The sure-footed Sethi siblings have done it again - in fact, this might just be my favourite so far.
Hoppers brings Sri Lankan street food to Soho, serving a mix and match menu of snacks, curries, mains and desserts on the site of the much-missed Koya on Frith Street. The tiny venue has been unfussily kitted out with exposed wood and brickwork, casual groups of framed movie prints and carved masks, and a mixture of table and bar-style seating which helps create a relaxed but buzzy atmosphere.
The menu is varied, with a glossary of terms to help you identify the options and knowledgeable staff happy to guide your choices. The biggest problem is what to leave out; the food is affordable and filling, and so good that you keep picking for the sheer pleasure of it long after you are full (or is that just me?).
Hoppers, like all the hot places in London at the moment, has a no-reservations policy; this means that you are going to get seated more quickly if you need a table for two than if you are in a larger group. The good news is that they have now introduced a wait system where you turn up, leave your name and mobile number and get put on the waiting list. You can then pootle off and wait in seated comfort in one of the many bars nearby (we whiled away the time over a pisco sour in Chotto Matte over the road, but feel free to differ) and track your progress on a site link they text to you. You also get a text when your table is available, and ten minutes to get back before they give it to the next in line - a perfect compromise.
Once you're in, staff will explain the menu if you're a newbie. For me, the don't-miss items from the short eats are the mutton rolls and the hot butter devilled shrimps; for a mere £4.50 you get two sizeable mutton rolls per portion, like chunkier spring rolls, and they are packed with full-flavoured spiced mutton, so maybe share with a friend to save room. The devilled shrimps can vary in size but are tender and in a wonderfully more-ish sauce. Mop this up with a podi dosa, a spiced, folded lentil pancake - and get a set of three fresh sambols or chutneys (£1.25 a set), just because you can.
Next, the eponymous hopper - a bowl-shaped pancake made from fermented rice and coconut milk that is thin, delicate and wafer-crisp at the top, and softer, almost spongy at the base - particularly if you opt for the version with a lightly-cooked egg in it, which I heartily recommend that you do. Match this with one or two of the karis (or curries), one of which just has to be the black pork; for me this is probably their stand-out dish, with complex, balanced flavours and just the right amount of bite. It really is ridiculously good.
From the larger dishes, I have only tried the spit chicken and, guess what? It was fabulous - like everything on the menu, singularly fresh and full of flavour. I am ashamed to say that I haven't yet made it to the dessert stage as I just can't resist the rest of the menu, but apparently they are also good.
To drink, I would probably stick with the Sri Lankan lager; the wine comes in half bottles and is the only thing I have had here that I thought was less than fabulous - although to be fair, I'm not a big fan of wine with this kind of spice - but they will bring you some to taste if you're not sure. The Hoppers lemongrass-infused G&T is recommended, and I also want to try the black pepper cream soda at some point. . . oh dear, looks like I'll just have to go back. . .
Yours, seriously converted to Sri Lankan street eats,