Iry Yip Fung-yee, Sammy’s daughter. “We’re just a small business,” she laments, explaining why the Yips are not going to launch a potentially costly legal fight to save Hong Kong’s most famous cow.