A trip to Sri Lanka is high on my wishlist: beaches, beautiful temples and not forgetting… the street food. Unfortunately, that will have to wait (as a reality bank account check confirms) but a trip to Hoppers will more than do for a dip into the vibrant tastes of Sri Lankan food.
This Soho spot is small with a warm and comfortable buzz. Sri Lankan Raksha masks (demon masks to ward off evil) adorn the walls in an array of colour with movie posters taking you back a few decades. Kicking off the feast was a pineapple and black pepper punch – made with Ceylon Arrack, saffron and vanilla bitters, black pepper cream soda and pineapple foam. This was refreshing to the palette… perfect for the spice kick that was about to hit.
[Arrack: made from fermented coconut sap, forms the base of many cocktails at Hoppers.]
The menu is simple: ‘Short Eats’ (2/3 is perfect for two) followed by the hopper or dosa with a kari (curry) each, or larger dishes, including kothu and Ceylonese spit chicken for hungrier bellies.
Our hot buttered devilled shrimp was indeed naughty – if you’re a fan of spice this is for you. Hoppers balances the heat very well: hot enough to make you pause and relish the roasted spice sensation, but never an obliteration of flavour that so many over-eager spiced dishes do.
Hoppers balances the heat very well: hot enough to make you pause and relish the roasted spice sensation, but never an obliteration of flavour.
The goat roti (flatbread with minced goat) is delicious but all attention goes to that idli sambhar podi. Having seen this arrive over at our neighbours’ I couldn’t contain the food envy and ordered! This South Indian/Sri Lankan dish takes me straight to small Indian booths*, with fluffy idli, the perfect match for a rich sambhar.
[Idli Sambhar: steamed rice cake with lentil and spice-based broth]
With mains you’re spoilt for choice. Dine with a friend and share the hopper and dosa (naturally!). The hopper is a bowl-shaped pancake made from fermented rice and coconut milk which juxtaposes a soft centre with crispy, thin edges. The dosa – a flat pancake made with fermented rice and black lentil is the hopper’s friendly rival. We chose the lamb kari and the black pork kari for a mix of textures. The lamb is an oh-so smooth and succulent dish, perfect for grabbing any remaining hopper and dosa shreds to scoop the kari off the bowl, while the pork had a dry texture packed with peppery taste.
[Dosa: crisp fermented lentil and rice pancake. Hopper: bowl-shaped pancake made from fermented rice and black lentil]
Brave the wait outside Hoppers. In the hype of no reservations and two-hour waits for restaurants these days here’s a tip – get there a bit early for the 5.30pm dinner service (5pm will do it), or if waiting’s not your thing – get to the door, get a time and grab a drink elsewhere before setting back.
Hoppers is by no means the first place to serve Sri Lankan food in London. It delivers on taking you on a journey, from navigating Sri Lankan street-food bites to the hopper and dosa (with a handy glossary of dishes and ingredients along the way via the menu). My only disappointment – the fact there were no desserts. Hoppers, please let me continue the journey!
Hoppers | www.hopperslondon.com
49 Frith Street, London W1D 4SG | Opening Hours: 12pm-2.30pm, 5.30pm-10.30pm. Mon-Sat; closed Sun.
*The dishes in Hoppers are Sri Lankan, which can be found in South Indian states too.