London: Hoppers, a Sri-Lankan treasure
Hoppers has been around for a while now, yet whoever I talked to had heard great things yet avoid it as it is known for the long queues at the door. If people are still queuing, and the reviews keep coming in that was a good sign.
I had read about Hoppers in September, was intrigued as I had never tried Sri Lankan, and wanted to go ever since, only if it was bookable on Opentable. Hoppers, a joint by the Sethi family of Bao, Gymkhana and Trishna, is named after the traditional Sri Lankan pancakes also called Aappam. I was intrigued by the thin crisp crepes shaped like bowls, colourful sauces of green, yellow, orange, my mouth was watering just looking at the pictures.
Walking in Soho, London, for early dinner with no place set in mind, I decided to try my luck.
At the door, we were pleasantly welcomed by a member of staff who kindly surprised us by telling us it would not take more than half an hour. And apparently, you don’t have to wait in line! Unlike most places with no reservations, the staff sends you a message when your table is ready. Pleasantly I found there was no freezing involved and one can happily enjoy their food – unlike as frosty, numb snowman trying to heat up through spoonful of kari.
We grabbed a drink at hip joint, Chotto Matte’s bar, across the street while waiting. Once ready, we were seated facing the street. The small restaurant is cosy and unpretentious, tiled floors, wood and brick walls covered with framed posters and lamps. The most has been made of the small space with bar stool seats and tables.
I was with a friend who had been before, with help from her and the menu’s glossary I was able to make sense of the long list of delicious. Despite the names, items on the menu are not foreign, you begin with appetizers, termed “short eats,” followed by hoppers, thin rice and coconut crepe shaped like a bowl, dosas, the crispy crepes made from fermented lentil and rice, and karis, known to others as curry. Ending the menu are the rice, roast and kothu section.
There are “hard” drinks on the menu inspired by the flavours of the cuisine, from mango with rum and clarified turmeric milk, the Quart of Milk Punch, to the Cherry Shrub made with burnt cinnamon arrack, bitter cherry shrub, hoppers cola soda. Arack according to the Hoppers glossary is a “Sri Lankan spirit distilled from the sap of the coconut flower and matured in vats made from teak trees.”
To accompany our culinary journey of spices we decided to go with wine, yet you can also go for traditional milks.
For our short eats we went for the Bone Marrow Varuval, a Chetinad dish, served with roti, heavy but worth it. The soft juiciness of marrow combined with heat and spices is a whole new experience and appreciation. Hot butter devilled shrimps will rest with me until next time.
Next we chose from the selection of Hoppers and Dosas, we decided to go for the dosa accompanied by three sauces coriander, tomato and coconut chutney. To accompany our dosa we went for the lamb kari.
For our last dish we had the Short Rib Buriani with yogurt and brindjal moju – an aubergine pickle. I make mental notes as I leave, next I must try the Egg Hopper, Red Pumpkin Kari, the Ceylonese Split Chicken... and many more!