6 March 2018: Hoppers - Everything we'd hopped for and more
We'd heard a lot of good things about Hoppers in Soho, but could never get in as the absurd modern trend of not being able to book a restaurant thwarted every attempt. Apparently the trick is to turn up at 5ish, but like most people we have jobs. Lunch is another option, but we prefer to take our time.
Luckily, Hoppers (presumably off the back of great success) opened another restaurant near St Christopher's Place in Marylebone and even luckier still you can book! Well, I say lucky...you have to keep an eye out and book a month in advance, but still, better than nothing.
So finally, we had our date booked. We took the opportunity of this big occasion to celebrate Tom's recent engagement and were joined accordingly by his fiancée. Also in tow was a curry blog regular and penguin walk-a-like, Louise.
Louise, being a high-flying jetsetter, asked to move the date and only after explaining I'd been waiting two years for this curry did she reluctantly relent.
So with all our ducks (and penguins) in a row we took the plunge at last into Hoppers. Would we be hopping mad or hoping we'd come sooner. Read on to find out.
This second addition to the Hoppers stable is found just north of Bond Street on the corner of Wigmore Street and James Street. This is further west than we usually venture for curry, but these westward trips tend to come with a step up in dining experience. In this respect, Hoppers doesn't disappoint.
From the outside a smart black and white theme sets a classy tone that continues inside. Treading a tasteful line between fine and casual dining, a sense of quality pervades. Nice decorative touches, like ornamental masks and vintage tourist board posters, add colour to the modernist canvas, while a sprinkling of Sri Lankan music softens the buzz of the rightly excited, punters.
We were seated downstairs in the central, tabled area with a view to the kitchen. To our side a rather out of place breeze block wall with a cut-out circle in it revealed plush, private dining booths tucked around the edges of the restaurant. Everything else was clean and classy, without being pretentious, although the temperature could have been a little cooler, especially as the spicy food added a little extra heat to proceedings!
This was our kind of place and in summary, it's a near perfect, 9/10 for Venue.
Starters and sides
Hoppers is named after the distinctive, bowl shaped, Sri Lankan pancakes of the same name. Appropriately, we chose to indulge in the egg variant, with a fried egg cooked in the bottom of the pancake. This was fairly standard in taste and plain in flavour, but this was to be expected as these are usually eaten, and best treated, as breakfast items, despite being served as part of the general menu here.
The other typical hopper variety is the string hopper that is more like a vermicelli noodle nest. We sampled these too, along with the two sides of kiri hodi - a spicy coconut milk mixture, and pol sambol - a coconut flake accompaniment. Also a typical breakfast option, this one packs more punch, with the textured combination of rice noodle, coconut crunch and chili heat being altogether more enjoyable.
Alongside these two hopper plates we had mutton rolls and a podi dosa. The mutton rolls are like croquet potatoes, but with a shredded lamb filling instead. They were simple and tasty, albeit nothing special. The podi dosa, a hollow cone of crispy dosa pancake, was equally basic, but given a spicy edge from a light veneer of chili dust.
Finally, the roti was decent, a bit tougher than the best, but nonetheless very fresh. So a bit of a mixed bag, but one of discovery to anyone not familiar with Sri Lankan dishes. 7/10
Chicken and prawn karis
Lamb kothu roti
Not all strictly curry, but main dishes nonetheless and that's how we rate them here on this blog.
All dishes come served when ready so best to share so no one is left waiting. This is the best way to taste the great variety of meat, fish and veg dishes on offer here - something we weren't shy about doing.
First to arrive was the kothu, a Sri Lankan special consisting of chopped roti bread, stir fried with egg and vegetables. We chose the lamb koth roti which came with beautifully tender lamb pieces hidden amongst the egg, spring onion and greens. It was a wonderful combination of flavours and textures with the chewy consistency of the roti and egg contrasting with the crunch of the onions, all wrapped up in a lovely spicy warmth that inhabits most of the dishes here.
This beautiful harmony of tastes was reflected in the fish buriani - another gustatory delight that proved much more than just rice and fish. Cashews, currants, cardamon and chili combine in a cacophony of flavours amidst moist rice that make for the perfect buriani bite. If that wasn't enough it came with a unique side of fish acharu, a bitter sort of pickle with an almost dried coconut texture, that was both unusual and complementary to the buriani. However, the pièce de resistance was a deep fried egg that sat atop the dish...well, maybe not, but it was a surprise nonetheless!
Next were the curries or kari as they are referred to here. Again, both held a lot of heat and, whilst not the largest in portion size, were both very good. The chicken kari was creamy with notes of cumin, much like a typical karahi. The prawn kari was equally smooth and simple in texture with the prawn itself fresh and juicy and cooked perfectly in a rich and piquant tomato curry sauce.
We can't recommend the kothu and buriani enough, but we have to be honest and say we have had better curries elsewhere. Despite the former coming close to perfection our overall Curry score nets out at 8/10.
If the food wasn't welcoming enough, our waiter was also extremely friendly and helpful, explaining the menu clearly with passion and good cheer. He frequently topped our water up from an old arack rum bottle which was another nice touch in this stylish establishment.
Service is quick too, although dishes are served one by one. The advantage of this is fresh food and a chance to share, something we're not going to complain about.
With really pleasant and attentive service it's 9/10.
Value for money
The total bill came to £112 between 4, including a bottle of wine. That comes to under £30 for what was a wonderful culinary experience in one of London's trendiest Asian restaurants. You could easily spend a little more on a few extra dishes, but that's still value you can't argue with and a very high 8/10.
We can't recommend Hoppers enough, so make sure you check the website to book as soon as possible. Maybe not the best place for anyone with a lower Scoville tolerance, but you're missing out in life anyway.
In a city with a rich heritage of food from the Indian sub-continent it's not always Sri Lankan food that is the most well known. Now it has a great ambassador in the shape of Hoppers that is both stylish and serves great food.
Forget the hype around other young pretenders; this is real deal. In fact, we would go as far as saying this is the restaurant Dishoom could've been.
As a result (at the time of writing) Hoppers shoots straight to the top of our overall leaderboard as our most highly rated, overall curry restaurant experience in London with 41 marks out of a possible 50.
Click here to check out our next review: Lahore Kebab House, Whitechapel
Address: 77 Wigmore St, Marylebone, London W1U 1QE
Cuisine: Sri Lankan
Alcohol Policy: Licensed
Summary: Classy, but reasonably priced restaurant offering excellent Sri Lanka cuisine in a lively, modern environment. Need to book long in advance.