According to the Interwebs, SushiSamba was made famous in a Sex and the City episode in season 5. Which, having visited the new SushiSamba in Amsterdam, makes perfect sense. It’s all flashy and glamorous in a faintly 90s way that makes you feel significantly underdressed and like you should definitely be wearing heels – preferably expensive ones. But this is Amsterdam: our outfits are chosen based on bike-ability, which is why we don’t wear dresses and Manolos. Especially not when going for dinner right next door to the Leidseplein’s Hard Rock Café on a particularly wind-swept autumn evening.
Just as we’d ordered a snack to tide us over, our table was ready so we left the bar (probably a blessing for all concerned) and headed into the restaurant. We were starving by this point, so we ordered immediately and four dishes came out in quick succession. Green bean tempura with truffle mayo was a suggestion from the aforementioned bartender, and on that one she slightly redeemed herself – it was good, but then it ought to be for €8 for a bar snack. Plantain chips were suitably crispy and salty, but I wasn’t a fan of their aji amarillo dipping sauce.
The wagyu gyoza came with kabocha purée – I’m assuming it’s related to the pumpkin/squash family. Again, it tasted good, but for €14 you’d hope for more than five dumplings – you’d also hope the plating might be a bit more presentable. Meanwhile, I’ve had better (and cheaper) ceviche elsewhere – the tuna, raw peppers, pomegranate, wasabi peas and toasted corn were flavoursome, but swimming in far too much slightly bland leche de tigre, and served with a tasteless and unnecessary foam.
Until this point, the pace had been – well – pacey. But we waited a long time until the next plates of food showed up. Perhaps they were deemed as mains and therefore a second course – it was hard to tell. We tried two sushi rolls: one hand roll called the “Sasa” with shrimp tempura, toasty quinoa and various fresh and fragrant additions (think coriander and a little spice); the other a set of six fancy nigiri-style rolls known as “El Topo”. These were a highlight: freshly seared salmon, melted mozzarella (trust me: it worked), spicy mayo, a touch of jalapeno, and lots of crispy fried onions. The dish felt suitably decadent.
Another high point was the octopus skewers: perfectly cooked and meltingly succulent, they came with two purées – one made from olives, the other from aji panca (a Peruvian variety of red pepper). If this sounds like it would be overpowering, it wasn’t. I can’t explain it, but it worked perfectly and was probably my favourite dish.
I could’ve ordered the tacos and more wine, but by this point I was: a) freezing – SushiSamba is the temperature of most restaurants in America, which is to say air-conditioned to the max; and b) terrified of what the bill was going to look like. In the end, we got out of there for €65 each, although we only drank two glasses of wine and I could’ve certainly eaten more. But by that point, I wasn’t prepared to throw down more cash.
As my friend and I walked back to our bikes in our non-heeled boots and practical coats, we discussed where we’d go for dinner next time. “A-Fusion”, I suggested – “better food for half the price, and it’s warmer too”. “How about Mae Somjai?” my friend countered; “it’s my favourite Thai in Amsterdam and it’s literally impossible to spend more than €15”. You know what? We could probably do both for the price we paid at SushiSamba.