SINCE 1995, when the first Bukhara opened on the corner of Church and Burg in the centre of Cape Town, the rest of the Indian offerings in the city, and indeed the country, have played catch-up to the standards it set of both quality cuisine, slick service and sophistication.
Admittedly, Bukhara also priced itself higher, but the food, when on song, justified this price. A little later, Bukhara was joined by a sister restaurant, Haiku, which again broke new ground by introducing Oriental dishes that were (then) quite rare, such as dim sum and, again, for setting a high benchmark in quality. It also billed itself as "Asian tapas" long before small-plate eating was hip.
Over the years, Bukhara has opened across the country but Haiku seems to have gone off most people’s radar as an excellent place to enjoy sushi, grills, wok dishes and dim sum.
The very recent opening of a second Haiku in the V&A Waterfront will no doubt refocus people’s attention on this name.
Interestingly, this second Haiku is a hybrid space — as it’s also another Bukhara.
What they have done is fuse the two brands by presenting a menu that offers items from both menus (in the case of Bukhara, in smaller portions) and the restaurants’ signature open kitchen stretches from a "Haiku" side continuously to a "Bukhara" side, while the seating is divided by attractive Asian screens in patterned wood and retains the elegant dark furnishings and low-hanging spot lights.
There is also seating on the balcony area for exterior views. It is less intimate a space than the grotto-like original, but it certainly suits lunchtime better.
Service is still of a high standard, our waitress explaining the concept and that the curries here were more often yoghurt-based rather than the cream-based ones at the "mother ship", an interesting twist that should suit the trend to more cautious dining. When we commented on our beef Thai Paneng (with chilli and coconut cream) not being very tender, the manager was quick to offer that another be made.
Our other dishes were more successful, with special mention of the mango ice cream — as my companion noted, a meal here without it would be considerably poorer. We tried the sushi in the form of the Rainbow Reloaded, with tempura prawns atop, which was good.
The steamed har gau (dim sum) of prawn was light and perfect in texture, if too salty, while the "prawn toasts" were an aromatic delight of seafood, garlic and chunks of ginger.
Our other main, besides the substandard beef, was the Peking duck, served with the trimmings of pancakes, shoots and sauce to roll with the duck, which was perfectly cooked, with super-crisp, snapping-thin skin.
The menu employs a rather arcane pricing system, where every plate is assigned stars, and the cost is R45 a star and R25 a half star. Dim sum is mostly one star a portion; sushi one to two; robata grills two to four (for Wagyu beef); and wok dishes one to four (the Peking duck is four).
FOR: Very good Asian plates.
AGAINST: Your bill mounts very quickly.
RATING: Three-and-a-half stars out of five
• JP Rossouw is editor of Rossouw’s Restaurants, the independent guide to dining in SA. All visits are made unannounced and are paid for.