Hoppers: 49 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SG
Food: Sri Lankan and South Indian
So it seemed like fate when my eldest had a Sushi making class booked around the corner. I checked the website to try and book a table only to find that you couldn’t make reservations. So after Sushi class had been completed (and she’d eaten half of what she had made) we set off to find Hoppers. After doing a massive loop in the cold drizzle (why oh why can maps not give straightforward directions) we found it.
First impressions, we were surprised to see people milling around outside the restaurant (must admit I thought they were smokers but that was not the case). There is a sign on the door that asks you to wait outside and tell you that someone will be out to check you in. Luckily for us within minutes someone came out to take our name and telephone number and to tell us there was a 30 minute wait. Ordinarily if a place has a waiting area you’d wait, check out the menu and have a drink – no such luck at Hoppers. With the option of waiting outside in the cold being quickly discounted we went for a walk around Soho. If I’m being honest you’d have to be a BIG fan to wait around outside in the winter months, I can see how people would just give up and go somewhere else. Finding a great eat place in Soho is not difficult.
30 Minutes later we got our table (not really a table as such, but a small bench by the window). The restaurant is fairly small with a maximum of 36 covers. It actually felt smaller than this (a little claustrophobic if you are sitting by the bar area – which is also the main walkway to the loo and kitchen) however by the window we felt warm and cosy. The wood panelled room was adorned with pictures of old Ceylon and modern Sri Lanka. The patterned floor tiles, colourful table tiles and warm lighting all add to the feeling of warmth.
The menu is fairly simple and if you’re a vegetarian it is even less complicated. For starters we ordered the Idli Sāmbhar Podi – which is basically a lentil sauce with a steamed rice cake. This was delicious and super tasty. The downside being that it was very spicy so my daughter was unable to eat any – more for me.
For mains we decided on a Hopper (a bowl shaped fermented rice and coconut milk pancake) and a Dosa (a thin crispy pancake made with fermented lentil and rice batter).
My daughter had the Egg Hopper, as I knew it would not be spicy and she would be able to eat it (although next time I need to tell them not to put so much pepper on it! This did not impress her). You can have this with or without an egg. We also ordered the trio of chutneys to go with this. Sadly all sauces were too spicy for her but they were all very tasty. I am no Hopper expert but talking to those in the know the one we got was good. The egg was cooked perfectly with a softish yolk and batter was crispy. My daughter said she would totally order this again minus the pepper.
I ordered a Dosa, as this is one of my all time favourite foods to eat. A Dosa on its own is not a meal (it’s a thin crispy pancake with no filling) so I added the potato fry from the sides, which the chef made into a traditional Dosa for me. I also ordered the accompanying chutneys, as a Dosa without chutneys is just wrong.
Finally we ordered the Okra and Plantain Kari, which is a saucy curry, and this was seriously delicious. The only downside was the level of spice – it was way too hot for my daughter however I persisted and managed to finish about half – with lots of water to accompany it.
All in all the food was seasoned beautifully. The spices used were delicious. The Hopper and Dosa yummy however the chilli levels were way too hot for our taste buds.
The drinks menu is very limited. There is a choice of 1 white wine, 1 red wine (not sold by the bottle, you can have 125ml or a 375ml carafe) and 2 types of beer. There is a list of 8-9 cocktails and then a similar list for non-alcoholic cocktails. It wasn’t an issue but worth knowing.
The service was good. The staff were knowledgeable and knew their stuff. The service is quick so if you are thinking relaxed long meal then think again – within minutes of ordering our food was out. With 36 covers they want you in and out, perfect for a quick bite.
Value for money is great. For all the food I talk about plus a glass of coconut water and a glass of wine our bill came to approximately £51. For what we ate I felt this was very reasonable.
We went Saturday lunchtime and as expected the restaurant was super busy. The atmosphere was relaxed and informal. There was a general buzz of people and despite the restaurant being full the staff were attentive and quick. The cutlery and napkins are placed in a jar on your table and you take these on a ‘self serve’ basis, the water and wine were all served in little glasses. All these little touches make you feel like you are sitting in someones house grabbing a quick bite to eat. Both my daughter and I enjoyed this chilled out relaxed vibe.
WHAT COULD BE IMPROVED?
I have to admit I’m not a massive fan of restaurants that don’t take reservations (I’m bit of an organisational freak!), however it is obviously a strategy that works for these guys. My views are that if you are going to operate this type of system it would be great to have a waiting area.
Being a massive lover of Dosa’s and having had some amazing ones in the past – I felt that this was not their speciality. If this is what you are after there are better places to go. For those living south wander towards Wembley and for those up near Cambridgeshire go to Leicester. For those wanting a good quality Hopper this place is a must.
Finally, I really think that the ‘chilli’ levels were too hot. I eat spices regularly and even for me it was way too hot. You all know my views on chillies it should not be painful and should always be an option.
That being said ‘would I go back?’ – yes but not with my girls as it’s all too spicy, although I think my hubby would appreciate the food and the spiciness. All in all I would say it is definitely worth a visit and whilst you’re waiting (if you are) then maybe check out a nearby bar and take the pain away from waiting outside.