There are two inevitabilities of an ultra-hip restaurant opening in Central London; one, there will be a no reservations policy, and two, people will queue. In fact, scrap that, a third given; reviewers will voice their resistance to queuing but conclude, in the end, that the wait was worth it.
Now, we have no truck with waiting in line to be fed. At Barrafina, the excuse to inhale Pedro Ximenez and olives while you anticipate a stool means you start your meal lubed and in the mood. At Kiln, we’ve developed a ritual of getting our name down on the waiting-list early and sneaking off for a pre-starter Bao (ridiculous, we know).
But at the original Hoppers on Frith Street, the queue is a different, snaking beast altogether, and one we haven’t mastered. Tired of our heart sinking in time with ‘it’s going to be another 3 hours’, the news of a second outpost opening in St. Christopher’s Place – one which took bookings – filled that same ticker with joy. We got in there quick and the Wait was worth it.
Hoppers comes from London’s masters of haute-Asian cuisine, the Sethi family, and their JKS restaurants . The list of places under their stewardship reads like your Instagram Explore highlights reel; there’s Bao, Gymkhana, Lyles, Trishna, Bubbledogs and Kitchen Table, Xu, Sabor (shortly to open) and of course, Hoppers. That is some role call; success and good taste is basically guaranteed.
Hoppers St. Christopher’s continues the rich run of form so popular at Frith Street and doesn’t mess with the formula; Sri Lankan curries, dosas, the hopper itself (a kind of pancake) and more – all of exotic, heady, just-off-centre spicing and playful delivery. This is our first foray into Sri Lankan and Tamil cuisine, and yes, it’s love at first bite.
St. Christopher’s Place is the perfect destination for a day of splurging punctuated by a special lunch, with food and shopping options abound and Oxford Street just around the corner. Bond Street is the nearest tube and Hoppers is nestled in just beyond, on Wigmore Street.
You’re hoping for a smell of aromats to strike you on arrival – anything less and the build up of anticipation falls flat – and thankfully Hoppers doesn’t disappoint. They’ve got the old transportative magic of smell covered; even the toilets hum of lemongrass and some sunnier clime than London in late October.
What also hits you is a wall of noise; chatter, cheer, chef’s shouting, cutlery clanging – anything beginning with a c, then. It’s rammed to the rafters and there is food everywhere. Tables are crowded with little copper pots of vibrant coloured dips, new dishes to the party call for a game of tetris to fit them in, and the expansive nature of the dosas seemingly pokes fun at the general lack of elbow room. They seem a little stretched – teething problems, sure – but the buzz is undeniable.
The meal kicks off with banana chips, heavy on the cumin, pleasant enough but completely superfluous when the real show starts. A round of starters arrives, and arrives some more, and just keeps coming. There’s a look of fear in a companion’s eyes. For me, pure glee.
With a table thronging with colour and intrigue, brimming bowls and treats, no one knows where to start. The famed and fabled Bonemarrow Varuval is just out of reach, and since gratifaction has already been delayed for this long, I go for what’s nearest; devilled chiporones (spicy squid). I don’t let them out of my sight until I’m back on Oxford Street. They are basically everything you (I, everyone) ask for in a dish; great texture, crisp, delicately but assertively spiced, the right level of familiar and new. Just amazing. The fear that everything else will be a let down now looms, but the varuval is as good as people say it is; rich as hell with animal fat and coconut, super heady and best mopped up with an exquisite roti. Hard to live up to such a good one-two entrance, but the other starters hold their own; mutton rolls seem pedestrian in appearance but pack a fine punch.
We could’ve quite happily settled the bill here and left satiated, but there’s another round and we haven’t even had the namesake yet. So, onto prawn, chicken and aubergine curries, the aforementioned dosa and hopper and a veritable array of sambols and chutneys. This is generous cooking, make no mistake. Loosening our belt just prior, we’re sure to crack into the egg hopper as quickly as possible – only a fool would let residual heat cook the yolk. It runs everywhere, with an abandon I now can’t muster for fullness, and immediately makes acquaintance with a pungent kol sambol – there’s fermented shrimp in there; never a bad thing – and it’s an excellent match. This is a worthy, convivial main event, tearing and scooping and discussing the dips. The curries, though tasty, actually seem somewhat of an afterthought. I’m sure I detect marmite in the chicken rendition, but my taste buds and appetite have now been beaten into submission, so I should probably be ignored.
The drinks list has some quirky looking Sri Lankan cocktails which you’re encouraged to start with. The Toddy Tapper, with both mezcal and tequila, certainly puts the hairs on your chest. Following that, a crisp, no nonsense wine list of no more than 8 each, ranging from £28 to high 60s. We opt for the Portuguese, both in white and red. It fits the food impeccably. The current trend for beer only being available in 330ml cans continues here.
In a restaurant named after one of its dishes, and with another offering which appears on London must-try lists with regularity, it might seem flippant to name one of the more innocuous plates as the best of a fine bunch. But, a visit to Hoppers without trying the chiporones is a visit wasted. They are that good. A holy trinity of hopper, varuval and the aforementioned squid would be a superb meal in itself, even before the accompanying dips brighten up the table and pique the palate’s curiosity.
The volume of the queue at Hoppers Frith Street was, for a while, in danger of drowning out the praise surrounding the food inside. St. Christopher’s and its ‘make a booking’ button place the quality of the food back in the London vernacular, as the main talking point, where it well and truly belongs.