I am becoming increasingly conscious about how much this blog has become a source to vent my frustrations. Nature was never really my thing, turning towards ramen was a slow effort and chicken never really did hit my sweet spot. However, as with my spice rant, I promise I do manage to snatch a positive out of the jaws of a negative in the end.
…Anyway! Here we go.
To be honest, I have never had much to do with Sri Lankan food. I blindly popped it into the same basket as Indian food and left it to sit with very little care or attention. This may seem foolish, given London restaurants supposedly shine when it comes to this kind of cuisine. But at the end of the day, the fiery curries and spice-laden sauces simply don’t really do it for me. As far as I see it, one mouthful and I can kiss my tastebuds goodbye for the next couple of hours.
And then I started hearing about Hoppers. Hoppers, Hoppers, Hoppers. It flooded my Instagram feed and popped up in every second foodie chat I found myself involved in. By the end of it all, I was really quite sick of the place, despite not ever having actually been there to try the food. It is likely that my lack of enthusiasm towards cuisine originating from this part of the world played a large part in this…and the fact I am not a fan of patiently queuing. For anything.
So when The Influencer and I were deciding where to spend girls night one recent Friday evening, I surprised even myself by suggesting we try Hoppers. I mean, there had to be a great deal of validity backing all that hype. Surely. We sidled down after work, meeting out the front at around 6:15PM. Whilst I was pleased to discover we could indeed leave our names on a list and pop off elsewhere…I was certainly less excited by the prospect of a two hour wait!
BUT we had come this far, so wait we did. In any case, who in their right mind would complain about being given a fantastic excuse to hop between bar stools and enjoy a couple of wines on a Friday, only to be rewarded with a delicious feed? Nobody, that’s who. And in Hoppers’ defence, their web-based waiting list system was incredibly efficient – we were updated in real time on our position in the queue and sent a text as soon as a space became available.
All in all, the wait did amount to around two hours. However, I did appreciate honesty in the estimate – which is more than I can say for Dishoom in Covent Garden, whom I felt purposefully overshot the mark in terms of wait time approximations in order to actively demonstrate just how busy they were. Which, by the way, doesn’t really work if you tell me an hour and a half…and my table is good to go within 10 minutes. [Plus they make you queue. Boo. I won’t be making that mistake twice].
Tables are rather cosy in the intimate dining space, but we never once felt as though we were encroaching on our dining neighbours or battling with conversation. We quickly got to work on drinks, which I definitely needed on hand to curb the spice. The Influencer went for a Lion Lager (£4.50) and I opted for wine. In this instance, you get two options: red or white / 125mL (£5) or 375mL (£14). Schmart. No one lingers over a full bottle here!
Having read about the hot butter devilled shrimps (£6.50), these were first to hit the table. Both of us agreed that these were sadly our least favourite dish of the day. The kitchen was more generous with the condiment than they were with the prawn, but it did’t really matter as the heavily spiced sauce eliminated any trace of their delicate flavour. NEXT.
Luckily, the bone marrow varuval (£6) was an absolute knock out and more than made up for the shrimp. Three sawn-off cuts of roasted bone came bathed in a fragrant coconut-based curry sauce. Spooning glistening hunks of buttery marrow onto roughly torn, flaky pieces of roti was complete heaven…and the sauce was so addictively good, we ordered extra roti (£1.50) to mop up every last dreg, even once the centrepiece of the dish was long gone.
As with our date at Bao, The Influencer
kindly patiently gave me a one-time-only free pass to order something a little left field. On this occasion, I went for the duck heart chukka (£5). I tend to like my heart seasoned and simply grilled…but I must say, this was one of the best preparations of the organ I have ever had the pleasure of stuffing into my offal-loving face. Tender halves of heart arrived dry-fried in an aromatic mix of spices, onion and cherry tomatoes. Superb.
We couldn’t come to this place and not order one of their namesake crepe-like bowls! Deviating slightly from the standard menu, we both happily jumped on the seasonal offering of wild garlic egg hopper with garlic sambol (£8). To soften the blow of our other fiery choices, we ordered this with a side of yoghurt (£1.50).
With a crispy sheet of fermented rice and coconut batter up top and a fluffy base centred on a soft-middled yolk below, my first taste of this Sri Lankan street food was a good one and we happily scooped up the sambol and remaining sauces. The underlying savour of wild garlic was subtle but welcome.
Our final dish of the evening was the quail 65 (£7.50). Another favourite, this arrived as crispy bone-in batons of perfectly seasoned, wonderfully spiced goodness. We picked every last morsel of meat off those tiny little bones and silently wished we had the stomach space for more.
I am quite pleased I put my differences with Hoppers aside and braved those inevitable Friday night London crowds. Did I like it? Yes. Would I queue for it? No. Would I happily wait in a wine bar around the corner for two hours once more? Absolutely.
Next time I am going back for that Ceylonese spit chicken.