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&samhoud places, Amsterdam - 2 Michelin stars (2013 review)

Rating: 97.
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"Every opening I deal with wants to have a catchy name. There are three rules. Make sure it is not rude, people can spell it, and it is not in an obscure language." So says Maureen Mills, London restaurant PR person extraordinaire. Seems reasonable. And then they decide to call it &samhoud places. What? I know, don't ask. They? They are Salem Samhoud and Moshik Roth. The hottest new duo in Dutch gastronomy. I talked about the fruition of their cooperation in my 2012 review. Later this month Moshik and Salem will be opening a second restaurant in Amsterdam, called &samhoud foodlab. Let's just say that the brandname "&samhoud" still needs to grow on me.

&samhoud places has been open for a year now and I went back to see what direction it is taking. My expectations were high; Moshik Roth is not your average chef. In the German Feinschmecker magazine he was recently referred to as a gentle giant ("zarter Riese"). He is more or less self-taught; he does not have a CV rife with the names of three-star restaurants. His collaboration with three-star chef Jean-Georges Klein of l'Arnsbourg restaurant in France is well-established however. To this day, Roth regularly visits the kitchens of l'Arnsbourg for inspiration and exchange.

As a reminder: the restaurant is located on the recently developed Oosterdokskade in Amsterdam, where it houses a lounge/cocktail bar on the ground flour and a fine-dining restaurant on the first floor. Michelin expressed its confidence in him by awarding him two stars in the 2013 Netherlands guide, only months after the restaurant had opened. They had Roth's work at his previous two-star restaurant Brouwerskolkje in Overveen to go by, and they were not disappointed. But what is he up to now?

&samhoud places is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday till Saturday (no lunch on Saturday). The restaurant offers an a la carte menu, a seasonal tasting menu (3 courses €129.50, 6 courses €169.50) and a vegetarian tasting menu (3 courses €109.50, 6 courses €149.50). I had lunch at &samhoud places with my husband on Friday 13 September 2013 and we both had the 6-course tasting menu plus one extra dish.

Lunch started with five amuse bouches, inspired by Moshik Roth's latest trips to Saint Tropez, London, Alba, Havana and the Bloemendaal dunes. The first four were 'Rivière style focaccia', an airy egg white foccaccia with sardine puree and roasted red pepper  - 'Fish and Chips', violet potato crisps with langoustine tartare and a sauce gribiche - 'Foie Chéri' (no photograph), a chocolate and cherry bonbon with a smooth foie gras cream filling - 'Raspberry Mojito', rum espuma, raspberry sorbet, topped with a meringue disc. Four fantastic amuse bouches with exciting flavours and textures. The egg white focaccia provided a wonderful mouthfeel and both the Foie Chéri and the Raspberry Mojito had a wonderfully balanced sweetness.

Last to arrive was 'The Perfect Egg, Summer 2013'. This dish has quickly become one of Moshik Roth's signature dishes and it changes with the seasons. A slowly cooked egg (at 62°C for 1 hour and 15 minutes), topped with a thin sheet of cauliflower 'pasta', a creamy hazelnut and cauliflower emulsion, deliciously crisp and buttery brioche croutons, chopped and thinly sliced cauliflower and a sprinkling of coffee powder. The flavour combination was stunning, I loved how the hazelnut intensified the nuttiness of the cauliflower. A gorgeously comforting dish with high levels of umami and lovely subtle bitters.

First course of the tasting menu was 'Jardin de la Mer', comprised of three dishes. A wafer-thin, crisp carrot cornetto with a crab, anchovy, orange and seaweed filling. Wonderful sweet aftertaste from the carrot and well-judged use of orange. Then cockles, clams, ponzu marshmallow, pomelo granita, oyster juice 'pearls' served in a razor shell. The ingredients presented on the razor shell were taken from the shell into a bowl with parsley and tarragon oil. Wonderful clean and fresh flavours, the parsley and tarragon oil complementing the briny flavours beautifully. And finally a shrimp cocktail Moshik Roth style. Wonderfully juice Greenland shrimp, topped with whiskey foam and apple sorbet. A terrific and elegant take on the classic shrimp cocktail and a special mention for the original and fun placemat (see photograph below) the dish was served on.

Horse mackerel with Dutch caviar (Anna Gold), crème fraîche and kombu was next. Shiny pieces of ceviche-style mackerel served with an iced G&T pastille and 'Mangrove style' vegetables, such as aloe vera jelly cubes, thinly sliced radishes, seaweed meringue and samphire. Also on the plate was a concentrated kombu puree, an avocado puree and two lines of caviar and crème fraîche. A sublime symphony of the five basic flavours, sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. The mackerel was wonderfully fresh, lovely floral touch from the aloe vera, great depth and power from the umami-rich kombu puree and the caviar delivered just the right amount of elegant saltiness. 

On to the third course, a beautifully cooked piece of seabass, lacquered with soy sauce and sake, served with an aubergine compote, a pungent elderflower vinaigrette, pil pil potato puree (made with shellfish oil), an intense black garlic puree and some yuzu marmalade. Powerful acidity from the vinaigrette but in a good way, like a young and crisp Riesling. Elegantly sweet yuzu marmalade, with a hint of sharpness. A sensational dish with a fantastic interplay of intensity and acidity. The sourness was intense but balanced out perfectly by the potato puree and the aubergine compote, the former bringing everything together.

The additional dish I had ordered was served as the fourth course. A wonderfully succulent langoustine served with a clear shellfish bouillon, an apricot bonbon with a liquid filing, a light and creamy coconut foam and some crunchy sea vegetables. A splendid combination of pure and clean flavours, that were delicate but intense at the same time and when the apricot blended with the bouillon the dish became truly magical. Brilliant simplicity.

Tomatoes were the main ingredient of the next course, served on a two-layered plate. On the top layer was a selection of different tomato varieties, accompanied by a nice and sharp raspberry sorbet and raspberry puree and a white chocolate puree. Lovely fresh flavours that complemented each other nicely, however the tomatoes did lack some sweetness. On the second layer was a 'Bloody Mary Caprese' - various tomato textures, worchester puree, burrata, onto which a very elegant tomato, vodka and basil essence was poured. The essence had a lovely subtle hint of tabasco and the burrata delivered a delicate creaminess. A delightful dish that freshened up the taste buds.

Right, the sixth course. The tasting menu featured Anjou pigeon as its main course but I had sweetbread instead. I don't mind sweetbreads, but I rarely order them as a main course. In this case however, they came highly recommended. A spectacular hay-cooked sweetbread that was gloriously tender and juicy on the inside and ultra-crisp on the outside. The hay had given the sweetbread a beautiful touch of caramelised smokiness, both of flavour and aroma. Equally good was the intense veal, kombu and kaffir lime bouillon that came with the sweetbread. Also on the plate were three dots of bitter-sweet kumquat puree. Both the puree and the touch of sharpness from the bouillon provided a wonderful counterpoint to the richness of the sweetbread and balanced the dish out beautifully.

With the sweetbread came a marvellous, creamy and fluffy polenta with crunchy croutons for texture and topped with shaved white mushrooms and grated Parmesan. Such an evocative dish, with cutting-edge, almost extreme flavours on the one side and comforting, luxurious flavours on the other. A surprising and unconventional combination that worked brilliantly. This dish was a true showstopper and I'm glad I ordered it because (and I am being serious) it turned out to be the best main course of 2013 so far.

Seventh course, a savoury-sweet dessert comprised of a beautifully made white chocolate heart with a lime crème filling, a delicious white chocolate ice cream, an iced lemon verbena pastille, a fabulous beetroot marmalade and beetroot meringues. Best of all however was a heart-shaped bonbon with a sublime beetroot, hollandaise and mascarpone filling. An exquisite, handsomely presented dessert with a wonderful balance between sweet and salty flavours. The flavour of the beetroot, hollandaise and marcarpone mixture was extraordinary.

Yuzu marshmallow, cannelé, madeleine, salted caramel bonbon, served with our coffees.
This meal was an amazing experience. Moshik Roth is a real globetrotter, who takes his inspiration from nature, human culture and art. Where many chefs focus on the "local and seasonal" theme, Roth's cuisine is of a truly global nature, a reflection of his travels, from Paris to Borneo, from Beijing to Lima, from Moscow to Havana. His food mirrors his curiosity and creativity and he has a variegated repertoire of dishes, both feminine and masculine, from minimalistic to flamboyant. The flavours are cutting-edge, occasionally experimental (e.g. sweet flavours at the beginning of the meal) and usually very individualistic (a hint of Klein is noticeable sometimes).

This intrepid chef's food is thrilling and uncompromising - some may consider it extreme and it may not be to everybody's taste, but it is always big on impact. Moshik Roth's open-mindedness places him at the vanguard of modern gastronomy and enables him to maintain a constant evolution. In the last twelve months the chef and his restaurant have clearly upped their game and they are now a clear contender for promotion to Michelin's champions' league. &samhoud places has firmly put Amsterdam on the international foodie map and the stairway to the first-floor restaurant is becoming a stairway to gastronomic heaven.

Posted 07-10-2013


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