Hoppers, the Sri Lankan street food restaurant group, first arrived in Soho in 2015 and has become one of the most important South Asian eateries in the capital over the last five years. Each of their outposts boasts a different theme from the region.
The aforementioned Soho branch is all about the backstreets of Sri Lanka, while the second, in Marylebone, champions the country’s tropical modernist movement of the mid-1900s. Both also offer a host of signature dishes such as the coconut-milk-based fish kari, the Ceylonese spit-roasted chicken and, of course, their famous hoppers (bowl-shaped pancakes made from fermented rice flour and coconut milk).
Hoppers Kings Cross, which arrives in February, will be a beach affair. The menu is influenced by the food found on the journey from Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city, to the historical Dutch town of Galle along the coast of the Laccadive Sea.
“We want to bring to life the flavours of coastal Sri Lanka through our food and drink, from beachside snacks to seafood grills,” Hoppers director Karan Gokani tells Food Spark.
“Seafood plays a big part in Sri Lankan and south Indian cuisine and has always been popular at Hoppers, so we’re very excited to try new fish, prawns and crab dishes in Kings Cross.”
Sri Lankan cuisine is becoming more and more popular in London, with Hoppers themselves launching a brunch menu late 2018 to further align with diner trends in the capital. We saw Paradise, a contemporary Colombo-channelling street food restaurant, join the Hoppers in Soho last November, while the growing Coconut Tree chain are blazing a trail around the rest of the UK.
But why have UK diners started to cotton on?
“It comes down to a combination of more people travelling to the island [Sunday Times voted it the number-one destination for 2020] as well as the ever-growing desire of Londoners to try different cuisines,” explains Gokani.
“A lot of people could probably now tell you what a hopper is, whereas in 2015 they didn’t have a clue!”
Hoppers will be using live crabs from Sri Lanka for the first time in their Kings Cross restaurant, with a new swimmer crab curry – one of Gokani’s favourite dishes to eat when visiting the island – the main beneficiary.
Colombo and back again
Along with the new crab curry, there are several other new dishes on the Hoppers Kings Cross menu, with Gokani expecting the string hoppers (hoppers pressed into noodle form) with mussel hodi (a coconut milk gravy/curry) to be among the most popular.
“We have cooked this dish a few times at special events and it’s always been hugely popular with guests, so we decided to give it a permanent place on our menu at Kings Cross,” says Gokani.
“Our sizzling beef poriyal is loosely inspired by a dish at Upalis, one of my favourite restaurants in Colombo, and we’re thrilled to have it on the menu.”
Gokani also expects the 42-hour roast goat shoulder kari, which needs to be pre-ordered, to be a hit, saying that it’s “the biggest ‘curry’ you will ever eat and the one to share with a group of hungry friends!”
Hoppers Kings Cross will also have a dedicated ‘beachside’ bar snack menu.
“These are grilled or fried snacks traditionally eaten alongside a chilled drink on the beach or while strolling down the streets of Sri Lanka,” explains Gokani.
“We will have tempered cowpeas (the locals call it ‘kadala thel dala’), which is boiled white cowpeas, stir-fried with chilli pieces, curry leaves and shallots.
“There’s also the black pepper curry leaf prawns – large shell-on prawns charred on a grill and tossed in a ginger, curry leaf and Sri Lankan black pepper sauce, something we tasted at a beachside shack down south.”
Also on the beachside snack menu will be kalupol chicken wings and ambulthiyal cutlets, the latter being inspired by a popular sour fish Sri Lankan curry.