Whilst travelling in South-East Asia a few years ago, I fell in love with the subtleties of Sri Lankan cuisine, so when I learnt the Sethi siblings were bringing Sri Lankan food a little closer to home I was delighted! The restaurant has also recently (Nov 19) been voted 3rd in the Time Out 100 best restaurants in London you have to try – and believe me you definitely need to!
The first Hoppers site opened to mass applause and as is increasingly standard in Soho, massive queues! I’ll admit I’m not a fan of the rise of non-reservation restaurants (please stop punishing me for being organised!) and after a few attempts to dine at Frith Street I had almost given up on the chance of ever reliving my travel food memories.
When it was announced that another location would be opening and very importantly taking reservations I rejoiced and finally seized the opportunity to experience the Tamil Nadu & Sri Lankan inspired menu at Hoppers, St. Christopher’s Place for my birthday earlier this year. Better late than never!
Arriving without a reservation (a minimum of 4 diners are required for dinner service) at approximately 6pm we were luckily seated at the last available table! Friends had tried on other days only to wait over an hour for a table – thankfully they take your number so you can spend time enjoying a drink at a nearby bar, but be prepared to wait.
The restaurant is a fantastic balance of contemporary and traditional styling. I loved the small touches found in elaborate traditional decorations which were reminiscent of those I’d seen in restaurants in the tea hills of Sri Lanka. They even make use of highly decorative Arrack bottles for table water.
A traditional tipple in Sri Lanka, Arrack is a made from naturally fermented & distilled coconut flower sap. Unfortunately this unique spirit is not to my tastes, so I opted for a tropical George Gardner G & T (Tanqueray Gin – Mango Leaf – Lemongrass – Kaffir Lime Leaf – Tonic Water) from the House cocktails list, whilst my friend chose a delicious Rosé Smash (Tanqueray – Rosé Vermouth – Watermelon Shrub – Vetiver Grass – Mint). Cocktails are about £10 each, whilst Sri Lankan Lion beer or a bespoke beer brewed for the restaurant are roughly £5.
Very quickly we decided on a Taste of Hoppers set menu to allow us to try a wide selection of the small plates on offer. At the time the menu we selected was priced at £32, which for the volume of food we enjoyed I think is very reasonable & a fantastic way to immerse yourself in Sri Lankan food if it’s new to you! (Please note the whole table must select the set menu.)
One thing I will mention is the tasting menu has a lot of elements (there are 5 starters alone!) which means you end up with a lot of food on the small table at once to play table tetris with! We started with some banana chips and a spicy devilled chilli squid. Beware although beautiful & packed with succulent squid, as the name suggests there is a kick from the devil in this dish!
The next two dishes that arrived were mutton rolls with a Sri Lankan hot sauce and a Sri Lankan staple – a lamb kothu roti. This is a dish I ate regularly when travelling. This version is superbly addictive & something you should definitely order when visiting. Made of a combination of chopped roti, egg, lamb, spring onions, carrot and coriander it’s mixed together flawlessly to create a flavour packed moreish dish that you won’t be able to resist!
The final dish for the starters is slightly controversial with some diners, a bone marrow varuval & roti. Served as a section of roasted bone, the gelatinous bone marrow is coated in a wonderfully rich curry sauce to be eaten with the buttery roti. It is a messy dish, in fact as if they knew me extra wet wipes were provided before I’d even lifted my cutlery! Although some people may be put off by the idea, I would definitely suggest trying it at least once.
Pleasantly satisfied with all the small plates from our starters, there is thankfully a brief pause before the main dishes arrived! We had been able to each make a selection on whether we had a dosa, rice, roti or their namesake a traditional hopper. I instantly opted for a hopper, which is a thin pancake style ‘bowl’ made from fermented rice batter and coconut milk. Also known as an Appam in some areas of southern India, these formed many breakfasts & snacks on my travels and is 100% a dish you have to order! This came with a selection of sambals, chutneys and yogurt for dipping – look how beautiful it is. I especially loved the beetroot & kale sambal that has a slight spice and delicate sweetness to balance out any hot curries!
As we both were able to select a main we accompanied this with both a chicken kari and a prawn kari. Kari is the Tamil word for a sauce or rice relish and the origin of our term curry! The prawn dish had a lovely sweetness alongside the spice and the chicken curry had an outstanding depth of flavour in the gravy based curry sauce. Both paired fantastically with the hopper and roti for dipping!
Dinner at Hoppers definitely satisfied my long standing craving for the flavours of Sri Lanka & Southern India from my travels. The small plates option, and set menus on offer make it a fantastic way to sample the unique elements of the cuisine and set your own affordable price point for a dinner with friends. I can’t wait to visit again and even if I have to queue I will have to admit queuing for food this delicious is worth it!
Nearest Train Station: Bond Street