Hurrah, some of you will cry: a Hoppers for grown-ups. This time, the fashionable Sri-Lankan-slash-south-Indian spot has moved out of sexy Soho, into mature Marylebone. Key difference? You can book. Sort of. It’s all yours if you’re a foursome, but if you’ve just got the one friend, then you can only hold a table for lunch. Dinner? Walk-in. (The queue is ‘virtual’: they’ll buzz your phone.)
So I turn up on a Tuesday night at 6.45pm. The wait, we’re told, is up to 90 minutes. Is there a bar? Yes. Right. Down we go, to drink exotic, brain-freeze-inducing cocktails. This is where the group tables are: it’s more party party. But in just 30 minutes, two seats at the small ground-floor counter come up. No theatre here, just a simple, four-seat affair with a lone bartender polishing glasses. Did we care? Hell no. We were IN.
Surveying the menu, I clocked most of the original’s calling cards. Yet the bone marrow varuval is sweeter and, bizarrely, wetter than when it was first launched. Instead, it was the Jaffna beef rib fry that stole my heart, perhaps because it’s everything that the varuval used to be. A fiery, intense, ‘dry’ curry, booming with flavour. Equally va-va-voom was a glorious hash of spiced baby squid with tomatoes, curry leaves and spring onions.
But the more ‘fusiony’ dishes didn’t fly. Don’t bother with the corn on the cob, with its overbearing spicing, or the ‘love cake ice cream sandwich’, with its miserable lack of cake (you’re better off gatecrashing a Sri Lankan wedding instead).
Still, this is a smart, airy option for a distinctly civilised set. As we left, we spied ‘queen of curries’ Madhur Jaffrey at a table in the corner. If that’s not grown-up, I don’t know what is.