Ryan Agar and Asher Spitz (ex-Cookie) opened their new bar, Mrs Hopper, in August. It occupies a bright and open space on Fitzroy Street in St Kilda, which they share with chef Sam Wedande’s Sri Lankan fine diner, Araliya.
A shelf filled with indoor plants separates the sit-down Araliya from the bar at the front (which, come summer, will open onto the street when the retractable front wall is pulled back). Araliya, which opened in 2014 and is the sibling of the 32-year-old original in Hawthorn, provides Mrs Hopper with food; the bar in turn takes care of Araliya’s cocktail needs.
Beers veer local with Wolf of the Willows pilsner and Stomping Ground pale ale on tap. But there are a few nods to the teardrop island, including Sri Lankan Lion Lager, served here in tall frosty longies for $15. Cocktail-wise, try the Sri Lankan Mule, with ginger beer, fresh lime and arrak, a South East Asian liquor.
Spitz intends to create 10 new cocktails each season. The current spring menu includes classic “sit in the sun and drink” drinks, such as a Lynchburg Lemonade and a Hemingway Daiquiri with rum and grapefruit juice. There’s also Spitz’s original mixes, including the Highball #1 with dry vermouth, house-made limoncello and lychee pulp. Or The Dylan (named for the film Predator, not Bob), with 12-year-old Dewar’s, De Kuyper Crème de Café, violet syrup and house-made chocolate bitters (ask Spitz for a stickybeak at his jars of DIYs).
You can more or less eat everything on the menu with your hands, including the hoppers, which are thin fermented-rice pancakes, similar to Indian dosa. But instead of wrapping it around fillings – as you do with pita and souvlaki – you usually fill it with something, such as Wedande’s slightly sweet pork belly stew. It’s like an edible bowl, and you just hope that everything stays in place when you pick it up.
“If there’s a pretty way to eat hoppers, we haven’t found it yet,” says Spitz.
You can also rip them into bits and use them as edible spoon-shovels – as you do with Ethiopian injera – to scoop up larger stews and curries. At Mrs Hopper these include barramundi with tamarind and pepper; red-lentil dahl with baby spinach; a sweet and juicy duck option; and a tender, not-too-spicy red beef curry. They come with three hopper options: plain, with an egg cooked in the centre or “string hopper”, which are thin rice noodles pressed into soft, stringy patty cakes.
Wedande, who is originally from central Sri Lanka, says hoppers used to be a breakfast staple in the country, but nowadays you see them all over the streets at every hour. “People are trying out different things,” he says. “It’s very popular.”
157 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
Mon to Thu 5pm–12pm
Fri & Sat 12pm–1am