5th Visit: Dinner Saturday 1st July 2017
(17.5 / 20) A global smorgasbord of interesting and delicious plates infused with classic French technique and peppered with modernist influences. On a good day, which this certainly was, this is easily an 18. But the restaurant lacks consistency. And though I’d personally always prefer to eat somewhere inconsistent with a chance of brilliance than somewhere predictably mediocre, it would be inappropriate to think that that’s acceptable to everyone. Especially when paying this much to eat.
(Click on the score to see the rating system and why I write these reviews)
€169.50 large menu/ €129.50 small menu
2 Michelin stars since 2013
Gault&Millau 16.5 / 20
We’ve been coming to &Samhoudplaces since it first opened back in 2012 and since then its been all change. The main restaurant, which is situated on the first floor of the Oosterdokskade overlooking the Sint-Nicolaaskerk in central Amsterdam, had quite a ride; It gained two Michelin stars almost as soon as it opened. It gave us some exceptional meals (and the odd one less so), and last Autumn had to cope with the exit of its very talented Chef de Cuisine Dennis Huwaë. Meanwhile, the second restaurant on the ground floor which once served stylish global street food, and of which I was a big fan, sadly closed to make way first for a VR cinema (?), then a nondescript bar, and then I think both at once (I can’t quite keep up). And I suppose this state of flux is somehow a little the story (and perhaps even a little of the romance) of this place. Indeed so much of this restaurant is slightly unlikely; From the absolutely bizarre name to the incongruity of a two Michelin star in Amsterdam being run by a largely self-taught chef who simultaneously stars in a tv series in Israel.
There is something wonderfully out of the ordinary about the whole setup, and this quirkiness also extends well into the dining room. It has a very tasteful, rather somberly decorated, room with proper table cloths and expensively upholstered chairs, but it’s also replete with random blue footballs lying about the place, and was one of the first Michelin restaurants I saw letting the waiters wear their own sneakers with their suits (this is now almost everywhere). The food too is in constant flux, being at the bay and call of Chef Moshik Roth’s particular inspiration from his most recent travels. To eat here is to experience a kind of Michelin smorgasbord of delicate international inspiration well steeped in a satisfying mix of classic French shtick and modernist techniques.
I for one are happier rolling the dice with the chance of getting a 3 or a 6, rather than knowing I’ll consistently only ever get a 4
This is the kind of restaurant I want to love, and when it’s on form it is really very good indeed, but lets be frank, it struggles with consistency. This was the second visit we had made in only a few weeks, and the previous one wasn’t desperately impressive; There was a very loud private function going on at the back of the restaurant, the dishes just like the diners seemed somehow distracted, and vegetarian offering was verging on lazy. Indeed it was so surprisingly mediocre that it seemed only appropriate to give it another shot before getting to a review especially as the menu was about to change.
I’m very glad we did go back as we really saw the restaurant raise its game to a proper 2 star level, and that was a joy to see. Now of course people may grumble that this isn’t a true reflection of the standard on offer day-in-day-out, but the same could be said of the bad meal… that’s precisely why we go back and try to see the rough with the smooth. When places deliver really interesting ever-changing menus they are bound to have the odd off-day. They may even have the odd off-menu.. I for one are happier rolling the dice with the chance of getting a 3 or a 6, rather than knowing I’ll consistently only ever get a 4.
The amuses came out; Dainty little bites each with an influence of a specific place. First some double-bluff offering of red pepper jelly and olive madeleines that looked sweet, of course we assumed a savoury deception, and then indeed turned out to be slightly sweet after all. The madeleines were exceptional… a slightly crisp outer casing with the inner texture of Proust’s classic little cake delivering a big hit of moreish savoury olive.
No sooner had the upside-down petit fours been finished than a further battery of beautiful little dishes appeared to wake up the palate. A Bulgarian-inspired take on a tzatziki mouse served with a meringue crisp and salmon roe continued the sweet/savoury theme, whilst a delicate paella-influenced rice crisp brought Spain to Amsterdam with the addition of Dutch shrimp.
The restaurant favourite ‘perfect’ egg, an Arpége-esque concoction of steamed egg yolk with a light foam and crisp topping, this time with ginger and nutmeg, was accompanied by an oversized soldier of brioche topped with uni. Both were delicious. I must admit I could have done without the little booklet about the dish that also came with, but then again I have my strong suspicions that all these little pieces of literature which accompany a meal at &SamhoudPlaces are given with their tongue firmly in their cheek.
Nadya was already faring much better with her vegetarian dishes than last time; The plate of strawberry and pecorino she said she found novel and pleasant to eat, whilst the beetroot salad touched on fond childhood memories of a Russian dish of her mother’s. Any food that (happily) reminds us of childhood is usually sure to find a path to our hearts.
Again seemingly channelling some Passard (this time with a hint of Bras), the salad of 24 herbs and vegetables was perfectly delicious if slightly lacking some pop, whilst the risotto of fregola and puy lentils served with dual foams of parmesan and spinach was a resounding success. Risotto at &SamhoudPlaces is always a triumph even for one of the most trotted-out and often tedious vegetarian dishes of all time. That in my opinion is simply because this restaurant understands you either go big or go home in the butter stakes, and to eat risotto here is about as buttery as can be.
Meanwhile my attention had turned towards fish, and great local fish is one of the great joys of living in this part of the world. We started with a spectacular dish of tuna, a homemade bottarga of turbot, jelly of mackerel and Dutch caviar. I had no idea there was such a thing as Dutch caviar, but I’m very happy to have found out as it was perfectly delicious. This was a very accomplished dish all round which balanced temperature, texture, interesting salinity and a huge kick of umami from the jelly and bottarga. It was paired verging on perfectly with a round but minerally Jura Chardonnay from Jean Rijckaert.
If that was the warm hug of introduction, the seafood Kaiseki main was more a giant bear hug. Five dishes were delivered at once in front of me, each showcasing a different local seafood; Lobster from Oosterschelde, the fabulously clever langoustine dish with clockwise citrus, a rock pool of scallop, Thai inspired crab sitting on a bed of Kaffir lime, and a spectacular, though slightly rubbery, razor clam with micro beads of basil. This was a triumph, an unapologetic celebration of all that is best from the sea executed with care and attention, always maintaining the flavour of the each precious hero. Magnificent.
As if there hadn’t been enough seafood we followed up with an interesting plate of cod and corn with matcha. The cod had that slightly waxy texture you can get from sous vide fish but was somehow saved by the richness of the corn. By this time I was verging on being very full indeed, but certainly happily so.
We both moved now to something that didn’t work. I understand chef Roth has a love of tomatoes but the multi-variety vegetarian dish from our last trip was deemed very disappointing by Nadya, and this effort was also relatively unexciting. If the previous dishes had sung of clever interpretations of specific global flavours, this was more reminiscent of a second-rate tricolore salad at a Pizza Express. Maybe it was some format of palate cleanser before the mains, but for me it was sorely lacking in punch and delivered at the wrong point in the meal.
Thankfully my main was again of a much higher standard. Perfectly cooked duck (I had been discussing duck cooking temperatures with Wouter, one of the evening’s hosts and a fellow blogger), but this magret was cooked somehow differently… very tender and very pink at once but also with none of that slightly stringy quality you can get in rose duck. It was combined with a faultless shiny jus from the duck and peach, combined with a peach compot which worked perfectly – just astringent enough to cut through the richness with no over sweetness. Three birds of foie de canard finished what was a very well conceived and beautifully plated dish. To me the second plate which contained a raviolo of rillettes was also delicious but somewhat unnecessary.
To finish we had again the volcano of chocolate and Japanese citrus and matcha meringue wafers. This is also a very accomplished dish with a nice balance of dark almost bitter chocolate notes and sharpness from the shiso. It was paired with and helped a little in the sweetness stakes by a glass of 2009 Niederhäuser Rosenberg riesling which outlived the dessert with a long peachy, honey finish. And now we were so full that something I have never seen before happened – Nadya failed to finish dessert.
What is it that we ultimately are looking for in a high-end restaurant? There has to be good food surely, but also we have to be satisfied. That satisfaction is more than being full, of having had enough delicious things to eat; It is also so often something intellectual. We should be shaken just enough out of our comfort zone to make us re-appreciate what it is we love about certain foods or certain combinations. When restaurants push the boundaries and constantly re-invent they take more risk, and that means consistency likely suffers. But as I said before I’d rather spend my money to run the risk of having a mediocre meal with a chance of brilliance than to be sure of something safe, something good but not great. &SamhoudPlaces is a enigmatic but also frustrating restaurant in this regard. As we’ve seen at this visit it really can produce the goods when it wants to and that means putting out solid 2 star food. As a customer though you just have to get used to the fact that sometimes it wont always get it perfectly right. The score reflects a little of both; The obvious brilliance of the current menu and on the other hand a little of the inconsistency seen in the less impressive last.
This review consisted of two visits. Having experienced a rather underwhelming lunch on a Sunday we were very politely invited back to try again. Costs for the two meals were shared. This is the first time I have accepted such an invitation but somehow it felt appropriate to this specific situation – I have given an honest assessment of both meals – this also informs my thoughts about the value of consistency.
1011 ad amsterdam
+31 (0)20 260 20 94