VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5
VENUE & ATMOSPHERE: 4/5
Note: Alcohol is served on premises. Chicken, mutton and lamb is halal.
After attending the Nature Jobs Expo on Friday, I needed to drown my unemployment sorrows in something spicy. I decided to meet a friend at Hoppers (the sister restaurant of Gymkhana, a Michelin starred Indian restaurant which I have yet to try), a small quaint Sri Lankan restaurant tucked away, on Frith Street, Soho.
After reading reviews where people have queued beyond 2 HOURS for a table at Hoppers, I was kind of dreading visiting in the fear it would be anti-climatic (kinda like waiting 50 minutes in the queue at thorpe park for a rollercoaster that lasts 25 seconds). These long waiting times are mainly due to there only being enough space to hold c.30-40 people with a ‘no reservation’ policy. After experiencing similar filthy marketing schemes of no reservations and long ques at restaurants like Dishoom previously, (which for some reason is supposed to be an annoying indication of amazing food), I can honestly say I’ve been allergic to queues since. That being said, there was no such drama this time around as I met a friend outside at 3.30pm and was sat down studying the menu by 3.35pm.
Although small, the restaurant had a warm, bustling atmosphere. Emulating the hopper and dosa shacks of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu, this small eatery was adorned with wooden furnishings and ornaments, as well as poster frames of South Indian films from a former era.
For drinks, we ordered Rhubarb + Lankan Ginger (which for £4.95 was just an expensive ginger ale) and Strawberry Sharbat soft drinks before looking at the less extensive food menu. Im no stranger to Sri Lankan restaurants and although I know my dosa from my uttapum, I struggled with most of the terms on the menu and was scratching my head much like I do whilst attempting to make sense of the FTSE section of the Financial Times. Luckily there was a glossary on the back of the menu to address my confusion! To start we opted for a portion of idly sambhar, chicken kari with dosa, and lamb kothu roti for mains.
The food arrived in quick succession after around a 15 minute wait. I was surprised to see only one large idly in the bowl of sambhar, which for £4 is a bit pricey. That being said, the idly was large enough to satisfy two people. To my delight the sambhar was quite spicy, which was astonishing considering most asian restaurants usually compromise their food to appease a western palate. The flavoursome sambhar also contained drumsticks, which was a tick in the box for me considering it is one of my preferred vegetables. My favourite part of the meal was the lamb kothu roti, a Sri Lankan street dish I had never tried before. Kothu is made with a finely chopped roti cooked with egg, meat (in this case tender chunks of lamb), and spices. The texture of the roti was soft and pasta-like, and each morsel of this spicy, tangy dish was delectable and nothing short of magnificent. I felt like I was performing an act of vandalism as I tore into my beautifully golden crisp dosa, made from fermented lentils and rice, to accompany my chicken kari, which was dark and a little mild for my liking but aromatic and flavoursome all the same. My main criticism when it came to the food was that I mourned it’s loss once we had cleared our plates. I would probably order the signature dish next time (oh yes there will be a next time), the Egg Hopper, which is a thin, bowl-shaped pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk, filled with a runny egg.
Two mains and a starter was enough for both of us to be content- and the bill came to a very reasonable £17 per person including drinks – not bad for the heart of Soho. The service can’t be faulted either, with friendly staff and the food arriving in a timely fashion.
My only warning, don’t go with an intention to have a long, deep, meaningful conversation with your companion- unless you are prepared to engage in group therapy given your table will likely be shared with another couple due to the lack of space.
Overall, the meal was hearty and the entire experience felt quite authentic. There was a burst of Sri Lankan spices in every dish and I will definitely be returning for more in the near future.