Welcome to our spotlight on Hoppers, where we will be taking a more in depth look at this newly-opened Sri Lankan restaurant in the heart of Soho, which has been gathering critical acclaim from famed critics such as Fay Maschler of the Evening Standard and even induced Jay Rayner to break his no queueing for food rule.
The first time I ate at Hoppers, the flavours blew me away and I knew this was somewhere special and worthy of taking over the site which has housed legendary chef Alistair Little’s eponymous restaurant and foodie favourite udon restaurant Koya before itself.
On that first visit, I was lucky to meet the co-owner and inspiration behind Hoppers, Karan Gokani, who is married into the legendary Sethi family, who own Michelin-starred Trishna and Gymkhana and have partnerships with Kitchen Table, Lyle’s and Bao. Karan is clearly the tour de force, whose passion for the food comes through in the way he and his staff explain Sri Lankan food, which may not be familiar to everyone. He leads by example and keeps the efficiency of service and food coming out tip top, necessary in a relatively small space and to keep the queue of hungry diners outside fed as soon as possible. Hoppers uses the Qudini system, which allows you to virtually queue and get a drink elsewhere before getting a text when the table is ready.
Karan left his native Mumbai to read law at Cambridge but eventually gave up his lawyer’s life at Linklaters to pursue cooking and hospitality, his true passion. He was introduced to Sri Lankan food by Sri Lankan friends and promptly fell in love with the cuisine. Deciding that he couldn’t keep this gem of cuisine to himself, he and his briother-in-law Karam Sethi decided to launch a Sri Lankan restaurant to ensure a steady, high-quality supply of the mutton rolls, devilled seafood, hoppers and kothus that they missed so much. The menu at Hoppers has mainly Sri Lankan dishes but also some south Indian favourites that they both grew up with such as dosas
For this Spotlight, I brought Sri Lankan food virgin, Vicky along to try out the food at Hoppers.
Vicky: I’ve never eaten Sri Lankan food before mainly because I’m such a scardy cat when it comes to spicy food (to the point where Grant now has a point on the spicy scale for me, where for him it’s hardly spicy and for me it’s super hot. If you want to know where it sits, go get some KFC at Bone Daddies!). Not to the point that I’m always a Korma kinda gal, and I would say that I have been actively training my palate to stop being such a wuss in the last couple of years. So, when Yee Gan invited me to try Hoppers with him, I thought, why not? It was not be somewhere I would choose to go to personally and I was so happy he took me with him as Karan certainly knew how to make a fantastic spicy (as in spices) meal without it being too spicy (as in hot).
All the dishes we tried were absolutely fantastic and I can see how the Sri Lankan food differ from the normal Indian food I’ve tried. A lot less heavy on the sauce and plain chilli factor and a more balanced marriage of spices. Not to say some of it wasn’t a tad hot for me, but that was why we had some seasonal guava and cardamon juice to curtain some of that fire, right?
I think the dishes that stood out for me were the bone marrow with a fantastically fluffy roti- it is amazing how a deft hand could turn such a cheap cut into heaven! The roti was perfect for mopping up some of that curry sauce and it was definitely a worthy starter. Karan recommended us the Gourd and Cashew Kari as a contrast to the more spicy hot food (since he found out I am a bit of a wuss). This was possibly one of the best mild curry I’ve ever had. Even though it was not hot at all, you could taste an amazing array of spices coming through the mild creamy base and it made a perfect accompaniment to the hopper and dosa. Of the two, I prefered the Dosa as (as you might know) I’m a sucker for textures and the super crispy, almost crusty texture of the dosa (and that slight almost cheesey taste) went perfectly with the kari.
One of the best thing about Hoppers (apart from the awesome food) is the care that Karan has taken to make the restaurant into something that transport us away from the busy streets of London. As I was chatting with him, you can really see his vision for the restaurant and I think the interior really does his vision justice – look out for the wall of masks on the stairs leading to the toilets and also the cute mini pineapple plants in the window. Being in the restaurant is almost like being in a little cafe in Asia, except everything is super clean and that’s part of the charm of the place- you can come here and eat and enjoy a slightly different pace of life- almost like a miniature holiday. I’m a total convert and can’t wait to come back to try more of his delightful creations. The menu is constantly evolving and is supplemented by specials, so keep your eyes peeled if you re-visit.
49 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 4SG