Jimi Famurewa reviews Socca: Riviera bistro has glamour — but like a reverse mullet, the party’s in the front

Light-flooded wonder: the main Socca dining room  (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
Light-flooded wonder: the main Socca dining room (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

It does slightly feel,” began my pal Chris, as we jointly surveyed the thrumming lunchtime scene in the windowless, tucked-away area of Socca where we’d been deposited, “like we’ve been walked all the way through to a completely different restaurant”.

He had a point. Peer into the site of this titanically splashy new Mayfair bistro from restaurateur Samyukta Nair and justly lauded Bibendum chef Claude Bosi and I daresay you’ll practically be slobbering on the glass with desire. Its showpiece main room is a swoonsome, light-flooded wonder of swishy half-curtains, snug booths in Mediterranean blue, cocktail shakers rattling behind the vintage mirror-backed bar, and twinkling, old French Riviera glamour.

What you cannot see from the street, however, is the smaller space in the back: a parlour of textured banquettes and brushed illustrations on sea-foam green walls that, despite its luxurious flourishes, can’t quite shake the sensation of a claustrophobic steerage cabin, void of all natural light and meaningful connection to the alluring space by the entrance. Socca, like a reverse mullet, keeps its party firmly at the front.

Yes, hierarchies relating to restaurant table quality have probably existed for as long as restaurants themselves. Yes, there are far worse dining room Siberias that will inevitably plant you at arse-height next to the staff’s cutlery station or beside the intermittent bleachy guff of a swinging toilet door.

But I start with this detail about Socca because, to me, it speaks to the broader sense of slight anti-climax and froideur that shaped my meal at what is, by many metrics, a perfectly pleasant, though bruisingly expensive big-ticket opening.

Heavenly: the tiger prawns (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
Heavenly: the tiger prawns (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

In truth, the faint feeling of foreboding began when I called to ask about table availability. I first got the same hold music they use at my GP clinic (a uniquely triggering experience) before being told, weirdly, that they didn’t keep any tables back for walk-ins. A week later, when we did, of course, get a walk-in, we were met by unsmiling reception staff and a manager who, in lieu of a traditional welcome, made a great, visibly annoyed show of having to make space for my little fold-up bike in the cloakroom. Still, look, things really did improve when the food arrived. Socca (the namesake, chickpea galette that anoints every table) made for a quietly arresting opening; three, mottled-gold squares of humming, faintly nutty, warm pancake that arrived with a compelling aubergine tartinade and adorable little serving tongs. Salad Niçoise — all fat, flaking hunks of premium tuna and dribbling soft-boiled egg — was diverting if a little lacking in va-va-voom; grilled tiger prawns though, as Chris noted, had a heavenly, pitch-perfect texture beneath their garlicky lake of citrus butter. And, while sipping glasses of a likeable 2021 sauvignon blanc from Kiwi vineyard Churton (the list is heavily but not wholly French), we also picked happily at a rustling nest of super-crunchy shoestrings fries that were essentially dinner-crisps legitimised by wealth.

Of course, the solid gold elephant in the room is what you have to pay for all of this. That tuna salad is £26. Those admittedly hefty prawns are £39 for a bisected pair. A shareable roast chicken is £75, while bottles of wine start around the low fifties and rocket madly upwards. Everyone’s costs are rising; we know this. But a consequence of this pricing approach is that dishes that underwhelm — like the £35, somewhat affectless Provençal beef cheeks from the relatively affordable, homestyle section of the menu called “Claude’s Favourites” — are harder to shrug off. We finished enjoyable but over-sugared orange blossom madeleines beside an unequivocally terrific olive oil ice cream, left our gilded bunker, and stepped, blinking, into the bright sunlight and still-packed, look-what-you-could-have-won bustle of the main dining room. Heat and warmth are very different things. Socca may have an abundance of the former but the latter, at least for now, remains a work in progress.

41 South Audley Street, W1K 2PS. Meal for two plus drinks and service about £260. Open Monday to Sunday, noon-2.30pm for lunch and 5.30pm-10.30pm for dinner; soccabistro.com