Just as the British spent the better part of the nineteenth century hungrily colonizing, the team behind Gymkhana is steadily establishing its own outposts in central London. After delighting our taste buds at Trishna, Bubbledogs and Bao, Karam, Jyotin and Sunaina Sethi have set their sights on Ceylon with their newest output: Hoppers.
This Frith Street spot has interiors like a dining car on the Darjeeling Limited. Woven rattan ceilings, a polished brass bar, and inky wood paneling will transport you back to that hazy gap year, minus the pot and lady boys. But you can still reinvent yourself away from those who know you play competitive badminton; this is not Instagram-friendly lighting, and the space is subdued, inviting.
To those easily overwhelmed by decoding lengthy menus, rest easy. You need little more than two hands to tally up the menu items, and there is a handy glossary of terms on the back if you’re one of the few unfamiliar with Sri Lankan cuisine. For shame.
If you’re dashing in for lunch and short on time, then the ‘Short Eats’ are the way to go. The Bone Marrow Varuval flits silkily across the tongue, shuttled in on a buttery roti that’s as flaky as any good Parisian croissant. The sauce begins mellow and sweet, slowly building to a deep heat. While the marrow itself is sparse, the sauce is abundant, so have your waiter bring an extra roti or two.
For a lighter option, the String Hoppers, the restaurant’s namesake, are fermented rice noodle pancakes accompanied by mild coconut milk gravy and pol sambol (a mix of shredded coconut, onion and chili powder). The Idli, a crumbly savory breakfast cake, is foreign in both flavor and texture to a Western palate, though the delicate fried herbs add a wonderful crackle. The sauce, a lentil sambhar, and the black mustard seeds adorning the tops of the idli are best mopped up with a crisp, lacy Podi Dosa.
By this point, you’re sure to be all hot and bothered, and not just because of the insistently attentive wait staff. To remedy the situation, reach for a glass of the Curry Leaf Buttermilk. It is thin and gently salted, with a subtle, refreshing tang. Looking for something a little…stronger? The Lion Sri Lankan Lager is bright enough to stand up to the powerful flavors and has a bit of lemongrass bite.
Ignore the Red Pumpkin Kari and save yourself for the Buffalo Buriani. Touched for the very first time, this buriani will leave you satisfied and ravenous for more. And really, what other virginal experience can achieve a feat so lofty? The dish is rich and substantial enough to stand on its own. It’s a hands-on experience, allowing you to combine its components as you wish – fried rice studded with tender chunks of buffalo meat with a boiled duck egg kari, a bright yogurt and an almost ambrosial eggplant pickle called Brinjal Moju.
While you really needn’t order anything else, it would be a shame to end the meal without a little something sweet. The Milk Hopper with Jaggery and Durian Ice Cream is a tangy kaleidoscope of flavours that makes use of one of the world’s most controversial fruits. The Sweet Dilmah Tea is Sri Lanka’s answer to the Pumpkin Spice Latte, with no Uggs required, and as excellent a companion to any of the desserts as it is on its own.
A meal at Hoppers is an intimate and seductive experience. Although you can certainly scoop up Sri Lankan cuisine if you’re willing to trek out to Tooting, you’re unlikely to find anywhere in London that is as carefully considered as 49 Frith Street.
Monday – Saturday, 12:00 – 2:30, 5:30 – 10:30.
Come early or late to avoid the longest queues.
£15–20 / person