Haiku has had a fair bit of press from critics over recent months with mixed reviews, but despite the moans of an uninspiring location, too much choice on the menu and a raised eyebrow or two at the prices, no-one’s really gone all out and moaned about the food. Why? Well, probably because it’s wonderfully good, probably because each mouthful was better than the last and definitely because despite the varied and admittedly enormous menu, the dishes are beautifully crafted with a serious amount of care given to the flavours that characterise each area of this pan-Asian selection.
Dishes embrace Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese cuisines, so you’re definitely spoilt for choice, and the menu boasts over 200 dishes, with Haiku recommendations thankfully defined in bold. Now, as 200 makes for a large menu it’s quite obviously not the kind of place to try for a quick bite before you dash off to an important engagement, but if you have a bit of time on your hands and are quite happy to spend the bulk of your evening enjoying a meal out, then Haiku is a great place to start. If you’re fazed by the number of dishes, the staff will talk you through the menu and recommend some of the dishes they love themselves.
It could have been a disappointing pan-Asian affair where the flavours of each dish just blur into one, but it was not. Our pickles (chilli cabbage, cucumber with garlic, bean shoot and carrot with sesame and chilli) were delicately constructed and full of subtle flavour, whilst our starters of yellowtail sashimi and salmon tuna mori were seriously good. The yellowtail was savoury and soft and the salmon tuna mori tasted fresh, plump and succulent with a fiery hit of spices and chilli. On the recommendation of our waitress, we chose some duck char sui bao (duck steamed buns) to bulk up our starters, which were dainty, light and left me fairly sure that I could eat more of the same for breakfast, lunch and many, many future dinners. For this dinner in question, we continued our gastro adventure with sizzling black pepper beef, which was mouth-wateringly savoury and suitably pepper-spiced, and a fiery chilli beef dish that caught your tongue with a cheeky hot slap.
We accompanied all of this with very civilised sips of some highly drinkable warm sake, full of watermelon tones. The sake list is impressive here and the cocktail list is also fantastic featuring the likes of Pink Blossom (gin, litchi, berries, and pomegranate), and Spicy Samuri (sake, chilli and apple). It was then onto dessert, which you pleasantly find you have room for. The great thing about Haiku is the method by which you consume your menu choices. Rather than arriving at your table in one large hit, the dishes at Haiku are brought along gradually, interspersed with well-timed intervals so you enjoy every mouthful, rather than stuffing everything down your gullet as if your life depended on it. Consequently, the dessert list probably does a roaring trade here, as you find that you do have room for an entire set of banana crepes, in a light cinnamon batter, and there’s no need to share the beautifully subtle flavours of green tea, brown tea and sesame ice-cream.
If I had to moan, it would be about the lack of light. Atmospheric lighting can be good, effective – even mood inspiring, and none of those are bad things. It just becomes an issue when you can’t see beyond your table and a trip to the toilet ends up being a lost-in-the-dark-smack-into-the-wall kind of affair. When the waitress has to guide you away from the bar till, and usher you to the loo, one of two things are going on: either you’ve had too much to drink, or there’s so little light guiding you towards the respite of the lavatory that you end up crashing into something and wondering whether that black hole concept you learnt about at school has taken force on planet earth. But enough of the lighting, what of the prices? Well, it is pricey - though that’s mainly due to the tapas style servings and the staff recommendation that you try two starters along with a main meal and dessert. But if you follow your stomach as a guide, you probably won’t begrudge an expensive meal when everything that arrives on your plate is a complete and utter pleasure to eat.
Haiku: 15 New Burlington Place, London, W1
Reviewed by: Helenka Bednar