Hoppers St Christopher’s Place: Dream food, but menu nightmare

Do you know your hopper from your dosa; your kothu from you kari, or your chutney from your sambol? What’s the correct number of all/any of these dishes to order? And should you combine these with some ‘short eats’ or maybe a ‘rice and roast?’ By now, readers have probably got the story: Hoppers has one of the least comprehensible and potentially most unwelcoming menus in London. That said, once you do eventually get to the food, it’s pretty damn good. The venue does to Sri Lankan food what Bao did for Taiwanese or Xu to modern Chinese. It is the same team behind all these ventures and indeed this outpost of Hoppers is the second from the group, a location where diners can pre-book (unlike the Soho original). My comrade and I ventured there on a recent weekday lunchtime to check out this relatively recent opening. The building (formerly a forgettable Middle Eastern restaurant) is light and airy, simple on décor but with a slight homage to the colonial. Service was friendly, but as alluded to earlier, the menu was our main issue. No suggestion of how to mix and match was offered on arrival and nor are there any descriptions on the menu. It’s not a big ask, but for the majority of diners (or at least first-timers), how could I be expected to know what ‘string hoppers’ or a ‘pol sambol’ might possibly be? We got some explanations eventually, but still were not entirely sure/ reassured that we had ordered either the right dishes or the right number of dishes. Put another way, diners have to place a lot of trust in the hands of the serving staff. We were, at least, not disappointed. First to arrive was said string hoppers: rice noodles served with a spice-heavy turmeric-coloured sauce and topped with a pungent spice mix (the sambol). It looked and tasted excellent. Similar plaudits for our other dishes, with the standout being our banana-leaf roasted bream with green mango and madras onion sambol. Presentation was first-class (check the picture on my Instagram), the fish prepared perfectly (off the bone and tender) with a lovely lime/spice tang. Curiously though the dish featured in the ‘rice and roast’ section despite there being no evidence of the former. Throughout, pricing was reasonable and the bill (with one glass of wine each and coffees after) came to around £35/head). In summary: do go here, but allow sufficient time to ponder the menu and plan. When the food comes, it’s well worth it.