An Insider Guide to Sri Lanka with Hoppers’ Restaurant Director Karan Gokani

An Insider Guide to Sri Lanka with Hoppers’ Restaurant Director Karan Gokani

Inspired by the home cooking and roadside stalls of Sri
Lanka and southern India, Hoppers is the place to go for Sri Lankan
cuisine in London.
The group’s director, Karan Gokani, is the only guide you’ll want
for the inside track on where to eat, drink and stay in his home
country. Here, he shares his tips with us.

Travelling around Sri
, you can’t help but notice the locals’ love of food – be
it “short eats” from street-food stalls in bustling
, the Dutch Burgher-influenced banana leaf lamprais or a
spectacular home-cooked feast (if you’re lucky enough to be invited
to one). For a relatively small island, the cuisine is extremely
diverse: head to the north and you’ll find coconut-heavy dishes in
Jaffna resembling those found in southern India. There’s a
particular fondness for odiyal kool, a thick seafood stew
generously loaded with prawns, crab, cuttlefish and thickened with
odiyal (palmyrah root flour). In the south you’ll find a rich haul
of seafood and an emphasis on strong flavours likes the ambul
thiyal, a fish dish typically made with tuna and cured with goraka
for tartness.

During my most recent trip, I was researching both the cooking
and architecture of the south-west, along the much-travelled route
that stretches from Colombo down to the old colonial town of Galle,
for our new restaurant in King’s Cross. Our first stop was Colombo.
I love spending time in the capital – most travellers pass through
quickly on their way to other parts of the island, but scratch the
surface and you’ll find that the city has much to offer. I head to
Galle Face Green when I’m in need of some fresh air. It looks out
over the sea and is the perfect spot for some local street food,
especially acharu (spicy fruit pickles) and isso vade (prawn and
lentil fritters) followed by a chilled Lion beer at the nearby
Galle Face Hotel while watching the sun

At night I head over to Upali’s for dinner followed by cocktails at Baillie
Street Merchants and a nightcap with friends at Ward7, Jetwing Colombo Seven hotel’s rooftop bar. It’s a
great place to witness the city winding down.

Our next stop was Bentota, home to some of Sri
Lanka’s best beaches
but also some of its most beautiful
architecture. At Hoppers, we’ve long been inspired by the work of
visionary architect Geoffrey Bawa, who created a new modernist
language for architecture in Sri Lanka. He designed many buildings
in Bentota, including the railway station which resembles a little
village veranda. The windows, which are decidedly modern, were made
to capture the shape and form of the windows of 1960s railway
carriages. The station and veranda have heavily influenced the
design of our island bar at the new restaurant.

Our final stop was the old town of Galle, taking in the sights
of the colonial Galle Fort before heading to the market for some
fresh fish. Sri Lankan seafood is second to none: we’ve developed a
crab kari and some barbecue black-pepper curry-leaf prawns for our
new menu inspired by what we ate by the beach down south.

Finally, we spent a night doing a Hoppers takeover of the Coat
of Arms Bar at Jetwing Lighthouse hotel. It’s one of my
favourite properties on the island and is a big inspiration behind
the wall and ceiling finishes of our dining room at King’s


To Stay

Mount Lavinia Hotel:

Slightly outside the bustle of Colombo, but the only hotel with
a private beach and it has a colonial feel like none other. Stop by
The Seafood Cove for the best hot-butter cuttlefish washed down
with a chilled Lion beer. I proposed to my now wife here five years

To Eat

Upali’s House:

Upali’s is probably the most authentic Sri Lankan restaurant you
can find in Colombo. Most locals prefer cooking at home to eating
out, so when a place is this packed with locals you know it’s good.
The spicy mutton varuval is my favourite dish, followed closely by
the black-prawn curry.

The Dutch Burgher Union:

I never miss a chance to eat lamprais or the black-pork curry
for lunch at The Dutch Burgher Union. Be sure to book ahead as they
run out very quickly.

To Drink

Galle Face Hotel:

The Galle Face is a heritage hotel on the charming Galle Face
Green. Sit on the veranda with a cocktail for a stunning view of
the sunset.

Baillie Street Merchants: Baillie Street
Merchants is on par with any great bar in London or New
, and the service is exceptional. A late-night drink and
snack here is a must.

Ward 7: For one of the best bird’s-eye
views of Colombo, head over to Ward7 at the Jetwing Colombo Seven


To Stay

Bentota Beach Hotel: A great,
architectural pit stop designed by Bawa in the Sixties, en-route to
dipping your toes in arguably one of the best beaches on the

To Eat

The Paradise Road Villa Café: Another
beautiful Bawa-designed property. I always stop off for the
incredibly fresh lemongrass salmon or black-pork curry with

To Drink

Lunuganga Estate: Once Bawa’s own country
estate, make like the master architect himself and sip on
gin-and-tonic sundowners on the terrace overlooking the lake.

To See

Bentota Railway Station: We’ve modelled our bar
at Hoppers King’s Cross after this beautiful little station
designed by Bawa.


To Stay

Jetwing Lighthouse
One of the most iconic hotels on
the island, this is my top choice unless I’m travelling with a
large group and decide to rent a private villa by the sea further
down south. The Coat of Arms bar is decorated with amazing
18th-century batiks, and inspired the features and design of our
new restaurant’s dining room.

To Eat

Tamarind Hill: Time seems to stand still at
this stunning boutique hotel in Galle and the rice and curry served
at lunchtime is arguably the best you will eat down south.

To Drink

Closenberg Hotel: One of the oldest
properties in Galle, this family-run hotel is located on a hilltop
overlooking the ocean. Head to the Luna Terrace and watch the sun
set with an arrack sour while taking in the best view of the south

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