Our dinner was booked at Mark’s Club, but my host informed me that the establishment was closed for a private event. I am not a member of any club. Instead, he had selected Socca Bistro in Mayfair which had recently opened. As I entered the lobby from the street, I struggled to hand over my coat and umbrella amid the onslaught of other guests arriving at the same time. The cupboard which intended to house personal effects was totally unfit for purpose and inadequate for the number of diners. It is best not to arrive there with a coat or briefcase and the freezing temperatures outside dictated queuing in an open doorway.
The main brasserie was a hive of activity, and I was led to the rear of the restaurant into a private area and a corner table. My host warmly greeted me. He was already drinking tap water and I followed suit. Breads were served, two kinds of focaccia and a type of sourdough. No olive oil or butter was provided. For a while we both ate our bread and drank water.
I noticed that there was a speaker immediately above our heads. Regular readers will know that I hate having to battle trying to have a decent conversation when music is blaring. I did ask the waiter to reduce the sound levels. He kindly obliged and for a short while we could hear each other. However, it was too good to be true and the volume increased again, so much so, I had to request another waiter to do something about it. I apologised to my host for making a fuss, until I was told by a member of management that the music is the result of seeking to create ambience in the restaurant. I thought to myself, I was enjoying the atmosphere without needing the insane music. We elected not to move table away from the by now very loudspeaker.
This was supposed to be an early supper. I looked at the menu. Nothing caught my fancy. In fact, everything was fancy. There was a bold notice stating ‘Please always inform your server of any allergies or intolerances before placing your order. Not all ingredients are listed on the menu, and we cannot guarantee the total absence of allergens’. I wondered whether they might show similar tolerance for noise.
My eye finally rested on Provençal Beef Cheeks and Sand carrots. I asked if it was served with mashed potato. As it wasn’t, I asked for a side of Dauphinoise Potatoes to help soak up the gravy of the beef, however there was a lot of added cream with the gratin. There was only one single solitary carrot resting on the top of the cheek or two cheeks.
My host ordered Steak with Galician Fillet Steak with Maitre D’Hotel Butter and additional sauce which did eventually arrive after further reminder. He too ordered the Dauphinoise Potatoes. It was comfort food after a cold windswept and rainy day.
Two glasses of the house red wine, topped up for a third time from the 2017 Chianti Colli Senesi, Riserva, Bichi Borghesi, Tuscany, Italy which perfectly accompanied to our main courses.
We didn’t order a starter nor a dessert. I did look at the puddings. Once again, they seemed rather fanciful. This didn’t feel like an establishment to linger in, although the staff were clearly extremely attentive and keen that we partake in a digestive before leaving.
The rigmarole of finding my coat and umbrella in the cupboard was endured by me alone as my host decided to take air in the street and then walk me to my car. As I drove home, I thought: “Wouldn’t it be easier to be a member of a club?” At least I could hear myself think about it.