I have to say that my heart sank when I saw the previous occupants of this site, Koya, close when chef Yamasaki returned to Japan. Having also previously hosted legendary chef Alastair Little’s restaurant, Hoppers had big shoes to fill in taking over these premises. However, when I heard that the Sethi family were behind the new venture, I felt more reassured. They’re the driving force behind Michelin-started Indian restaurants Trishna and Gymkhana as well as investors in Kitchen Table, Bubbledogs, Lyle’s and Bao. I’ve been to all their establishments except Lyle’s and loved them all
Sanj had warned me about the queue, an unfortunate trend in the modern day London dining, resulting from the no booking policy which started with Burger & Lobster. I was 7th in line when I arrived 15 minutes before opening time for dinner. However, a big shout out for the ladies managing the queue, who were super friendly and efficient (unlike some other queue managers I’ve met at other restaurants). I feel that at some restaurants, the long queue is used a marketing and hype-generating tool, which makes turnover of tables very slow
The owners have completely remodelled the interior to reflect the menu, inspired by the food of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. I especially love the masks in the stairwell leading down to the toilets. It isn’t the biggest restaurant but they do make best use of the space. I snagged what turned out to be the best seat in the place, at the end of bar – it enabled me to get into conversation with Karan Gokani, one of the Sethi family co-owners. His passion for the food and calm leadership of the restaurant led me to ask if he was the manager and we got into a good coversation about Sri Lankan and Malaysian food. He was excellent at recommending dishes for those new to Sri Lankan food and he was a whirlwind of activity all the time
I take my hat off to the bravery of the Sethi family. They’ve never played it safe with any of their ventures. Champagne and gourmet hot dogs at Bubbledogs, a 19 seater restaurant at the eponymous Kitchen Table, game on the menu at Gymkhana and Beijing street food at Bao. They take good food, push the culinary boundaries of Londoners back and then draw them in to try these new creations.
That trend continues with the compact menu at Hoppers. With South Indian and Sri Lankan food more usually concentrated in South London boroughs like Tooting, they’ve transplanted that unfamiliar cuisine into the heart of Central London. Not only are the dishes not like those you’ll find at a conventional Indian restaurant but they’ve got duck heart, bone marrow and durian ice cream on the menu. Bold, but judging from the queues, London audiences are lapping it up
Being Malaysian, the durian ice cream was a must even if I usually go for savoury starter over sweet dessert. So, I limited myself to one starter or ‘short eat’ as the menu puts it – for a single diner, Karan recommends a couple of short eats, a dosa or hopper and a kari (their spelling of curry)
The bone marrow varuval was too good to pass up, especially as it came with an exemplary roti, a flaky, buttery light multi-layered flatbread akin to Malaysian roti canai. In general, Malaysian Indian food resembles South Indian/Sri Lankan cuisine more than the Bengali heavy UK Indian curries. The bone marrow was fun to dig out by hand (Karan’s suggestion after seeing me tackling the dish with utensils) but the star of the show was the sauce, heavy with complex spicing and curry leaves. An excellent start to the meal
I followed with an egg hopper and it’s quite an entrance when the inverted dome made from a fermented rice and coconut milk batter arrives on the dish accompanied by pol sambol, seeni sambol and coriander chutney. The base was soft and dominated by a perfectly set egg rising up to crispy edges. It was nice to have both textures to go with the the condiments and the black pork kari, again recommended by Karan. The kari evoked memories of Malaysian Indian curries with accents of lemongrass and pandan leaves
Knowing my love of Malaysian food, Karan customised my dessert for me. He added the durian ice cream to the roasted rice kulfi, served with pandan jelly, sago, vermicelli and rambutan. It resembles chendol, a classic Malaysian dessert
Although the menu is deliberately kept small to keep quality high, I still spied many dishes I’d like to return to try, like the aromatic whole Ceylonese spit chicken, which wafted past my table this evening
Hoppers, I’ll be back with friends in tow!
Quick update: I did return a week later with Sanj in tow and a foodie in the queue, Lisa joined us spontaneously for dinner. I had to post a quick update to give a big shoutout for the whole chicken
Food: ★★★★★ Service: ★★★★★ Ambiance: ★★★★★ VFM: ★★★★★ Overall: ★★★★★
Price: I’ve eaten for £20 a head both times and it was great value for money
49 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 4SG