Socca Bistro is the latest opening from Samyukta Nair, the entrepreneur behind some of Mayfair’s best-loved restaurants. The restauratrice has joined forces with Michelin-starred chef extraordinaire Claude Bosi to bring a laidback Provençal vibe to W1. With a rustic menu that draws inspiration from the South of France and a dazzling clientele, here’s why Socca is our restaurant of the week.
On the lunchtime of my visit, the pretty pastel-toned dining room at Socca bistro in Mayfair is packed to the rafters with famous faces. Or are they mere mortals? I can’t be sure. What I do know is that everybody in the room looks fascinating, whether they are or not in actuality the art collectors, music producers, artists and roués they all resemble. One magnificent lady keeps a flamboyant hat on all the way through lunch. And there are a handful of dapper older gentlemen dining solo, with just a glass of red for company – always a good sign. As people-watching goes, Socca is practically Paris tier.
Socca restaurant is the latest creation of Samyukta Nair, the glamorous restauratrice behind Jamavar, Koyn, Bombay Bustle and MiMi Mei Fair, who, for her first French restaurant, has collaborated with no less than Claude Bosi, the chef behind two Michelin star Bibendum. Together, they’ve conjured the magic of a real French bistro right in the middle of London. It’s telling that we see none of our fellow diners posing for selfies or setting up flat lays; they’re all far too busy scarfing down snails and guzzling apple tart. So while Socca might be London’s prettiest dining room, this is not the Mayfair of caviar bumps, DJ sets and designer Champagne. It’s Mayfair like it used to be. Socca is a restaurant you could visit once a week or more, whether in the area for work, art, shopping or socialising. As Nair, a Mayfair resident herself, says, “I’m opening the Mayfair I want to go to.”
Lyon-born chef Bosi, though known for his refined cuisine at Bibendum, isn’t aiming for stars here. He’s written a menu for Francophiles and foodies, with a focus not on his native Lyon (Henry Harris has that covered at Bouchon Racine) but on the rustic food of the south of France. It’s food his parents who ran bistros themselves would recognise. Indeed, one whole section on the menus is devoted to ‘Claude’s Favourites’ including ‘My Mum’s Tripe and Cuttlefish Gratin’, ‘Grilled Andouillette’ (tripe sausage famous for its almighty barnyard stink) and ‘Pieds Paquets Marseillaises’. That’s not one but three tripe dishes. Quite a statement. So too is the Niçoise Swiss chard tart for dessert. It’s not for me – too vegetal! Too authentic! – but for some it will be pure nostalgia.
I prefer the Menton tart with slow-cooked onions in a short pastry shell, like pissaladière sans anchovy. I doubt I’ll eat anything more delicious this year. Rabbit leg à l’ail with confit pink garlic is also incredible, as is the accompanying polenta cooked for 12 hours to achieve the ambrosial soft texture. There are more typically ‘Mayfair’ dishes at more typically ‘Mayfair’ prices like Scottish lobster gnocchetti, raw Orkney scallops and blood orange, Angus beef carpaccio, and Joséphine oysters. You might want to gather friends to share a whole roast chicken or slow-cooked lamb shoulder. At £75 and £79 respectively, not too dear between four.
Given the strong French accent, it’s surprising the wine list (which starts at an eye-wateringly high £52 a bottle) is not more proudly Provençal – bafflingly, we’re poured a Chianti and Marlborough Sauvignon by the glass – but in all other respects Socca delivers a welcome dose of romantic Riviera escapism.