No reservations. Like Marmite, mushrooms & Madonna, this is a guaranteed bone of contention among those who love going out to eat. You either don’t mind because you feel the end results are going to be worth the wait or you feel aggrieved that you aren’t being trusted to honor your booking. Either way, there’s no doubt that with some of the most covetable tables in London now un-reservedly reservation free, your options are limited to waiting it out, going somewhere whose dishes don’t currently grace the Instagram feed of every foodie in town or beans-on-toasting it up at home.
So ask yourself this – how would you feel about waiting 2 hours for a table at one of the hottest new culinary tickets in town?
Honestly, for me it depends on context. Dining alone on a random Tuesday night, you might find that a bit too much to ask when frankly all you want from your dinner is speed and ease – is it just me or are Tuesdays the new Mondays in terms of ‘ugh’ factor?! – whereas dining with a friend on a Friday night with lots to catch up on and drinks available at a nearby wine bar might make it a bit more doable.
Opening last autumn to a quiet fanfare, Hoppers on Frith Street is exactly the kind of place where context becomes important because unless you rock up promptly at opening time, you ain’t gonna get in without a certain amount of determined hanging on for that all elusive table.
I adore all types of spicy food – even if I’m not the slightest bit hungry, the vaguest whiff of turmeric, cumin or curry powder and any members of their immediate family makes me want to hunt down their origins with the steely & unshakable focus of Liam Neeson in ‘Taken’ – so the opportunity to try something new, in this case Sri Lankan food, was cause for much excitement last week.
Launched by the creative & culinary team behind Michelin starred Gymkhana, the restaurant itself is intimate and warm in both decor & welcome, something received with sincere gratitude the night we visited given the current arctic blowing through London. Being seated in the window gave privacy from neighbouring tables and an opportunity for hungry hordes outside to gawk at our plates like Victoria’s Secrets Angels outside Pizza Hut the day before donning their wings.
Great service from the get go marks Hoppers out as somewhere that values its diners and, in a world of overblown openings from overdone chefs, this is important. Friendly staff take your name & number and text once a table is ready which is a much greater system than queuing outside in the elements and trying to avoid ducking into GBK for a snack to tide you over. Equally jolly staff welcome you once you make it inside and after a two hour wait, I don’t mind telling you that a self-congratulatory, John ‘The Breakfast Club’ Bender fist pump was subtly given to my dining companion as we entered.
Explanations of dishes are offered and helpfully there’s a clear & legible glossary on the menu itself. The Cashew, Cassava & Ash Plantain Fry mix – by turn crunchy, spicy & moreish – alongside String Hoppers served with Kiri Hodi (a mild coconut sauce) & Pol Sambol (a Sri Lankan relish made with fresh ground coconut, Maldive fish & red chilli) made for excellent starters to share. The string hopper itself was something like a very light noodle patty, brilliant for soaking up the fresh, spicy flavours of the dips.
Main wise, options are either the titular hoppers (incredibly light and crispy fermented coconut & rice milk pancake bowls) or dosas (lentil & rice crepes folded into delicate, golden cones). Pick one, add an egg if you want – trust me hungry reader when I say yes, you do want – then select a curry and you’re all set for a gorgeous exploratory foray into Sri Lankan cuisine.
As a sucker for duck in anything, this was my pick here and it was fan-freaking-tastic. Tender & silky pieces of meat lounged nonchalantly in a sauce that was vibrant with flavour but didn’t blow my head off…nothing worse than curry which renders your taste buds impotent to anything coming along afterwards. Mixed with the egg and different accompanying pickles made every mouthful incredibly moreish and the colour of the coriander chutney lifted the whole plate.
I wish we’d been offered desserts as I’d heard good things but couldn’t see anything on the menu and wasn’t asked if we would like to try anything. I am however going to take that as a reason to come back although any return visits will involve me being THAT person hanging around as you unlock the doors because I’m not sure anywhere is worth a two hour wait.
With starters ranging in price from £3.50 – 7.50 and mains topping out around the £10/11 mark, one of Hoppers’ big pluses is its undeniable value for money. I love my home town for continuing to bring the food of the world to my doorstep and this first taste of the elegant & subtle Sri Lankan spice world is one I will definitely be exploring again.