Plaza de Periodista Ros Belda 4
Tel.: +34 963 891 902
Overall rating: 7.5/10
Date of visits: June 2012; December 2012
FIRST VISIT (June 2012)
The chef at Samsha is Víctor Rodrigo who won Spanish chef of the year in 2012.
The restaurant itself is very modern decorated. Although I tend to prefer modern looking restaurants, this one is a tad too futuristic for me.
A friend and I went for lunch at Samsha during Valencia’s restaurant week, Cuina Oberta, and had three courses each for €20 + drinks.
There were two options for each course, and we chose differently for every course so we could try everything.
This option might not have been such a great offer after all, but more about this later.
The restaurant also offers two menus for dinner: 5 courses for €37 + VAT (10%) or 7 courses for €47 + VAT. None of the dishes on the two menus are identical.
First we had a small appetiser in the form of malt bread, crispy bread with seaweed, puffy “bread”, which I believe was made from rice, super fluffy and light guacamole that first was a little bit sweet and then slightly spicy at the end, and small spheres with ginger and lemon.
For the first course we had a spelt tabula with a cucumber ring surrounding a cherry tomato stuffed with tuna ice cream. Around the tabula was a “katsuo bushi” soup. I had never heard about such a soup before, but it had a pleasant flavour, although both of us agreed that it was simply too salty. To me, this was definitely the worst dish of the meal, as the tabula itself was pleasant enough and fairly refreshing, but simply lacked a bit of flavour, and the same goes for the tomato. The tomato itself didn’t seem ripe, and I could barely taste the stuffing.
The other starter was octopus. If you go to a bad restaurant, octopus or squid can be horrible. If you go to a good restaurant, it can be great. This was great. It was blackened on the outside and incredibly tender on the inside. It came with two salmorejo sauces and tender and sweet vegetables underneath. This was a particular pretty presentation and was the best dish of the meal.
One of the main courses was the fish called meagre (corvina in Spanish), which was a first for me. It was perfectly cooked and not dry at all and with good flavour. It came with a small “airbag” with brine of pork and several types of seaweed and seaweed foam on the side. Sea weed is not my favourite thing (one of the reasons is that it is very salty), but I appreciated the creativity.
The other main course was guinea fowl with pineapple covered with wasabi sesame + “mock meat juice”, which was hops. The guinea fowl itself was super juicy and tender. Simply perfect. The pineapple was also really nice, and they had clearly also cooked it, intensifying the flavour. The sesame seeds seemed to be just sesame seeds to me (no wasabi), but it was nevertheless a very nice combination. According to the waiter they had added balsamic vinegar and something else to the hops, but as I’ve only had hops a few times before I couldn’t really tell. The hops were definitely the weakest element in this dish. I would have preferred a sauce instead, but as the meat was so juicy, it worked fine without a sauce.
Then came the desserts: One was a chocolate dessert. Two seitans were stuffed with hazelnut gianduja cream on top of crumble made from caramel and pine kernels, and chocolate “rocks” and a bit of guayaba cream finished it off. I couldn’t tell from the flavour if there were actually pine kernels in the crumble, but other than that it was a strong dessert with nice flavours and a good combination of textures. Along with the octopus, this was my favourite of the meal.
The other dessert was a yoghurt ice cream inside a raspberry wrapping (it looked similar to marzipan) put in a kataifi and honey nest on top of a foamy soup of lichies. The yoghurt ice cream was very nice, but the raspberry wrapping didn’t really have any flavour. The other problem with this dessert was the lichies. I like lichies, but their flavour can easily overpower the rest of the dish (just as is the case with rose water), which they also did here. Eaten separately, the ice cream and the soup were very nice, but together the lichies dominated the entire picture. Nevertheless, it was a pleasant dessert.
Then we had petit-fours, which, cleverly, looked almost identical to the appetiser. Instead of guacamole, here we had a pistachio cream instead (which could have had more flavour though). The spheres were again with lemon and ginger, and the puffy breads were with coconut, and the the two other ones with chocolate.
Every dish, even desserts, were served with bread. This was a great feature, but I just didn’t find the breads that interesting.
Although I wouldn’t say the place is beautiful, it goes well with the food. The problem, though, was the noise level at our first visit. There were simply too many tables and/or the restaurant wasn’t soundproofed enough, so at the end of our meal, when the restaurant was full (we were the first ones there), we had to shout at each other. The second time, this wasn’t a problem at all as only one other table was occupied.
With regards to service and wine, the waiter asked if we would like wine, and we asked for a glass each. He just said “okay”, and went away. When he came back shortly after in another matter, I told him what types of wine I preferred. If I hadn’t, he probably wouldn’t have enquired. He didn’t bring a wine list or tell anything about the wine, or even showed us the bottle, when he brought it. He didn’t ask us to try different wines either, which some places do.
They explained what was on our plates, but as I don’t speak much Spanish, all the communication went straight to my Spanish companion (even when they were telling what was on my plate). I know that I have to learn more Spanish, but it didn’t seem like they made much of an effort to at least try to communicate with me.
The service in general was good, but not Michelin star level, where the waiters pour water the minute your glass is empty and so on. This is not a big deal for me, but as the food here is easily as good as, or better than, the food I’ve had in some Michelin star restaurants, better service and a better wine aspect could give the restaurant a notch upwards. That of course would mean that the price would go up as well, as better service require more waiters, and waiters have to paid. Nevertheless, I’ve been to Michelin star restaurants where the price was around €50 for a menu, and Samsha charges €51.70 for their seven course menu. So…
The pace of the meal was great. No waiting or rushing even though the restaurant was full.
We both felt like we really got bang for our bucks for €20 + drinks for three such creative dishes + the appetizer and petit fours. The wine was cheap as well at around €2.50 for a glass. Although I didn’t like everything here (especially the sea weed) it was well executed, and everything was cooked just the way it should be – especially the octopus, fish and the guinea fowl. As mentioned, I would have liked a bit more depth of flavour in some of the elements, but that’s details. The menu mentioned a lot of ingredients I had never heard of before, and I don’t know if I would actually have noticed any difference in flavour if these ingredients had been omitted.
I since found out that paying €20 + drinks didn’t seem like such a special bargain after all, as they have a lunch offer, Monday to Friday, where you can choose three courses from their five course menu or their seven course menu, get a drink and have a cup of coffee, all for €24.20. This restaurant week, Cuina Oberta, just gives people the impression that they’re saving a lot of money, and then people flock to the restaurants. At our first visit here, the restaurant was full. At our second, there was only one other table. My companion went there a third time and it was empty too. What a pity for such a nice restaurant!
On my second visit to Samsha I went with the same friend, and we both agreed the level was the same as last time, although I would say that it was possibly a little bit better. After our first visit during the restaurant week (Cuina Oberta) we found out that the restaurant offers a lunch menu with three courses, a drink (a glass of wine, beer or soda) and coffee for €22 + VAT, coming to €24.20 in the end. You can choose between all courses from their 5 and 7 course dinner menus. This lunch menu is really top value for money!
We started out with the same small appetiser (and also ended with the same petit fours) as at our first visit.
One starter was “potatoes with charcoal”, which meant balls that looked like potatoes stuffed with a creamy filling. The charcoal was actually black sesame. Underneath was two sauces.
The other starter was a very prettily presented mushroom, which was actually a shell (like the sugar shells you see in confectionary) stuffed with a mushroom cream, with oregano sponges and parmesan cheese, all made to look like how it might look in a forest.
My main course was slowly cooked pork tail, braising sauce, San Simón cheese cream, small spheres of soy sauce and quinoa, and very refreshing marinated fennel that lighted up an otherwise somewhat heavy dish. Overall, a very, very good dish, and for me the best dish in both meals.
The other main course was a superbly cooked sea bass with dots of egg yolk and squid ink as well as crispy seitan (gluten of wheat). Squid stock, that really tasted like squid, was poured on. I find sea bass to be overrated, but this is definitely some of the best sea bass I’ve ever had. And what a beautiful presentation!
My friend had the same yoghurt ice cream dessert as in our last visit, as they unfortunately didn’t serve the orange and vanilla bubbles dessert that was listed in the menu for lunch.
My dessert was a volcano with chocolate and coffee sand, sparkling rocks, a spongy bread underneath, and a guava cream in a glass in the middle, which featured a bit of theatre: A piece of dry ice was placed in the glass, so when you pressed the piece of ice down, the cream spurted like a volcano. Both presentation wise and flavour wise, this chocolate volcano was far superior to the one I had at Arzak.
Again, a very creative meal with good ingredients and expert skill. I would have liked a bit more depth of flavour in some of the dishes, but maybe this is just my personal preference. Nevertheless, for this price Samsha is truly one of the very best restaurants in Valencia at the moment – if not the best (I liked Sangonereta and Ca’ Sento better, but they are both closed now). The only real contender I’ve been to has been Riff, which was less creative but at times a bit more flavourful while at other times less successful.
At my first visit to Samsha, the spelt tabula was easily the weakest dish. At my second visit the potato balls was the weakest dish, but this was definitely better than the tabula. Again, one dish for me stuck out for me as being the best (the pork at my second visit, the squid at my first visit), but all in all the level of the food was very consistent.
Again, the service and the focus on wine was not quite up to the standard of the food, although again the pace was great. After a while we found out that our waitress spoke English, and she was very friendly and sweet. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her, but the service was simply not Michelin star level. Water was never topped up, and just after serving our starters, she said “oh, do you want some wine?”.
It’s not a big deal, but I think that if they simply improved these details they could attain a Michelin star. This is a pity because the food definitely deserves it, but they probably can’t receive a star when the service and the focus on wine is not better than this. Then again, if Grønbech & Churchill in Copenhagen and Alejandro del Toro, also in Valencia, can get a star with worse service than Samsha, then why shouldn’t Samsha?