Sri Lankan restaurant Hop & Spice
53 Bedford Hill, Balham
London SW12 9EZ
Hop & Spice
Inside Hop & Spice
Hop & Spice introduces the tapas concept to Sri Lankan cuisine (which is not dissimilar to South Indian). The idea there is that you choose about 3 small dishes from their menu, and construct the rest of your meal by choosing bread, rice, etc. Or you can just take one (larger) main course which comes with basmati rice, bread, popadoms, chutney and a yoghurt raita already included. We opted for the latter (but now suspect it wasn’t the best choice).
As main courses we chose kandian scallops (medium) described as king scallops poached in a delicately spiced sauce (£16.85) ; and kerala coriander chicken (mild) described as off the bone, simmered in spices and finished with coconut cream and fresh coriander (£11.55) . We took two different types of bread: paratha – delicious rich bread made with ghee, and chapati – healthy wholemeal unleavened bread (these were inclusive, but if you were to choose from the tapas menu would be £1.45 each).
We followed the menu suggestion and took Lion beer 4.8% Sri Lanka light and refreshing, brewed in Sri Lanka since the colonial days (£3.20), and Singha beer 33cl 6% Thailand a full bodied barley malt with a rounded long finish, made for spice (£3.30).
As desserts we tried wattilappam (pronounced vuchillupum) – described as our twist on this wonderful Sri Lankan pudding; a custard made with palm sugar, coconut and mango, topped with caramelised cashew nuts (£4.95), and banana tiramisu – a tropical twist on this amazing italian pudding; fresh banana cream layered with sponge, espresso and tia maria (£4.45).
A small remark about the seating in this restaurant – the chairs have varying heights. Mine, for example, was too low whilst my companion’s was normal height. I noticed that other tables also had a mix of chair types. Though I’d prefer not too, I can live with the low seats – but it needs to be uniform (i.e. it doesn’t feel right when your companion is sitting at a different height, and degrades the dining experience a bit). With that remark out of the way, on to the food!
Overview of the two meals
Kerala coriander chicken
The meal started with little bowls of vegetable soup. The soup was quite tasty, but I didn’t like the metal bowls it was served in. These were too hot to hold, and the bowl too small to tidily drink the soup with the serving (not soup) spoon provided.
The kerala coriander chicken was good, but after comparing it to the kandian scallops, it seemed a little bland. Still, a quite decent meal. The chicken was tender. I did not care much for the yoghurt and the chutney coming with it. More sauce to go with the rice would have been welcome.
The kandian scallops was an expensive dish for any sort of curry restaurant. Scallops aren’t exactly cheap – but the portions here aren’t exactly large either and £16.85 is a lot to pay for this type of cuisine. Fortunately, the dish was very good. It was nicely creamy and the scallops themselves were very nicely cooked. I wouldn’t give much for the paratha bread though, which was somewhat greasy and the rice which was rather dry. That last complaint takes on some significance in consideration of the small size of the dish overall (seemed a bit less than half of what you’d ‘normally’ get in a curry house), as there wasn’t enough sauce to flavour & moisten more than about 1/3 of the rice. And forget about dipping the bread in the sauce (unless you’re then prepared to eat your dry rice dry ;)). My suggestion with this dish would absolutely to take it as part of a tapas selection – and if you’re taking rice, make sure you get several dishes that all have some sauce (unless, of course, you like dry rice).
The banana tiramisu was surprisingly good. On first sight, I was worried as it was covered in a chocolate sauce (I hate most chocolate sauces, as they’re usually horribly sweet). I worried needlessly though, as the sauce was not over-sweet and not overpowering either. The tiramisu was nice and fresh, and I believe flavoured with real bananas. The tia maria was detectable, but also a gentle flavour that didn’t overpower the rest. A nice surprise
Details of the Wattilappam dessert
The Wattilappam was surprising. I ordered it because I had no idea what it could be. It was ok but in very small doses because it is quite sweet. Its main flavour is mango but also cashew nuts. I liked the cashew nuts more than the custard. Fortunately it was not that big as it appears on the photos. Its plate is raised, so actually you get a thin layer of it and shallow bowl.
Cost and conclusion: it was £48.73 with the “optional service charge of 10%” automatically added. One again, I am against these “optional service’ charges automatically included. It should be up to the clients to decide if the service was worth a tip and then how much. Here, the service was friendly but not that efficient since we got our main courses before our drinks arrived. Not a big deal. Overall I would say the food is quite decent but on the expensive side compared to some other Asian restaurants. I prefer the Thai restaurant Banana Leaf in Clapham even if it is more canteen like.