To anyone familiar with Sri Lankan cuisine, appams are no stranger. Re-christened as Hoppers in the colonial times, these light dosa like crepe’s also come in a fluffy stringy avatar much like idli in a ‘ramen burger’ form, are traditionally known as ‘idiyappam’ To try the Hoppers and more, served at the much talked about restaurant in SOHO, by the same name, I decided it was finally time to brave the queue’s. Accompanied by Asma, we managed to get there just in time before the crazy lunch hour rush started. We wanted to have a catch up and conversation always flows better when the ambience is right and the food is good.
Hoppers, SOHO, is another successful venture, conceptualised by the Sethi siblings, who are the minds behind Trishna, Gymkhana, Lyles’s, Bubbledogs and Bao.
While queuing up, I took a peek inside – the wicker thatched roof, wooden furniture, intricately patterned tiles on the floor and tables, yellow lighting – everything reminded me of an old Gymkhana back in India, oozing old world charm and character. Once seated inside you will notice the brightly painted Kathakali masks on a sunny yellow wall facing the bar.
The menu features what is known as short eats – basically, smaller portions like the ones served as snacks from road side food shanties. Similar to the greasy but very satisfyingly delicious spicy fried dal fritters served wrapped in newspaper cones or placed on pages torn out of old note-books and dolloped with scoops of spicy green coconut chutney.
My lunch companion Asma ( she who runs the fab Darjeeling Express) and I decided on hot buttered devilled prawns, bone marrow varuval and brinjal moju.
The rich, smooth and deliciously spiced gravy in which the bone marrow is served is finger licking good. The generously scattered fresh green curry leaves add that curry flavour to the sauce – we mopped it up with the string hoppers later. One bite into that luscious bone marrow and there is no turning back. In contrast, the prawns are fiery hot and smothered in butter, though not scathing, they are not for the faint-hearted. Asma’s Bengali palate approves of the succulent prawns so I would say give it a go – just have the cooling masala buttermilk at hand to wash down all the spice and grease.
Mains at Hoppers, SOHO
Onto the mains we picked the egg hoppers with fish kari and lamb kari. The Hoppers come with pol sambol, seeni sambol and a coriander chutney.
Pol sambol is delightful relish made with Maldive fish and coconut. I am a great fan of seafood in general and love pickled seafood a lot. The seeni sambol is a Sri Lankan version of caramelised onion chutney. Together these little sides provide a fun adventure for your taste buds as you dip your cripsy hoppers into the kari and mop up the sauces.
The crispy edges of the hopper and the fluffy centre are both satisfying and filling and the fried egg in the center for me was just perfect. Dip the crunchy edges of the hopper or dunk large chunks of string hoppers into the oozing egg yolk and then scoop up some of the lamb kari – you won’t regret it.
I love how the hopper is both like a crispy plain dosa and fluffy like a steamed idli and filling like a neer dosa all in one. The egg on top just makes it so much better.
We also tried the Lamb kothu roti and although the lamb is hidden under a majority of veggies and roti it is quite a good dish as a filler. I am not a fan of kothu though, so I won’t miss it too much next time around and would really like to see more lamb in the dish.
The masala dosa comes with a very homely sambar and a fabulous sweet potato curry, I only wish there was more of that curry as it is simply amazing. The crisp dosa has a spicy dry chutney called podi scattered inside and a generous amount of perfectly done potato sabzi inside – you cannot fault this dish in any way which.
The Brinjal moju side is very tangy and the strong taste of vinegar is balanced by the spices used with the aubergine. Again this is something I could not get enough of.
The string hoppers come with pol sambol and Kiri hodi which is aSri Lankan coconut milk gravy with Maldive fish and fenugreek. I have mixed feelings about the Kiri hodi but they seem to be leaning towards love rather than hate. Perhaps more trips to Hoppers are required for me to make up my mind. Asma and me hungrily wiped down the remaining sauce from the bone marrow varuval with the string hopper – oh that sauce!
I would have loved to try the duck heart chukka and durian flavoured ice cream and then probably wash it all down with some string Tamil Nadu Kaapi. Unfortunately, there was no way I couldn’t eat anymore and had to take away a lot of the food. And the head Chef Suresh Pillai spoilt us by sending us generous portions of dishes to sample, that in addition to what we had ordered was more than we could possibly consume.
Over the past few years, AK and I have been to many Sri-Lankan restaurants around London. As expected they are to be found in the suburbs, notably in Tooting and East Ham. Our all – time favourite has got to Jaffna House – a no-fuss cheap and cheerful place where you can eat till you are ready to explode at the seams but still not draw up a bill of more than £20. So to be standing in a queue in SOHO for Sri-Lankan food was not something I was expecting. But am so glad I did and that too with a fab companion like Asma. For once, I didn’t have to apologise for taking photos from all possible weird angels with not just my camera but my phone too – of course – for all those social media channels that need feeding 😉
One of the many reasons that puts Hoppers in a class by itself in comparison to the other Sri Lankan restaurants is the entire ambience that they have so thoughtfully managed to create – the wood panelled interiors, framed posters, the gorgeous rustic hammered copper plates, those tiled tables, the efficient service and of course the food!
I most certainly plan to be back, to brave that queue, this time with hubs AK in tow, and no there won’t be any camera in sight. Just us and – the food.
Average bill person with one starer and one side to share, one main and one non-alcholic drink – £25 approx (without alcholol and dessert)
Don’t miss out on – Bone Marrow Varuval, Crab Kari on the specials menu if available – it is absolutely divine!
Disclaimer: Unless mentioned that I was invited to review, I foot my own bill when eating out and have written this review purely out of a passion of sharing my love of good food. I was not required to write a positive review and was not compensated monetarily for this post. Thanks to Chef Suresh Pillai for treating Asma and me to some complimentary dishes.