The Fairmont Heliopolis recently opened its second restaurant, Haiku, which serves authentic Japanese food with a slight twist; and the result is simply sumptuous.
The menu, littered with ingredients that conjure images of Japan, is adorned with willowy cherry blossom trees and Harajuku girls; calligraphy and serene scenery.
Just as Japan today is a fantastic destination, blending hyper modernity with age-old traditions, Japanese cuisine too is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. For that reason, the most number of Michelin stars has recently been awarded to Japanese restaurants, not French.
At Haiku, the cuisine lists appetizers, soups, deep fried dishes, sushi and maki, main dishes, rice and noodles. Dining as part of a trio, we decided to eat like the Japanese: ordering multiple plates to share. For appetizers, with the guidance of the serving staff, we selected chilled bean curd with leek, ginger and dried bonito flakes; salmon spring roll, a sashimi salad and fried tofu.
The sashimi salad was a mélange of salmon, red plums, salmon roe with a light wafu dressing. Tasty and fresh on the palette, it was interesting in my opinion though not favored by one of my dining companions. The salmon spring roll fused prawns, mango, lettuce, and salmon roe in a spicy sesame sauce. These are not your typical deep fried spring rolls, but an interesting reinterpretation of standard Asian menu items that one gets duped into believing are authentic. It was delicious, and I was quite happy to see such a mix of fruits in the appetizers.
Tofu is not to everyone’s liking, it is an acquired taste; but chilled and properly flavored, I would suggest it for those willing to try new things.
The sushi debate is forever ongoing amongst Cairo’s residents: Where to get the best eel sashimi? Who makes the best maki rolls? I am often divided in my answers because there isn’t much consistency of quality or flavor in the establishments around town. But at Haiku, both the freshness of ingredients, the presentation, and the flavors outdoes the rest.
Haiku’s head Chef Hideto Setomoto, who hails from Japan, not only leads in the kitchen, but emphasizes to patrons that dining at Haiku is a relaxed affair. The menu states that he’d be “pleased to prepare any dish not on the menu, and is also open to suggestions of variations in one dish – very few chefs would allow for such interference in their own restaurants.
This relaxed attitude is fundamental to one’s experience. We asked for sushi and our waiter told us the chef would prepare a little surprise. Leaving it up to him, a traditional caterpillar maki roll of cream, salmon and avocado deep fried goodness came served with beetroot sauce. A maki roll of smoked beef and rice, also with a tasty sauce, was presented.
For traditionalists who dismiss fried fusion sushi, this was quite a surprise. The meat sushi was a first for me; and although tasty, it could not compare to the caterpillar roll. The beetroot was a perfect compliment.
On to the main dishes, we ordered the lobster thermidor (grilled lobster, spicy cream sauce, lemon and steamed rice), the beef sukiyaki (simmered sliced beef, vegetables, soft boiled egg and steamed rice) and the foie gras mille-feuille of beef, sliced goose liver on top, baked apple, teriyaki truffle sauce with steamed rice.
Each dish came beautifully presented, and as we unanimously agreed, absolutely tasty.
The spiciness of the lobster thermidor was tempered by the cream sauce which was neither heavy nor excessive. The beef sukiyaki had my second dining partner, who rarely eats red meat, quite happy, and I was in heaven.
I’ve sampled foie gras with beef before, but at Haiku, the beef was as soft as the foie gras, dissolving easily and blending beautifully. What I most enjoyed was that the sauce perfectly complemented both the beef and foie gras.
Although a truffle sauce, the teriyaki flavors brought everything together so well. It was a perfect combination of French ingredients and Asian flavors. I thought Chef Setomoto deserved a Michelin star for this one dish alone. And it did come as a mille feuille, layered on top of each other delicately with aubergines and apple slices as a base.
We shared garlic prawns and, upon the waiter’s insistence, tried some noodles. Vegetable udon noodles came to our table and everything was simply delicious.
Although we were quite satiated, dessert is a light last course at Haiku. The dessert menu is limited, but I would suggest sampling the green tea ice cream that is surprisingly creamy and sweet. Served with what appears to be beans flavored with honey, it was a good end to our meal.
That is, until the chef prepared us a plate with small samples of all desserts on offer. So we also ate tofu cheese cake – much lighter than its American cousin and just as tasty – and mango pudding.
Haiku’s prices are as expensive as all hotel restaurants, but finding food, service and ambience so perfectly combined is a rarity. Haiku is well on its way to becoming the best Japanese restaurant in town.
HaikuFairmont HeliopolisOrouba St., Cairo Tel: 2267 7730/40