When Anna and I decided that we were going to London for our 29th birthdays, I booked a table at The St. John first and foremost, then worried about flights and lodging. Yes, I have my priorities straight.
Once our plans firmed up the next step was consulting which restaurants to try. London ranks up there with New York, San Francisco, and Paris for having one of the most vibrant food scenes – whether its fine dining, casual, or bar service you can find nearly anything you want. I knew I wanted to make it to several Indian restaurants, but the restaurant that stuck out in my research was Hoppers, a Sri Lankan restaurant in SoHo. I didn’t know anything about Sri Lankan cuisine or what to expect outside at Hoppers, but the reviews I read basically all said the same thing: no reservations, you wait at a queue with fellow diners, and the food was an educational experience of sorts. Sounds like my type of place.
Anna and I arrived at Hoppers later in the evening after a day trip to Oxford and thankfully the queue was pretty short, only a 10 minute wait. Once inside we were seated and quickly went towards a cocktail our waitress recommended, the Arrack Attack, which is made out of Arrack, lime, bitters, and ginger beer. Basically, it was a Sri Lankan Moscow Mule – good thing we were on holiday as we both had several. Hoppers has a family-style menu, so the way to navigate is to order a couple of starters and split the mains. For us, we went straight-towards the hot buttered deviled shrimps that were exactly what one would expect by its description – spicy shrimps coated in butter so good that you want to lick the bowel. That would have been sufficient as a starter but because a diner next to us was having a food orgasm over the bone marrow varuval (bone marrow coated in a coconut sauce), we kindly asked our waiter if “we could have what she’s having” and joined the fun.
Our waiter recommended that we try the Pork Kari (a Sri Lankan dry pork curry) and the Chicken Kuttu Roti, which is a street food stir-fry of flat bread, chicken, and egg. The Pork Kari was savory with the right hot and sour notes, but the Kuttu Roti was a total knock-out and our favorite. I’ve been searching for a good recipe to make at home since having this at Hoppers’!
We ate at a lot of great restaurants in London and I still fondly reflect on our time at Hoppers’. Granted, I didn’t have any idea of what the food would be like, but the concept of no reservations and family-style dining has great appeal. Furthermore, Sri Lankan food is something I knew little about but now crave back in the States. Why diners should go to Hoppers’ is because its a world-class restaurant with reasonable prices – four courses and several rounds of drinks for two people cost roughly £65. When I return (yes, I’m already thinking about going back to London soon) I plan on fasting to try their Ceylonese Spit Chicken and Short Rib Buriani, provided that I’m not completely stuffed from Khuttu Roti or the Bone Marrow Varuval, which is a big if.