Two days after Lou, Rosie and I decided that Hoppers was our next
target destination, Fay Maschler of The Evening Standard gave it five stars in an uncharacteristically gushing review. Which was maddening, as it doesn’t take reservations and the queues were already a couple of hours long at peak times, even before a glowing endorsement from London’s queen critic.
Fortunately, the management seem to have realised that making people stand for hours in the freezing cold is an absolutely bollocks idea, and have introduced a digital queuing system that lets you bugger off to the pub while waiting for your table. (Try Balans Soho Society Cafe, 20m down the road, for a glass or two of pre-dinner whatever.)
When you get in, the cocktail list is short and spicy. I avoided the arrack ones like the plague – I’d tried all kinds on holiday in Sri Lanka last year and hadn’t enjoyed any of it – but I did love the spicy twists on a G&T. My Colombo No. 7 (£8.50) was curried up with cinnamon, cardamom and curry leaves, whereas Rosie’s Hopper’s G&T (£8.50) was mellower, with Indian lemon and lemongrass.
Almost everything on the menu was extraordinarily delicious, our meal of a dozen dishes studded by only a couple of duds. (Including one of the worst desserts of all time, but we’ll come to that later.) Hoppers is one of those restaurants best visited with at least two other friends; adventurous ones, preferably, who’ll deliberately skip lunch to save room. That way, you can try as much of the menu as possible without over-ordering your way into oblivion – or, at least, a nasty bout of indigestion.
We began with a selection of small plates. Now, people shy away from hearts, but they shouldn’t. A heart is like a concentrated nugget of fleshy flavour – and in the case of the Chicken Heart Chukka (£4.50), the intense chickenyness of the hearts cuts through the spiciness of the sauce they come slathered in.
Those breaded cigarillos in the background are worth a punt too, though don’t divide easily between three. They’re made of mutton; dense and strongly-flavoured, and come with a spicy dipping sauce.
The Duck Roti (£4.50) was a sealed pancake of minced, fragrant duck, and came with a little pot of rasa – think Sri Lankan gravy. The deliciously exotic Hot Butter Deviled Shrimps (£6.00), were meaty and full-flavoured, but live at the spicier end of the menu. (I.e. not recommended for pussies.)
Other highlights included the eponymous Egg Hopper with its rainbow of accompanying chutneys (£3.50), and Bone Marrow Varuval with Roti (£4.50), which required some rather unladylike tongue-twisting. We scraped the marrow from inside the bones with our forks, eventually resorting to sucking it out like prawn brains. Not a good look. Don’t let that stop you though, you great big gorgeous sucking thing, you.
After all this, the much-anticipated crab curry – the special – was a crushing disappointment. The dish effectively comprised a mountain of empty crab legs in a thick, spicy sauce. We barely ate any of it because there was barely anything to eat. Buffalo Buriyani (£16.00), on the other hand, was our main event and incredibly filling. It came flanked by a trio of tasty handmaidens: aubergine pickle, yogurt and a duck egg kari: a poached egg sitting proud in a tiny sea of rich sauce.
We ordered a pudding to share between three – the Watallapam (£4.00), because it sounded jolly. Alas, it was decidedly unjolly: a tepid brick of under-set gelatin, flavoured – allegedly – of coconut. It was the saddest dessert I’d ever tried to eat. (Sweet tooth? Head to Crosstown Doughnuts afterwards for a cheap sugar fix.)
Food comes out quickly, and in waves, so we were in and out in just over an hour. We’d gorged ourselves senseless and spent less than £20 a head on food, which in Soho – hell, anywhere – is tremendous value. We’ll forget about the crab and pudding cock-ups – they are new, after all – but for the most part, the food was delicious, filling and surprisingly authentic. Go, before it garners even more 5-star reviews.
Hoppers, 49 Frith St, London, W1D 4SG
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.