[London] Hoppers in the heart of London’s Soho is indubitably one of the best restaurants in the city.
The only individuals who would argue otherwise, are the ones that haven’t been yet or are pre-disposed against South Asian cooking.
Out of all the go-to spots for exotic yet faintly familiar cuisine, Hoppers seems the least pretentious with some of the most welcoming and knowledgeable staff around.
They are also extremely busy at their flagship on Frith Street, Soho; notorious for their no-reservations policy and for the long lines that have become recognisable at most of London’s leading establishments.
The restaurant is fashioned with an adherence to Sri Lankan roadside diners.
Its humble façade bears reasonably sized windows, with course fabric fluttering at the entrance.
You enter Hoppers into a cosy, largely wood finished and rustic interior, with plants adorning the upper walls, crafted demon heads and the occasional framed photograph.
It is no wonder that many a visitor have described entering Hoppers like walking into a picture of Sri Lanka.
The food that is served at Hoppers is identifiably authentic. It does, however, make sure to keep the heat and spice to manageable levels to allow people who are not accustomed to the fieriness of their traditional food to enjoy it just the same.
At Hoppers, it is imperative that you try the ‘Hoppers’ after which the restaurant is named.
They are bowl shaped crepes made with coconut milk that are crisp on the edges, yet pillowy in the centre (£4, SGD7.23).
You can order these with a runny egg in the concave (£4.5, SGD8.14), making the hopper more rich and luxurious.
With the hopper or Dosa (£4, SGD7.23), a crunchy lentil crepe, as your main carbohydrates, Sri Lankan cooking opens up.
You can order a plethora of Karis (£7 – £15, SGD12.66 – 27.13), which as they sound are much like the curries of southern India, to dip in, roasts like their Ceylonese Chicken (£21, SGD38) that is an utterly divine spit roasted bird with deep robust flavours, or even a number of other short eats like Mutton Rolls (£5, SGD9), Chicken Lollipop (£6) and String Hoppers (£5, SGD9) that can be eaten on their own.
On my visit, I had an incredible black pork kari (£8.50, SGD15.37), that was dark with tamarind paste offering a chilli kick that does not knock you sideways. To ease the intensity, I ordered a pol sambol (£1), a small cup with sweet grated coconut that contributed a desiccated texture that was sweetly pleasurable.
The Hot Butter Devilled Shrimp (£7, SGD12.66) is not a dish for the faint of tongue.
Fresh shrimp are marinated and served with an assortment of chillies that provide for a cheek-blushingly good experience of seafood and chilli spice. It definitely wakes up the palate.
But the most incredible dish of them all, the one I return to whenever I think of decadent comfort food, is the Bone Marrow Varuval (£7, SGD12.66).
This is a curry dish that includes large pieces of beef bones sliced clean to reveal soft, tender, and creamy bone marrow that is doused in a sweet, orange, curry leaf strewn sauce.
The salty, buttery consistency of the marrow when rolled in the sauce, and picked up by a fresh, hot roti, is probably one of the most intoxicating eating experiences I have ever had.
If you are thinking of visiting Hoppers, I do strongly recommend you visit them during their early lunch hours for a decent chance at getting a table.
Even better is to go on a rainy day, despite the discomfort, because you are almost assured a spot before the rush. While it may initially seem like an inconvenience, I am supremely confident that the food will be worth it all in the end.
* Written by DFD’s London Food Correspondent Leander Dias SaltyCritic. Leander Dias was born and raised in Dubai, a burgeoning city with diverse food culture. Since moving to London to read for his English MA at UCL, he has utterly immersed himself in the local food scene, writing extensively about everything he eats everywhere he goes. Daniel’s Food Diary pays for food reviewed unless otherwise stated.