Some of London’s finest no reservations joints are expanding and giving the people what they really want – reservations. Bao and Blacklock opened up bookings at their second sites, and Smoking Goat and Breddos will probably do the same when they arrive this autumn. The latest to join the sequel party is Hoppers. The original site took over the much loved Koya space on Frith Street, and has had Londoners queueing down street for food they didn’t know they wanted ever since. Their new space, a few minutes from Bond Street is larger, and set over two floors. In a nutshell – it’s a classy introduction to Sri Lankan food, focused mainly on dosas and their open-faced cousins, hoppers. And everyone’s gone gaga for it:
“A seductive, come-hither menu” – Fay Maschler
“…clearly the best thing since sliced bread/Bao” – Rocket & Squash
“Nothing about my meal there could be faulted… 10/10” – Cheese & Biscuits
London already had Sri Lankan food of course. Head to Tooting for Apollo Banana Leaf – a marvellous, outrageously cheap restaurant where mutton rolls are 90p a go. At Hoppers, they are £4, but, to be fair, most of the pricing is rather reasonable. The Sethi siblings (restaurateurs extraordinaires) have the midas touch – Bao, Gymkhana, Bubbledogs, Lyle’s – all runaway successes, and Hoppers is another home run.
After a pit stop in the downstairs bar, we squeezed on to a shared table for a 9.15pm sitting. Being impatient, gluttonous fools, we may have had some pre-dinner snacks nearby. This was not a wise move, especially as we proceeded to order the Hoppers “Feast” – a seemingly never-ending supply of snacks, short eats, kothus and karis for £28.50 per person, to be taken by the whole table. Come in a group of four as we did, and order two veggie and two meat feasts which covers almost the entire Hoppers menu.
At some point, you will be tempted to ask your server to translate the menu for you, but most questions can be answered by the helpful glossary on the reverse – I do love a bit of learning at dinner time. Feel free to ask me about Jaggery, Varuvals and Watalappams – they aren’t rude, I promise. In the “Short Eats” section, we enjoyed Mutton Rolls (with special hot sauce), Podi Butter Corn (crack coated with ground dry spices and seeds), String Hoppers (steamed handmade rice flour noodles pressed into string pancakes) served with Kiri Hodi (a mild coconut milk gravy cooked with fenugreek and Maldive fish), and more. See – lots of learning to do. We also devoured various bowls of Kothu (finely chopped roti with vegetables, meat or seafood), and mopped up their delicious Bonemarrow Varuval (a Chettinad masala) with more roti bread.
Then it was on to the hoppers and dosas – a slightly daunting thought after eight starters between us. A hopper is simply fermented rice batter and coconut milk fashioned in to a bowl-shaped pancake. The Sethis were probably hoping to introduce Londoners to hoppers, but quite by chance, a small street-food operation called Weligama started doing it at Druid St. Market a couple of months before, so be sure to check them out too! Anyway – you select your base, add some relish and chutneys, and pick a kari (curry) to go with it. Our feast option limited us to chicken, prawn, cauliflower and aubergine karis, all full of interesting flavours, which we paired with podi dosas and egg hoppers.
You may want to splash out on the crab and lamb shank karis if you aren’t feasting. And there’s also another section of the menu with larger sharing plates, or “Rice & Roasts”, featuring the likes of Banana Leaf Roasted Bream, Black Pork Ribs, and Fish Buriani. But if it’s your first time there, the feast really is the way to go.
Being too full to eat a single breadcrumb, we skipped dessert on this occasion. But on a previous visit to the Soho original, we braved odorous Durian Ice Cream served inside a Milk Hopper with Kithul Treacle & Jaggery (unrefined sugar) and found it to be quite delectable and moreish! Who knew? There’s more to enjoy on the sweet side here (Love Cake anyone?), perhaps on a return trip. Assuming we don’t order the feast again. Which we will.
Hoppers – www.hopperslondon.com