Haiku restaurant in the Cape Town city center has been one of my favourites ever since it opened more than four years ago.  It is a sister restaurant to Bukhara, one of Cape Town’s leading Indian restaurants.  I have never written a review about it.

Being named as the Eat Out Best New Restaurant 6 months after it opened (a once-off award category of Eat Out) made the restaurant the in-place for Capetonians, and this led to an extreme degree of arrogance from the staff.  One could not book a table for the same day, let alone just arrive without a booking.

The initial success led the Haiku owner Sabi Sabhawal to open a Haiku in London, but the project failed dismally, due to poor location in an alley off a high street, exorbitant renovation and staff costs, and high menu prices, which resulted in the closure of the restaurant.  It proved to be a blessing in disguise for the restaurant, in that its best staff, but also its most arrogant, was sent to London, and most did not return to Cape Town.

For the past few months Haiku has become friendlier and more flexible.  There is no longer drama with cheeky waiters.   The canopy on the outside of the restaurant now proudly carries the Haiku branding.  But now its pricing has become excessive!

A visit back to a busy and buzzy Haiku last week, unbooked and latish at 22h15,  was a shock, because the menu has changed radically.  Haiku is unique in charging its dishes in stars, rather than in Rand, and prescribes that for dinner one has to eat for 4 stars each.   Each star used to cost R42, i.e. a total cost of R168 per head, and the price had not been increased for a good year.   Now the cost per star has been reduced to R40, and while this may seem that the price has reduced, it is misleading, as many dishes have been re-priced, a new half star pricing for menu items having been introduced.  A 3-course meal previously costing 4 stars, consisting of a starter (1 star), a main course (2 stars) and a dessert (1 star), now has increased to a 6-star cost, at R240 for the same meal items, a 43 % increase!   In addition, the plain rice, which was a free staple served with the main course dishes, now costs 1/2 a star.   The waiter David explained that the recosting was done because patrons “abused” the star allocation on the menu previously, choosing dishes which were better value, and which were meant to act as “loss leaders”.

Dave started at Haiku when it opened, and is the only “surviving” waiter.  He is gentle and nice, and informative.  I ask him what changes he has seen over the four year history of Haiku.   He says that while the restaurants patrons no longer are Cape Town’s trendsetters, they now are tourists, production company representatives, Johannesburgers and loyal international visitors.   He does not mention Capetonians.

The price increases of the dishes are not the only change on the Haiku menu.  The previous list of 260 menu items has been reduced to 200.    The look of the menu, and its headings is so different, that one has to get used to finding one’s favourite dishes.   The menu is divided into sections: Dim Sum, costing 1 – 1,5 stars, with a choice of spring rolls, fried wontons, dumplings and steamed rice rolls; Tempura, costing between 1,5 – 2 stars, with a selection of prawn avocado (still as delicious as ever), salmon, soft shell crab, mixed vegetables, and beef; the Sushi section cost ranges from 1 – 4 stars, and contains 38 options, including sashimi, maki, nigiri, California rolls, sandwiches, handrolls and more;  The Grills section dishes cost 1 – 3,5 stars, for Robata, Teriyaki, Tepanyaki, beef fillet and lamb chops;  Salads cost 1,5 stars; Soups 1 star; Noodle dishes cost 2 stars; Rice dishes range from 1/2 – 2 stars; Hot Pots 2 – 3 stars for mixed seafood and beef; ‘Sizzling’ dishes include beef, lamb, chicken and ostrich, and cost 2,5 stars; sixty Wok dishes are offered, ranging from 1,5 – SQ for the crayfish.  The entry level duck costs 3 stars, and the Duck Orange is still the favourite on the menu, as good as ever, with no reduction in portion size; Desserts now costs 1,5 stars, for coconut ice cream, mango ice cream, lychees and ice cream, chocolate spring roil, a trio of Asian desserts, a banana crepe, and chocolate mousse.

The menu is introduced with the following paragraph: “Dear guest, food at Haiku is served as tapas, each dish when ready, to be shared and enjoyed.  10 % service charge for 4 or more persons. A minimum charge is 4 stars per person for dinners only”.   The menu and the winelist are not available to be seen on the Haiku website, a privacy policy of the restaurant!

The Haiku winelist, in mock alligator cover, is branded Bukhara, and is extensive with about 130 wines, confusingly offering a first list of better value for money wines in bottles and by the glass, and then it continues by offering wines by variety, two pages for red wines and one page for white wines.    The value-for-money white wine list ranges from R 105 per bottle/R35 per glass for a Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc to R245 per bottle/R82 per glass for a Constantia Uitsig Reserve Semillon; the red wines range from R135 per bottle/R45 per glass for Jordan Chameleon to R445 per bottle/R148 per glass for Rupert & Rothschild Baron Edmond.    Each variety is described succinctly, but no wine vintages are specified.   Sparkling wines cost R190 for Pongracz and R900 for Moet et Chandon; champagnes range from R212 for Graham Beck to R900 for Krug Vintage.  The classification of the Moet and the Graham Beck is interesting, each appearing to be in the wrong section.   The Overgaauw Chardonnay costs R138, the Hamilton Russell R405; Thelema Sauvignon Blanc costs R150, and the Fleur du Cap Unfiltered R220; a Simonsig Gewuerztraminer costs R124, the Platter White Wine of the Year, the Sadie Family Palladius, costs R790; Le Bonheur’s Cabernet Sauvignon costs R208, and that of Rustenburg Peter Barlow R620;   Vergenoegd’s Merlot costs R200, Durbanville Hill’s Luiperdsberg costs R425;  Grootte Post’s Pinot Noir costs R248, and Bouchard Finlayson’s Pinot Noir Tete Cuv R1 050; The Guardian Peak shiraz costs R133, the De Trafford R627 – Dave checks the vintages of the shirazes, and a Cloof 2003 is available – the other shirazes are 2007; a KWV Roodeberg costs R176, the Vergelegen V costs R1 400.

Haiku restaurant, Bree Street, tel 021 424-7000.  Dinner bookings taken for 19h00 and 21h00.  The website can only be accessed via www.bukhara.com, and is outdated, still featuring a page for the ex-London branch!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com