Dazed And Confused | Hoppers, 49 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SG
We’re OBVIOUSLY not comparing ourselves in the slightest, but we totally get why Fay Maschler visits a restaurant at least twice before she reviews. Our visit to Hoppers a couple of weeks ago, felt like seeing a very complicated film that we need to go back and watch again to work out what the hell happened.
It didn’t help that it wasn’t just the two of us, we combined our visit with a catch up with a PR friend, not that she did anything wrong but we were a little distracted. The food here is Sri Lanken ‘family style’, having never visited Sri Lanka, I didn’t really know what this was. Ade once went many moons ago when press trips were a common perk in the magazine world, all he remembers is that the curries were 90% rice and 10% stupidly HOT sauce.
Hoppers operates a no reservations policy. No reservations brings on all kinds of stress and anxiety for us and for our friend. I got there just after they opened their doors to the evening crowd and asked to put our names down for a table.
They use a system called Qudini where you can see where you are in a virtual queue and they text when your table’s ready. It says on the website that the app reduces customer walkouts by 20%. Better than nothing but we’d still rather just be able to book a table without all this aggro. We headed to the lovely nearby Tuscanic on Old Compton Street where free snacks were given with our wine and we could hear ourselves think. If only there were more places like this.
Our PR buddy raised the whole no reservations malarkey with the owner as we were outside browsing the menu on the wall. And almost as is if we had planned it, a lady came up and ranted to him about exactly the same thing, confirming our problem. Apparently, the benefit of no bookings is it helps keep the prices down (the food at Hoppers is very good value), especially considering that some of the other restaurants in the group are Trishna and the we-still-haven’t-been-yet, Gymkhana. They are also involved in the likes of Bubbledogs, say no more.
Anyway, enough of the moaning. It was hard to be angry when the owner was being so calm, patient, helpful and polite (probably through gritted teeth.) We had a table, that was the main thing. Decor was a little Dishoom-esque, they even had the exact same clock on the wall. Seating is mostly communal but this just adds to the cosy, if somewhat cramped, atmosphere.
Because we’re nice people, we had decided what we were going to order before we had even sat down, in an effort to get out as soon as we could, enabling someone else to have our table. Not that we should be worrying about other people who probably couldn’t give a monkeys about us.
Oops, I’m still moaning.
So I was flustered and overwhelmed, I just went with whatever the other two thought we should have, thank the Lord for the glossary on the menu. Food’s divided up into ‘short eats’, ‘sides’, ‘hoppers & dosas’, ‘karis’ and ‘rice, roast & kothu’. Just ask a waiter and they’ll advise you and give their recommendations on how much you need and what everything is.
My Columbo 7 & Tonic (£8.50) just tasted like a regular G&T, shame, as I was drawn to the cinnamon and cardamom tonic aspect of it. Ade and our PR friend had a Tapper’s Tipple (£8.50) with a strip of what they thought was masking tape dusted with sugar across the glass. We asked. It wasn’t masking tape (obviously, duh!) it was rice paper with dried coconut – even the waitress advised them not to eat it.
It felt like all the food appeared at once, we did order a lot and it was hard to keep up and enjoy everything as it was all such a heady blur. It wouldn’t be right, or fair, to go over everything we ate for this very reason. Chicken Heart Chukka (£4.50) was good though, I remember that.
I wasn’t convinced on the must-order Bonemarrow Varuval with Roti (£5.50), too much fiddling around (with provided implements) for little reward, the sauce was good though. In case you didn’t know (we didn’t), hoppers are pancakes formed in to a bowl shape, made from fermented rice and coconut milk batter. They reminded us a little of the Injera that we had at the Etreian Blue Nile cafe in Woolwich.
The Podi Dosa (£3.50) had a slight sour aftertaste but were perfect for scooping up all the left over sauces (dosas are crisp flat pancakes made with fermented rice and black lentils). Gourd and Cashew Kari (£5) offered a lighter, less spicy flavour, I really enjoyed this one. Kari means curry by the way and talking of which, the Black Pork Kari (£5.50) was my favourite (I think). We opted out of having the signature sharing dish of Ceylonese Spit Chicken (£19) but eyed up everyone else’s with envy and regret.
The little Goat Roti (£6.50) ‘sandwiches’ were delicious, especially dunked in the dip, although it was a mission to achieve a successful dunk without the contents all falling out.
There appeared to be no desserts on offer. I don’t have a massive sweet tooth but you can guarantee if something is taken away from me in that way, then I will want it like I’ve never wanted anything in my life.
Ade and I came out feeling happy, tired and a little baffled, it was a little bit of a speed eating blur. There was so much going on, an onslaught of flavours, textures and colours. We think it was good, a little short and sketchy in parts. We must do it again at our own pace, preferably on a (hopefully) quieter lunch time (if they exist).
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday:
12pm – 2.30pm. 5.30 – 10.30pm
No Reservations. They do use Qudini though (leave your details and they’ll get in touch when your table is ready. Please note, they can only seat complete parties).
Nearest station: Leicester Square (5 mins walk)
or Tottenham Court Road (6 mins walk)
We paid for our meal at Hoppers, this does not affect our review in any way. We always write with complete honesty.