Public relations are, for shame, a long way from Ab Fab days: bottomless Bolli and Stoli for lunch is no longer the done thing. Fortunately Maureen Mills, Network PR Supremo©, was last week celebrating 25 years in the game and persistently grasps those Nineties norms close to her heart. At the cheery knees-up for her (working) silver anniversary, which packed out the Michelin-starred Elystan Street, Mills insisted on nothing less than Dom Pérignon — £320 a pop — which was fortunate as it’s the only Champagne I’ll drink, apart from all the others.
Such unwillingness to compromise is something to be celebrated: standards won’t maintain themselves. Quality of produce has been on my mind a bit lately after I took a jolly up to Speyside to knock around the Macallan distillery and saw just how seriously they take the whole Scotch lark. I couldn’t give a monkeys so long as it comes cold and in industrial quantities, but it’s never less than impressive to witness those who care, which might explain the fact that, with no real idea of why, I left Soho’s Soma feeling rather fond of the place, despite having softly pushed away a riff on a Martini that tasted distressingly like soap.
Though filling the basement of Mumbai-inspired restaurant Kricket, Soma is its own thing, and very serious it is too. The doorman on the entrance eyed me warily, which was fair enough, as who turns up to a place in a panicked sweat at 11pm on a Tuesday, unless they’ve suddenly remembered they’ve got a bar column to file the morning after? But I got in. Just.
Inside it’s as black and compact as an ink cartridge; seats line-up against a slab of a metal-topped bar. That’s it: sparse to the point brushed steel taps count as decoration. So far, so pretentious, and my friend was swift to complain about embossed ice cubes and a too-sweet riff on a Negroni. Actually their own drinks here, which all lift something from India — jaggery sugar, some spices, that sort of thing — never quite land. Soma is, the menu says, “In Search Of The Divine”, but I’d say they got lost. We have tall drinks, short drinks and drinks in coupes and… well, things were muddled.
Disorientating moments of familiarity — something like an Old Fashioned was there, one read like a Penicillin — were snatched away by too much mucking about with the needless input of new bits and pieces. But even when things weren’t right, the fairly priced menu never let up on the good stuff: no Dom, exactly, but a welcome instance of only pouring the best. Punters remain unshafted. Standards; they have ‘em.
Besides, the team know their stuff. Since a ho-hum visit to Pizzeria Mozza in Langham Place, I’ve been asking for Red Hooks (rye, vermouth, maraschino liqueur) everywhere, and met mostly with blank looks. Here, not a blink of the eye, and mine came thrillingly perfect. In other words, order your usual.
Oh, and that air of pretension? Jauntily overruled by a welcoming team both good fun and quickly perceptive. I had fun, as did the small crowd of devoted boozers who were in with us well past midnight. That’s what time it was: a friend who clearly has her priorities all wrong met me after bailing on (actual, real-life) Nigella, and we were grateful Soma stays open late, closing at 1am Tuesdays through Thursdays and at 3am on Fridays and Saturdays.
We were night-capping, and had one more than necessary — a good bar will do that to you. Besides, I was still in that Nineties mood. Cheers, Maureen. Ab Fab forever.
SOMA Soho, 14 Denman St, W1, cocktails from £11; somasoho.com