Yes, I’m aware that this title may cause some confusion. We’ve been allowed to eat out since July 4th, right? So how am I only writing about our first post-lockdown meal now, on August 6th?
Because sadly, this hobby of mine has to play second fiddle to mortgage-paying work that pays for lovely meals like this one, and I’m also terrible at writing about stuff unless I’ve had a little while to digest – mentally as well as physically.
Ironically, for once my tardiness has actually paid off because I find myself writing this just a day after Giles Coren’s review of Socius appeared in The Times so everyone’s attention is on it, and I can smugly say I already thought it was good long before he made it there.
Plus, it’s always nice to feel vindicated after raving previously about somewhere, as well as forcing your friends to travel an hour up the coast from where you’re staying for the first post-lockdown restaurant meal that could have been had a tad closer. Needless to say, it’s nice to know someone who gets paid far more than me to write this kind of thing shares my love of a restaurant.
After visiting twice, I can’t really find anything not to like about Socius. Tucked away in Burnham Market, it feels like a bit of an understated, undiscovered haven, though obviously it’s not. In fact, I’ve heard a few people say that it’s difficult to get a table, though we’ve always managed to book.
It’s open and airy, with a high vaulted roof that allows the muted cacophony of restaurant noise that we all missed so much reverberate around until it’s sunk into your soul and replenished all that lost joy you missed while stuck at home. Oh, they let dogs in too – which obviously makes me love somewhere even more.
The menu has changed slightly but the style is the same. Small plates, designed to share. Great ingredients, used simply and executed well. The right balance of Insta-aesthetically pleasing and relaxed. If anything, it’s got even better since we last came.
There’s an air of quiet confidence, a boldness that comes with having impressed so many people you know you’ve kind of got it cracked. The team is good too, in tune with one another despite the proximity of our post-Covid visit to an undoubted absence.
We ordered one of everything on the menu. No, I’m not joking. I think it was 15 dishes. They all sounded amazing. There was four of us. And I don’t care whether you judge me or not.
To be fair, according to the menu, four of them are ‘drinking snacks’ as opposed to plates, so that perhaps makes it more justifiable. But please don’t be lulled into thinking that ‘drinking snacks’ have any less love put into them than some of the other dishes on the menu.
The pickled mushrooms (above this on the right) are as good as I remember them from last time. Slightly chewy with a crisp coating and a dip that adds to the already delightful umami hit. The crispy chicken with chilli and sesame was pretty darn good too. But if I had to choose one to die for, it’d be the mushrooms every time.
A simple salad of beetroot, goat’s cheese and carrot was brought to life with a herby dressing and the crunch of hazelnut, and the herb and parmesan arancini showered in grated parmesan and served with garlic aioli were delicious.
Baby gem lettuce drenched in a cheese dip courtesy of Mrs Temples Binham Blue, along with poached pears and walnut was tasty, though didn’t top our charts, and Burrata with heritage tomatoes, basil and olives was predictably lovely.
It was the aubergine with cucumber and chilli with a lip-smacking salsa-esque topping and yoghurt dressing that took us all by surprise and would be as good an advert as any for the undersung hero that is the aubergine. The bitterness of the aubergine somehow teaming perfectly with the freshness of the cucumber and grassy notes of the olive oil poured over it.
The tuna tartare was good, as Coren will testify too – and I’m glad to see that even people like him use descriptions like “some sort of spicy mayo”, and the cured salmon was probably the most simplistic thing on the menu, yet proof that Dan, who runs the kitchen while Natalie manages front of house, has the confidence to leave things alone and rely on good ingredients, prepared well, and left to do the talking.
There was an aged beef tartare too, though I appear to have not managed to have taken a picture before it was snaffled, which will tell you all you need to know, and I enjoyed the grilled hake that was perched on top of a pillow of coconut-laced carrot and cashew korma. Some of our number found it a bit salty, but it suited my over-stimulated palate just fine.
And so to my favourite plates – the ones I’ve dribbled a bit since that day thinking about, and the ones I hope are still on the menu when we return. Like all of the dishes at Socius, they’re not fussy, they’re not teased and preened like wannabe stars.
They’re simple, tried and tested flavours interpreted by a chef whose skill doesn’t come from formal training but from years of learning on the job, honing his talent, and balancing haute cuisine with humility.
Aged beef rump was served with more of that baby gem and a classic caesar dressing, plus a slug of some kind of jus (if Giles Coren can be that vague then I can too) plus a jug of bearnaise that was, as all the best steak sauces are, great for dipping the Socius house rubbed chips into.
And so to the lamb belly. A sexy rolled piece of meat with an unashamed layer of the kind of fat my husband and I fell in love over. That fat could be too much for some in some circumstances, but not when paired with peppers cooked down into sweet, spicy and slightly vinegary accompaniment as well as dollop of roasted squash. And let’s not forget the rich sauce packed with concentrated lamb juice. The stuff of food dreams.
So yes, I was right when I raved about Socius the first time and I’m right again. Giles said so. It’s everything those of us that love restaurants missed during those three months we had to cook all our own meals.
This is what restaurants should be about. A place you can trust – to do great things with food, to brighten your mood, to share your laughs and relish in the sound they make when they bounce off the ceiling and collide with the sound of a busy kitchen turning out great dishes.
As I write this, I think perhaps that is the crux of why I love Socius. There’s a reason why we picked it as our first return to the world of restaurants, when everything was at the height of uncertainty and none of us knew what would have happened to that world and whether it would have changed beyond recognition. Because we trust it. We trust Dan and Natalie, we trust what they’ve created. And it didn’t disappoint.
We paid in full at Socius.