Hoppers, Again (London)

While in London last August, I ate a few very good South Asian meals. My lunch at Trishna was excellent and while I thought Dishoom was a bit overrated for what it is, it was quite good too. But the only place I ate at that I knew I was going to come back to for sure with the missus this spring was Hoppers (see here for my review of that first meal). This despite the fact that they don’t take reservations and have an ultra-kitschy interior. Indeed, the only thing I hadn’t liked about my first meal was that as I was dining alone I wasn’t able to try very much. Well, on this occasion we overate; but we were very happy indeed.

For a description of the general aesthetic of the place, please see my earlier review. Despite the no reservations policy, I didn’t have to wait very long last August and we didn’t have to wait very long on this occasion either (1.30 pm on a weekday is obviously a good time to go). The last time I was at the bar, shoulder to shoulder with other customers. We were perched on stools this time as well but we were by ourselves at the window counter in the front: nice and bright and a good vantage over the rest of the place between dishes.

What did we eat?

  • Calamari Fry, Chemmeen Podi: Battered and crisply fried calamari rings served with an aioli involving shrimp (chemeen) paste. I can’t say we got much of a sense of the shrimp in the aioli but this was very good. As finger food with a lot of beer in the evening it would have been even better.
  • Hot Butter Devilled Shrimps: Also very good, if not quite as transcendentally so as some reviews might lead you to expect.
  • Bonemarrow Varuval, Roti: This, on the other hand, was bloody good again. This was the one dish I repeated from my meal last August, both because I wanted the missus to taste it and because I wanted to eat it again. On that occasion I remarked that I wasn’t sure that bone marrow was the best protein for this dish but I think that might have been because it’s a bit much for one person to eat it all. On this occasion we almost came to blows as I tried to sneak more than my fair share. The curry itself might be the best we had in London over the course of our three months of excessive eating: hearty, properly spiced, just perfect, and served with an excellent paratha (they call it roti, but whatever).
  • Drumstick Sambhar: Also hearty, properly spiced and exactly as it should be. I worry that most people who eat there don’t know to rake the drumsticks with their teeth; I certainly hope the servers tell them to do it.
  • Fish Kari: We should have stopped with the varuval as the non-veg curry but we couldn’t keep ourselves from trying their fish curry as well and I am glad to report that this was excellent as well.
  • Pilau Rice: We got this and an extra paratha/roti to eat the curries with.
  • Green Mango Ice Tea: This was a special and the missus couldn’t resist it. She liked it but not after she saw the price on the bill (£5).

Pictures follow. Scroll down for thoughts on price/value etc.

Service was once again friendly and able. They do a really good job of managing the waitlist and keeping everything moving without rushing anyone. And the food is very fairly priced too for the most part. Other than the £5 green mango ice tea, my only complaint is that the fish kari doesn’t come with rice, which effectively means it’s a £10.5 dish (the varuval at least comes with a roti). Still, subtracting the ice tea, despite overeating we just about cracked £20/head, which is really rather good.

Of the Indian/South Asian restaurants I/we ate at during our extended London sojourn, Gunpowder is the closest to Hoppers. That said, the restaurants are not exactly in the same genre: they’re both casual, yes, but Gunpowder is more ambitious. That’s not a knock on Hoppers though: they set out to serve hearty, almost rustic food and do it very, very well. There was nothing I ate at Gunpowder that I would take over the bone marrow varuval at Hoppers. Indeed, as much as I liked Gunpowder, especially given the greater ease of getting to and getting into Hoppers (at least if you don’t live or work in Shoreditch), I would probably pick Hoppers more often if I lived in London. And I’ll be back again whenever my next visit to London will be. If you live in London and somehow haven’t been, or if you’re going to be visiting soon, I recommend it highly.

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