As far as grey days in London go, today started out as one of the gloomiest with relentless rains that proved impossible to shield against, thanks to vehement winds that kept blowing our brollies sideways.
Definitely a day meant for spending indoors, pottering around with endless cups of tea and catching up on the blog.
Instead I found myself hopping over muddy puddles as I made my way to Hoppers, the latest restaurant from the Sethi siblings, bringing a bit of Sri Lanka to Soho.
This is the same family that’s at the helm of Trishna & Gymkhana not to mention they’ve also backed Bao, Bubbledogs & Lyle’s. So as you’d imagine, expectations were riding high ever since they announced their new eatery, inspired by the food and design of the roadside shacks in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka…
It’s a tiny but welcoming space with warm wooden interiors that feature vintage terracotta tiles, rattan ceiling details and exposed brick walls. Pineapple and money plants bloom prettily on side of the room, while Sri Lankan fire dancer masks and posters and comic sketches from Tamil culture lend much character. The tone is set by retro Indian tunes playing softly in the background.
The highlights here are dosas (pancakes made with a fermented batter of ground rice and lentils) and appams – commonly (mis)-pronounced as hoppers, these are paper-thin bowl-shaped fermented rice pancakes made with coconut milk.
As for many Indian families, both have evolved into weekend staples for mine whenever we’re in Bombay… hence my unabashed enthusiasm at discovering this dedicated eatery in London!
The menu also includes a selection of “short eats” (small plates), “karis” (curries), and larger mains that involve “rice, roast & kothu.” It should be noted here that Richard Vines of Bloomberg has already declared the spit-roasted chicken, the best bird he’s tasted thus far this year…
Cocktails feature a heady mix of spirits including Arrack. On the day though, I virtuously opted for a cream soda with a kick of black pepper, while munching through a very moreish bowl of batter-fried cashew, cassava and ash plantain fry as we perused the menu.
We started with an unbeatable combination of idli (steamed, savoury rice cake) and sambhar (a lentil-based stew).
Incredibly soft and fluffy, the idli was the best I’ve had this side of the world while the sambhar was of a flawless consistency – neither too runny nor too firm. The generous sprinklings of podi (ground dry spices) on top just added a fiery dimension to it all.
Crisp and golden, the dosa seriously impressed too. We mopped it up with a hearty bowl of the red pumpkin kari, which arrived swimming in a depth of flavours. In the words of my lunch companion Anisha, this curry could be a “perfect winter anything.”
I also sprung for an egg hopper, which arrived with a fried egg perched at the base of the wispy appam…
… Finding much to enjoy in the #yolkporn that oozed out, once I cut into it.
Meanwhile Anisha found her next big addiction in the duck rotis – dry wholewheat bread lovingly wrapped around minced duck, cooked with much finesse.
I was really excited to see “sweet frothy kaapi” on the menu too. The South Indian coffee was presented true to form in a stainless steel tumbler nestled within a “dabarah” (a wide metal saucer) that you pour it back and forth between, in order to mix the ingredients as well as to cool the coffee down.
However much to my disappointment, the coffee itself was excessively sweet – too much even for this sugar fiend to handle.
So we smoothly moved on to dessert(s). Made with steamed coconut milk and jaggery, the watalappam might be a funny one to pronounce… but there’s no joking about how delightful this Tamil take on a crème caramel is.
While the love cake just extended a big hug with each wolfish bite we took. The warm flavours of the cinnamon and cardamom here were artfully offset by the tart yogurt kulfi served on top.
Service was a bit on the slower side but perhaps understandably so – Hoppers has barely been open a week and already is catering to large crowds, patiently queueing outside. Every dish we had was beautifully executed and well worth any wait that accompanied it.
No doubt, I’ll be back next weekend for my South Indian fix conveniently served up in the heart of Soho. And yes, even it that means getting out of bed on a rainy morning to trudge through muddy puddles to get there.
Hoppers, 49 Frith Street, Soho, London W1D 4SG