When Haiku’s sister brand Bukhara opened its doors in 1995, it was the first Indian restaurant to offer food from the northern region of the subcontinent, in such a stylish venue in South Africa. A little while later, Haiku came about and offered what was considered ‘exotic’ at the time: East Asian dim sum, robata, sushi, and wok dishes, served on small plates. It was Cape Town’s introduction to the tapas concept.
Haiku sits on the corner of Burg and Church streets, set in a dark, timeless, Manhattan-esque space (the décor has not changed since) and has been both intensely loved and loathed. Loved because of the consistency of great dim sum (bar one or two incidents), for its never-changing glamour (the smartly dressed doorman is still out front) and its quick and excellent service. Loathed for the dimly lit setting and tables that encroach on each other, the minimum spend per diner over dinner, and the music that used to get louder with each hour that passed.
For the 10 years that I have been eating at Haiku, I have found it to be an overall excellent experience. I don’t mind the two sittings – I’m happy enough with the fast service, and can be done with a huge meal in one and a half hours. The Thai chicken salad I loved for years has changed for the worse, and I think the dim sum wrappers on the steamed versions are a bit too thick – but the fillings have been consistently exciting. Chilli and coriander with the lamb and prawn fillings can’t be too authentic, but they are very Cape Town. The sizzling lamb and beef (and aubergine if you prefer a vegetarian option) offer a bit of theatre at the table – nice if you’d like to impress your friends. Make sure they are good ones though – you’ll leave smelling like food.
The offering is perfect for sharing, because the foods from the numerous kitchens arrive as it’s ready. I order a huge bundle up front, and choose desserts at the end if there’s space. The Peking duck with thin pancakes is a popular sharing option, as are all the dim sum.
The Waterfront branch offers the same concept, merged with Bukhara, and you can sit in either the stylish Haiku or Bukhara section and order off either menu. It’s more suited to lunch though, with outdoor seating in summer.