The one thing I love about my day job is that my office is in one of my favourite parts of London….Soho. I absolutely adore Soho. I love the energy of it and I used to love the edginess and grittiness of it, although that has been slowly edged out over years of gentrification. Nevertheless, Soho still holds a very special place in my heart and always will. It remains the most exciting place for food, in my eyes at least. Every week there seems to be a new restaurant/cafe/coffee shop opening up and I feel extremely lucky to be in pole position to try these places out as soon as they open.
Saying that, it was a sad day when I found out that the wonderful Koya on Frith Street was closing after head chef Junya Yamasaki decided to return to Japan. However, in its place, something equally wonderful emerged…Hoppers.
Hoppers is a Sri Lankan restaurant owned by the Sethi siblings, the team behind Gymkhana and Trishna (and backers of Bao, Bubbledogs and Lyle’s). With a restaurant portfolio like that, you know you’re going to be in good hands.
I must admit, I was not familiar with Sri Lankan cuisine before visiting Hoppers, so I was excited when I started to read glowing reviews on Twitter and see mouthwatering photos flooding my instagram feed. I kept walking down Frith Street on my lunch hour, hoping to see a break in the queue but alas, that queue was firmly fixed every day. Then one day, as I was heading back from a meeting, my colleague Naomi Whatsapp’d me to ask how far away I was from Soho. On telling her I could be there in ten minutes, she excitedly informed me that there was currently no queue at Hoppers and I was to leg it there asap. And so I did!
By the time I got there Naomi was standing outside, with a queue already behind her. We jumped inside and were seated by the window by an extremely happy and smiley waitress who explained the menu to us.
The menu is inspired by the road shacks of Tamil Nadu in the southeast of India and Sri Lanka, and is made up of short eats, hoppers & dosas (pancakes made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk served with or without an egg) which are served with karis (curries), roasts and kothu (a larger curry) dishes which all come with rice.
First to arrive was the Cashew, Cassava & Ash Plantain Fry (£3)…toasted cashew nuts and crispy vegetables dusted with a powerful chilli powder. The flavours are fantastic but they’ll blow your head off if you’re not good with heat! This becomes the theme of the meal.
Next up was Bonemarrow Varuval (masala) with the most incredibly light roti (£4.50) which was just was wonderful. It comes with a special tool for scraping out the tender marrow from the bones, in a rich, silky and punchy sauce.
To soak up the sauce, the roti was as light as air and as buttery as a croissant, it was incredible. But one isn’t enough, we ordered another two and if you go, I’d suggest ordering at least two right from the start. I’d go back for these alone.
When ordering the main, I asked the waitress to suggest the mildest dish on the menu. She recommended the Guinea Fowl Kari (£5.50). I asked if this was mild for a Brit or mild for a Sri Lankan. She laughed and said “mild for a Sri Lankan”…I knew I was in trouble! (I can’t take spicy foods. And I mean anything spicy.)
I ordered the guinea fowl kari accompanied by a hopper complete with a soft-yolked egg baked into it.
The curry was indeed spicy but the sauce was also sweet, rich and bursting with bold flavours. The guinea fowl was incredibly tender and moist and melted in my mouth. The bowl-shaped hopper was light and crispy and the perfect accompaniment to the spicy curry. I did have to ask for some yoghurt to calm the heat that had set my mouth on fire. (Just remember, I am a wimp, most normal people wouldn’t find this as spicy as I did). Bless the wait staff though, they kept asking if I was ok and bringing me glasses of water!
Naomi has a stronger resistance to heat than me and ordered the Black Pork Kari (£5.50) with a dosa and loved it. The chunks of pork were also wonderfully tender and juicy and came in a thick, sticky and spicy sauce. The dosa was similar to the hopper, albeit a little crispier and shaped into a cone. The dish came with little pots of Pol Sambol, Seeni Sambol and Coriander Chutney on the side.
Unfortunately as we were on our lunch break and had to rush back to the office, we didn’t have time for dessert so we had to finish there and get the bill. That was another fantastic surprise, the whole meal was incredibly good value.
Hoppers was a fantastic introduction to Sri Lankan cuisine and even though I found it incredibly spicy, I’d still love to go back as the flavours were divine. The wait staff were wonderfully friendly and enthusiastic and did I mention it was great value? I would highly recommend this wonderful restaurant, its an excellent addition to Soho’s food scene.
Hoppers, 49 Frith St, London, W1D 4SG