SOKA could have been the official speakeasy of Bengaluru. Not that it really qualifies as one because despite its unassuming entrance, it’s not that hard to find. Secondly, none of the alcohol there is bootlegged. However, this delightfully small cocktail bar can only make us feel like we’re at a one, which is fine by me.
SOKA encourages banter, and its crisp menu (the food section is quite brief) avoids confusion of all sorts and after 4-5 visits, you may have managed to go through all the drinks. There, that’s your bragging rights.
The look and feel
Designed to keep that adult-like feel, Soka’s design is clever and intimate. It’s inspired by the Omakase concept in Japan which typically means that the guest leaves it up to the bartender to decide for them. The literal translation of Omakase from Japanese would be “I’ll leave it to you.”
What makes SOKA special is the fact with Bengaluru racing to find the ‘biggest bar’, ‘largest brewery’, ‘300-plus seater breweries’, this bar gives you a little space that you want to call your own, make some new friends if you’re feeling social or just find a quiet corner to do your thing.
Leave it to them you can quite easily. The cocktail menu is rather creative and if it’s unfamiliar, just ask for help. So let’s get started.
From the bar
Cocktails dominate the SOKA menu, and you’ll find drinks that you’ve probably not tasted before. Each of them has a story and a bit of play with ingredients, using clever techniques to create something fresh throughout the menu.
Made in Heaven comes with aged rum, coconut rum, frozen strawberries, coconut milk and pineapple. Reminds you of the Piña Colada, doesn’t it? This one’s the adult version of the same cocktail and slightly more evolved, and despite the flavours of strawberries and coconut milk and pineapple, it’s not overly sweet. While on the pineapple, remember the ‘Cheese Cherry Pineapple’, the delightful bar snack? They’ve managed to make a cocktail out of it. It uses the clarification method (which is an entirely different story) and is made from Bacardi Carta Blanca, aged cheddar and cream cheese, pineapple, Luxardo cherries and German bitters. Reminiscent of Downtown pub, one of Bengaluru’s classic bars from the past, this cocktail of the same name is a clever rendition of the appetiser. Blended and then clarified to result in a delicious liquid, try this for sure.
While still on the memory lane, for all the Bengalureans who used to live out their evenings at Black Cadillac, the '90s club on MG Road, Black Cadillac is a good way to live out the old days. Served with a blend of aged rums and ingredients they won’t disclose, just know that it’s potent and helps to remember or forget stuff quicker.
The next one is not only for whisky lovers but those who like to laugh between drinks. The Misunderstood B.J (get your mind out of the gutter) combines Jim Beam Bourbon, Laphroaig single malt, lime, sugar, mint leaves, sparkling wine and aromatic bitters to create a smoky, rich on the palate cocktail. And the B.J stands for Bourbon Julep. This may have been one of my favourites.
If gin is your thing, make friends with I Blame Jasmine. It comes with two gins - Hapusa and Tamras, Aperol and carbonated jasmine-flavoured cordial. The taste is refreshing, mellow but not flat and won’t necessarily remind you of a jasmine garland. The floral hint is fairly toned down, fortunately.
If you’re planning to make a night out of it, you’ll need food to keep all those drinks for getting to your head. And SOKA takes care of your bar food needs.
What to eat
This isn’t a place where you go through a series of dishes in order. You can just put your finger on the menu and pick something. Or even better, ask what’s good. The menu is short, really short. This is not where you come for dinner but to nibble on snacks while you drink. Thus the food here is called ‘Super Snacks’ served in ‘Nano Plates’. Funny isn’t it?
Try the stuffed olives with dill leaves and cream. It’s yummy and super simple. Order the saunth chutney-glazed chicken Yakitori with Togarashi dust. Saunth and Togarashi, you’d think. But it works, and it works delightfully.
What works even better is the SOKA fried chicken with raw mango chimichuri. It literally reminded me of late night orders of fried chicken from local joints when everything else would be closed. I ate scallops after a long time at SOKA. Pan-seared and served with tomato kut, a traditional curry from Hyderabad. The hint of the tart on the otherwise bland scallops was heartwarming.
What was not heartwarming was the Kothimbir Vadi. It comes with some feta crumble and coconut chutney, and both times, I found it too dry. I mean I do realise we are meant to wash down the food with the cocktails, but dry vadi is no good. Before I forget, the Chicken Gyoza here is totally worth a shot. It’s got that gooey, delicious coconut cream dressing and perfectly put together.
SOKA is not a place for dinner. It’s where you get happy on cocktails and snacks and either skip the actual meal or go somewhere else. However, they do have a fun noodle box that you can either takeaway and eat in your taxi or at home. Or if you must, at the bar itself.
A bit about the boys
Sombir Choudhary and Avinash Kapoli are friends and partners in crime. The two have been restaurant consultants for a long while and have worked across various brands in India. SOKA however is their baby, a culmination of years of their experience, dreams and aspirations. And it shows. From the delightfully quirky messaging on the wall to the crockery to their ‘branded ice’, SOKA is the coming together of lots of little beautiful ideas that eventually sat together beautifully.
Where: 1st Main Rd, 2nd stage Indiranagar, Stage 2, Domlur, Bengaluru
Timing: 5pm-1am, on all days
How much: INR 2800 plus taxes