I have no idea whether Syria’s recent war-torn history has anything to do with the appearance of the first (and, I believe, only) Syrian restaurant in Amsterdam… I’d like to think that its owners have found a home here where they can cook in peace. But of course it might all be a lot more complicated than that. I’d also like to think – contrary to the name’s connotations – that Sham is serving authentic Syrian food. The opposite of a sham. But, having never been to Syria, I again have no idea. All I can do is to review the restaurant on the basis of my experience alone – subjectively but honestly.
Our maza consisted of six dishes to share (although you can of course order them separately as well): the fattoush salad had a slight heat and pleasant citrusy kick to it. Flat breads (that could’ve done with warming up) were perfect for mopping up the red pepper and walnut paste, deliciously smooth hummus, and smoky baba ganoush. Goat’s cheese parcels were warm and moreish, while the kibbeh nayeh filled with minced lamb were fine but nothing to write home about. So far, so Middle Eastern.
Our main course was a variety of kebabs, including marinated chicken, minced lamb kofte and (I think) some type of beef. Unfortunately, it had all been cooked for about five minutes too long and was palate-parchingly dry. Although served with rice and salad, there was no sauce to moisten the meat – it was a pity, because the underlying flavours showed promise.
These two courses form the “Sham Deal” at €28 per person, which seemed like a good idea as we didn’t want to make choices. But in fact getting the maza for just under €10 each plus one main course per person (but then choosing different styles of main) would probably have been a better way to go.
I went to Sham looking to like it, but in fact there are other Middle Eastern restaurants in Amsterdam doing similar food rather better. With that being said, in the Red Light District it’s probably an improvement on many of the other restaurants around. Let’s hope that Sham opens up the competition to more Syrian restaurants in Amsterdam in the future!