You’ll know Hoppers if you’re a bit of a Soho foodie type: it’s the one that takes inspo from the roadside stalls of Sri Lanka and South India, serving karis, hoppers, dosas, rice and roasts.
The micro-chain’s latest opening – there’s another in Marylebone too – is in Pancras Square, near Maple & Kings and Kimchee. In fact, it’s just by the canal on Goods Way, with a terrace that lets you peer across the water to Granary Square. And it’s part of the new building that houses shiny new music venue Lafayette, a streetfood hall and influential NYC arrival, Sushi on Jones.
It was so busy on our visit that, beyond the framed glass lanterns, indoor plants, and packed booths, it was hard to make out much more detail – but there’s a centrepiece iron-clad concrete island bar, terracotta floors and walls decorated with traditional hand-loom fabric panels.
The menu travels the coastal journey from Colombo, the island’s capital, down to the historical Dutch town of Galle. It might initially appear mind-boggling for those unfamiliar with Sri Lankan cuisine, but a useful glossary helps educate as well as feed.
Service is super helpful and the only difficulty with the small tables was that they quickly became crammed with dishes, which come out from the kitchen as and when. But here, for Hoppers virgins, are five things you simply must try.
Bone Marrow Varuval
Ultra rich, in a thick, spicy varuval curry sauce, this wibbly-wobbly not-for-the-faint-hearted carnivorous treat makes an impactful starter, and is “one of the most popular dishes”, says the knowledgeable waitress. Our only suggestion is a pile of rotis rather than just the one to mop it up. They’re awfully moreish.
Jaffna Isso Vade
These spaceship-shaped half-dozen lentil, prawn, chilli and curry leaf fritters are fairly substantial, with a vivid coriander sauce and cured chillis to nibble on to up the thwack of heat.
In case you’re not sure, a hopper is simply a bowl-shaped pancake made from fermented rice and coconut milk: here you can have it plain or, as we did, with a gooey golden-soft egg in the middle. Order a side of dhal to dunk it into, as well as an assortment of chutneys: our coconut, coriander and tomato ones were all lipsmackingly delish.
Our meal highlight, these are simply essential for meat-eaters. A half-rack of four chops cooked in the style of Jaffna, the capital city of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka, are blackened from the grill, swooningly melt-in-the-mouth within, while a small bowl of radishes cuts through the richness.
Swimmer Crab Kari
We asked founder Karan Gokani how the karis – the Tamil term for curry – are so flavourful. “We always ‘build up’ our curries by frying off the harder whole spices (like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves) in coconut oil or rapeseed oil first,” he says, “then sauteing the aromatics like ginger, garlic, shallots, curry leaves and pandan leaves. Next we brown the proteins, followed by adding spice powders, tomatoes or acidic ingredients. Thin coconut milk is then added, and the curry is simmered for a while, before finishing with thick coconut milk.” Now you know: and within this heady sauce sits a critter whose meat must be extracted by a medicinal style mallet. It’s a suitably authentic end to a meal that feels something like a true culinary adventure.
Gasholder ate as guests of Hoppers. For more on our food reviews policy see here