Humble appam poised for greatness in London, with dusting of Gymkhana magic

The family behind some of London’s most successful restaurants in recent years hope to popularise appams and dosas when they open Hoppers in October. — File pic
The family behind some of London’s most successful restaurants in recent years hope to popularise appams and dosas when they open Hoppers in October. — File pic

LONDON, July 3 — The family behind Trishna, Gymkhana, Bubbledogs, and other London restaurants that are among the most successful of recent years — including Taiwanese street food standout Bao — plans to open an establishment inspired by the Tamil roadside shacks of southern India and Sri Lanka.

Called Hoppers, it will occupy the site on Frith Street in Soho that was formerly home to Koya, a Japanese udon noodle shop. It’s scheduled to open in October, says Karam Sethi, who owns JKS restaurants with his brother, Jyotin, and sister, Sunaina.

The menu will centre on the hopper, a bowl-shaped pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk, and dosas, which are crepes made from fermented batter of ground rice and lentil. The dishes are popular in Tamil Nadu state and Sri Lanka. (Hoppers are also known as appam.)

“We’re been working on this for two or three years,” Sethi tells us. “I’ve always had the idea of doing something more casual, and this fitted because we’ve seen the popularity of the duck dosa at Gymkhana. It’s probably the most-ordered dish. So I already know that the dosa is familiar to Londoners.”

Gymkhana was named UK National Restaurant of the Year 2014 within months of opening. It placed fourth for 2015. The Sethi family also backs Lyle’s, a modern British restaurant that came sixth. Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs placed 31st in the Top 100. At the Sethis’ newest eatery, bun café Bao, the main challenge has been managing the queues that form outside.

“We think that the level of spicing and the style of the food and the ingredients in our Indian restaurants work,” Sethi says. “We want to replicate that toward the casual end and the higher end, across the whole spectrum of Indian dining.” He declines to discuss other projects and says he is focused on Hoppers.

The menu will begin with snacks such as roti — flatbreads with fillings such as braised Tamil spiced braised oxtail. The hoppers and dosas will be served with a choice of sauces, known as karis, that may include pig-cheek, goat, and guinea fowl. They will be served on a brass platter with three coconut chutneys.

The idea is that people order a couple of snacks and a dosa or hopper, or else one snack and both larger dishes. The current plan is to charge £3 (RM18) for each and then from £2.50 to £6.50 for the fillings. The snacks, known as short eats, are likely to cost from £2 pounds to £5.

The menu will include two rice-and-roast dishes, such as a buffalo-shank biryani and a Tamil spit chicken. Cocktails will focus on genever and arrack. Ginger beer and buttermilk chaas will be made in-house. Sri Lankan Lion beer will be served.

Group Executive Chef Rohit Ghai will lead the food operations. The design, by Katy Manolescue of Article Design Studio, will refer to the hopper and dosa shacks (also known as boutiques) of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. Artist Mustashrik has created a character design and logo inspired by Tamil folklore.

Sethi says the siblings formed JKS Restaurants this month to coordinate their projects. Karam is responsible for food, concepts, and new talent; Sunaina curates the wine lists and looks after operations; and Jyotin is managing director.

“The ambition of JKS Restaurants is to play an integral part in the growth and multicultural diversity of the London food industry,” he says. — Bloomberg