Tucked away in a small street of the Haut Marais, Soma is a hidden gem dishing up Japanese fusion to experimental locals.
From outside, this little restaurant looks undeniably inviting. The Head Chef takes centre stage, surrounded by diners at the bar. Small wooden tables fill what is left of the space, lining the exposed stone walls. Inside, the atmosphere is modern and fashionable yet casual and cosy. It’s tiny, probably seating only 20 lucky patrons at any one time.
After trying to get a table without a booking and failing miserably, we reserved a spot at the bar on a Friday night. We received a friendly welcome from a guy who I think is probably the owner. He explained the concept in French–the menu is made up of small tapas-style dishes to share–and then in impeccable English when he realized we weren’t local (still working on that). We ordered a couple of dishes to start with and held onto the menu in anticipation of wanting more: that’s the idea, you just keep ordering until you’re full.
The dishes came one by one – the moreish edamame beans arrived as we watched the chef blowtorch our salmon to perfection, then heap it with pickled peppers. Next to appear was the foie gras crème brûlée. I couldn’t decide if what was essentially pitched as goose liver custard sounded absolutely disgusting or utterly divine but we went for it and the gamble paid off. Balanced with miso paste and Sancho pepper, the little pot of foie gras was silky, creamy and not at all sickly. Another stand-out was the rare-cooked steak in ponzu sauce with its rich umani flavours and melt-in-your-mouth consistency.
Alongside the more innovative dishes is a good selection of Japanese favourites, like marinated tuna sashimi and soft-shell crab futomaki rolls. There is a long list of sake to try, as well as French wines and Japanese beers. I’m not sure if Soma is considered to be an Izakaya or not. It certainly has the gastro part down, and the sake part, but I always imagined Izakayas to be more hole-in-the-wall type establishments whereas Soma feels quite high-end. I’ve never been to Japan and am very much an amateur when it comes to Japanese dining so I could well be wrong. What I do know is that Soma ticks all of my boxes – delicious food, creative cooking and friendly service in a warm atmosphere.
The reviews of Soma on trip advisor are unanimously positive with only a few grumbles about the price. Personally, I found it to be pretty reasonable. With this quality of cooking, the freshness of the ingredients and a prime location in the heart of the French capital, I would echo Time Out’s suggestion that it’s the best value Paris-Tokyo return ticket around.