Thursday, 29 October 2015

Hoppers, Soho

The Sethi family's first restaurant in London was Trishna, in Marylebone. It's a great restaurant, Indian fine dining that isn't just about serving the same old curry house classics with while tablecloths and a wine list, but reinventing the cuisine from the ground up with superb ingredients, luxurious spicing and a staggering attention to detail. It's still one of my favourite places to eat out, and in fact I've got a big table booked for my birthday next month.

Next, along with Sandia Chang and James Knappett they opened Bubbledogs, a hot dogs and grower champagne concept that seems like a ludicrous idea before you're sat there eating great hot dogs and drinking grower champagne and then it all makes sense. It's still hugely popular. And soon after the Kitchen Table opened out back, 19 seats arranged around an open kitchen serving a seasonal tasting menu which won a Michelin star last year.

Then came Gymkhana in Mayfair, which was greeted like the second coming by London's critics and bloggers (myself included). And quite rightly too, because it's utterly brilliant. That, too, won a Michelin star. Then came Lyle's, where head chef James Lowe serves his St. John-inspired menu of modern British food, full of personality and punch and in one of London's lovelier dining rooms. And you'll know about Bao, their next project, which introduced London to the wonders of Taiwanese buns and still has them queuing down Lexington Street all day every day. Because it is also brilliant.

The latest project from the Sethis is Hoppers, and it's rubbish. Only joking, it's brilliant, just like all the others, and not just brilliant but unique and stylish and innovative and all the other hallmarks of a venture from the family with the Midas touch. The theme this time is Sri Lankan, a cuisine Londoners may have come across in certain spots in Tooting (Jaffna House is good) but is still fairly unknown to most people. Hoppers does it so well that it makes you wonder why nobody has tried to do this kind of thing to Sri Lankan food before, but then that's the genius of the Sethis, to reinvent a cuisine for modern audiences, keeping the traditional core flavours and techniques but creating something genuinely new and exciting.

Every corner of the menu is a surprise and a delight. "Cashew, cassava & ash plantain fry" is nuts and crisped vegetables dusted with a disastrously addictive powerful chilli powder, with a separate chilli sauce for dipping. The heat has you gasping but the flavour has you coming back for more.

Bonemarrow "Varuval" came with a special tool for scraping out the tender marrow from the cute little bones, in a sauce so complex and richly enjoyable it would have been a reason to visit by itself. To soak it up, a fresh roti, flaky and buttery like a savoury croissant, which of course we fought over before ordering another one (at a pathetic £1.25 each, I suggest you do the same). And a little bowl of chicken heart "chukka" had more dense, powerful spicing to compliment the gloriously tender chunks of offal.

There's nothing about "hot butter devilled shrimps" that doesn't scream "eat me", and this was another stunning dish, huge bouncy prawns wrapped in a silky sauce spiked with chilli, curry leaves and pickled green peppercorn.

And still the best was yet to come. The house signature dish is of course the hopper, a bowl-shaped dosa-type pancake thing which for an extra 50p comes with a soft-yolked egg baked into it. With this we chose the guinea fowl "kari" (Tamil for "curry"), beautifully moist and tender drumsticks in another knockout sauce that I'd walk through fire to eat again.

Better even than that though was the black pork kari, chunks of pork so tender they almost dissolve in the mouth, in a thick, sticky sauce that brought to mind the Tayyabs' "dry meat". It's hard to imagine there's a better way of spending £5.50 in London right now; this was a world class curry, almost impossibly good.

It's impossible, too, to overstate just how much of an achievement Hoppers is for everyone involved. As an introduction to Sri Lankan cuisine, it could very easily kickstart a city-wide obsession to rival the burger or BBQ craze. As the latest jewel in the crown of the Sethi empire it proves that these extraordinary people, far from running out of ideas six restaurants in are actually becoming bolder and more innovative, and have another well-deserved hit on their hands.

But more important than all that, Hoppers is just a fantastic place to sit and have your dinner. A beautiful room staffed by people whose genuine enthusiasm for their product shows with every interaction, and a menu so comprehensively enticing it makes you want to order and eat everything on it again and again and again. Nothing about my meal there could be faulted, and so all I can do is award it full marks, and urge you to go and try it yourself as soon as you possibly can. The only remaining question is, what even more wonderful thing could the Sethis possibly come up with next?


Hoppers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Gareth_UK said...

The only remaining question is, what even more wonderful thing could the Sethis possibly come up with next?

How about: "a way of reserving a table"?

Oh the frustration a reading a review like this and then..."no reservations". Grrr. I have loved all their restaurants. I even remember the time as an early adopter I actually got into BAO.I told all my friends and tried to go back with them but have never seen a queue less than about 40 minutes. Which might have worked when I was a student but not any more. So instead you turn, disappointed, away and start the trudge round Soho for somewhere which might have a space or take a booking.

It's not about the style of place (Naughty Piglets in Brixton takes reservations), or location (Duck and Rice does. Cay Tre Soho has 50:50). What is it? Laziness? Greed? Misplaced perception of what the public wants?

Very pleased to see that Atherton's new tapas place, having started out "No reservations", changed its policy. I had hoped this was a turning of the tide. But no, apparently not. So here we are again: a glowing review for food I'd love to a restaurant I stand no chance of getting into.

Unknown said...

That being said--- this morning Chick N Sours posted that they had 15 reservations not show up last night--- after they turned people away. It could kill their small restaurant.

Anonymous said...

Well it's not rocket science, is it? Make the restaurant no free reservations, then, with apologetic grace, accept reservations on condition of a £10-20 per capita non refundable reservation fee.

Barefoot Rascal said...

Not non-refundable, sometimes life gets in the way and numbers need to be changed or the booking canceled. Refund for cancelling within 2 hours would be fair on everyone as it gives time for re-booking or walk in. I don't like being punished for other peoples selfishness.

Gareth_UK said...

But if you are otherwise intending to run on a no reservations basis anyway, if someone doesn't show up within 15 mins (or notify) you could simply open the table up. I recognize that might not work for the Chick N Sours of this world, but I can't see it being an issue for Hoppers in the heart of Soho with all their likely interest.

One consequence of the no bookings approach is also to narrow the demographic pretty much to 20-30 somethings. For instance, that my parents who are still sprightly 80-90 somethings and still passionate about trying new places and new foods, are effectively excluded by this kind of approach. (Of course, it's possible, were I to phone a place might make an exception in these circumstances - I haven't tested, but I think my general demographic point holds).

BTW, for what its worth, I rushed there this lunchtime after reading Chris's review and realising that this would probably by my first and last chance to get a seat. It is, indeed, very very good. Especially the butter prawns which were like a brilliant pepper-fry and an exceptional coriander chutney. Great value too. And, yes, I gave my politely constructive feedback as well as thanking them for the food and service.

MeatTrader said...

I'm over the no res thing too. I have done my bit these past few years, queued and waited, sometimes not even being allowed to leave the premises (Barrafina, Polpo), sometimes the fairer method of being allowed to leave and then phoned when there's a table coming up (FlatIron, B&L). I've trudged around getting irritated and hungry at 9.30 on a Friday night having been turned away or given the doleful (or sometimes, it must be said, smug)'it's going to be at least an hour and a half'.

But particularly midweek I don't want to spend my time hanging around for even an hour, let alone 2. If I meet friends for dinner at 8, we don't want to be waiting in that limbo of 'will they/won't they' or 'shall we have yet another drink' until 10 or even 9 really. And as Gareth_UK said, my 80-something Mum loves dining out and, perhaps unusually for her demographic, going out in the evening - but she can't be waiting around, standing for an hour or more being jostled in a doorway.

I would have thought in these days of hi-tech real-time table management with apps, built in payment, everyone knowing who you are etc. that there's a middle ground which would suit everyone better. I never don't cancel if my plans change, usually at least a day in advance. Maybe it's the diners who need to be educated to take more responsibility by being charged for an unreasonable no-show.

Phil Bishop said...

I dislike the concept of "no reservations" in both my personal and professional life and almost always choose a place I can book.

Business wise there are very few clients I can ask to take the risk of being turned away by a huge queue, and even fewer days when one can allocate sufficient time to queue before eating.

Personally I simply like to know with certainty that I'm going to get fed! Especially after reading reviews and getting excited in advance.

It can be quite fun to drink beer waiting in line on a balmy July evening, one just pretends to be a smoker ;-) but it's important to remember that this is Britain and winter. It's typically miserable even if the queue is short!

I'm not sure potential diners deciding not to book is more damaging than no-shows, especially when there are sensible steps that can be taken like the suggested £25 a head deposit and the two-hour window...

Anonymous said...

Damn, was so excited when I read this review....

No res utterly killed it for me though. Wont be going. They wont care, and the world will go on. Shame, because I reckon the demographic that is happy to line up for a long time, is generally a much lower spending demographic then those wanting to reserve.

Anonymous said...

Koya was also no reservations. Why all the complaints now the premises has changed to Hoppers?

Anonymous said...

Surely no res makes sense with the amount of no shows and cancellations these days. Just read about the clove clubs latest endeavours. An area like soho has an abundance of demand why would any restaurant at the casual end wish to risk holding tables for reservations who turn up late / don't show or cancel last minute.

Anonymous said...

Having been lucky enough to eat at Hoppers, Its well worth a 40 minute wait! Go with people and take it in turns to stand in the queue.,there's plenty of bars nearby to have a drink while you're waiting. Trust me you won't be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

Having been lucky enough to eat at Hoppers, Its well worth a 40 minute wait! Go with people and take it in turns to stand in the queue.,there's plenty of bars nearby to have a drink while you're waiting. Trust me you won't be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

No reservation, no problem, I always like the chat(pun intended)as I queue. The early bird catches the worm and all that. Some times its a good way to tell a good eatery. Did not have an amazing meal at Trishna,a mixture of amazing courses and not that good courses, no restaurant does good coffee. Trying Hoppers at the weekend, I only queued for ten mins. max at BAO on two occasions. Anyway the menu looks amazing at Hoppers so that's why you would queue, queues don't cost anything either. Before that its Streetfeast, YES!

Anonymous said...

I used to queue for good fish and chips on a Friday night. "I order line, ha, well, you form a queue" as Shaun Rider of the Happy Mondays quiet rightly said! Its British and proper, to form an orderly queue its a cool thing, that we Brit's do very well. Its good to see it back in vogue well done BAO and Hoppers! Don't forget @lucyrose this month!

Anonymous said...

You are not wrong with this one, 10 out of 10 for sure, Fish Kari, egg hopper was Amazing Mutton Rolls (proper mutton). Prawns stonkingly good, Heat just right! My ice cream hopper was how good? Fucking Good! that's how good. Black pepper needs to be used more, try Meera Sodha's ice cream recipe. Anyway the Black pepper Soda was a great thing. Thank you to the entertaining beggars as I queued up, weird and wonderful from all over the world, Bob the beggar was my favourite.BUY THE BIG ISSUE! Go join the queue like me and Thomasina from Wahacha did on Tuesday night, well worth it!

Anonymous said...

Hopper's is a good attempt to fuse Sri Lankan and Tamil Nadu cuisine. The Seeni Samba, pol sambola , kopi(coffee,) string hoppers and metre tea were spot on. Our hoppers were a bit over fermented but this might be detected by the seasoned hopper eater only. hot devilled cuttle fish was too hot, we thought. But some might like it that way. Fish kari and pumpkin kari was more Indian(north indian style) I felt with think curry paste and harder canned fish / pumpkin- Definitely not Sri Lankan curries. kiri hodi needs to improve. Buriyani was good. Watalappan and vermicelli ice cream were very good as well. Service is good. Queue wait for 3 people 40min. those who came in 2s got go before us, so go in 2s or one, bigger the group longer the wait it seemed.