Deborah Ross

Restaurants | 9 June 2007

Haiku, 15 New Burlington Place, London W1

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This is about a mother who takes her son out for dinner for his 15th birthday. Normally the son would not agree to go out for dinner with his mother. Normally the son treats his mother as something of an embarrassment, as well as a middle-aged nag, drag and bore. The mother is perplexed by this. The mother knows that while her parents were middle-aged nags, drags and bores when she was a teenager, she is not, no way. The mother may even say, ‘How can you think of me as middle-aged nag, drag and bore when, just last week, for example, I stayed up one night until nearly half-past nine?’ She may or may not then add, ‘And it’s not true that I live in John Lewis. Sometimes I don’t go for a whole morning!’ The boy should wake up and smell the coffee, which has to be better than Lynx, the masculine fragrance so delightful it makes not just the mother gag, but also the father and the cat.

So, anyway, the mother gives the son his annual birthday treat, which is a shop in town, and involves ricocheting between Topman and Niketown and Carnaby Street and the Quicksilver shop while the mother trails behind but is tolerated for this thing she has which would be called style and pizzazz if it weren’t instead called a ‘credit card’. This year, the search is on for ‘skinny jeans’, which the mother thinks look rather gay — are you? I won’t mind. We can watch The Wizard of Oz together — as well as hideously uncomfortable. So skin-tight, from top to bottom, like sausage casings. The mother could not be doing with skinny jeans, as she likes air to circulate. The mother prefers ‘Fatty Jeans’ for herself, although this doesn’t mean she isn’t hip. She is. True, the mother does read the Lakeland Catalogue in bed, and sometimes the Robert Dyas one, but how would she know what was new in colanders if she didn’t?

Anyway, after the shopping trip it is off to dinner at a place the mother has booked called ‘Haiku’. The mother accepts that she doesn’t know much because as she is always told, ‘Mum, what do you know?’, but she does know that Haiku is a mode of Japanese poetry with each poem traditionally consisting of three lines and the syllable pattern 5,7,5. The following is a Haiku:

‘Oh, son of fifteen

In the skinny jeans, how goes

Your circulation?’

God, this mother is good, thinks the mother, but not the son, who says, ‘Leave it out, Mum.’ Now, Haiku, the restaurant, is in New Burlington Place which turns out to be a small alleyway opposite Hamleys, that magical place where the mark-up on Lego always makes the mother want to faint. The mother isn’t convinced by the alleyway — all concrete — or the restaurant’s location — directly opposite a building site. The mother and son meet the father at the restaurant but not the cat, which can take all day to come round from the Lynx Experience. The mother and the son and the father enter the restaurant which is huge and on three levels and is all marble and stone and dark wood and low-lit. The mother and the father and the son are the first diners of the evening and so all the waiting staff line up and smile as they make their way to the table. The mother feels about as comfortable as she does when she arrives at a holiday destination and finds a native dance has been laid on. The mother smiles politely while inside she is pleading, ‘Please. Please don’t. I beg you.’

The mother and the father and the son are seated at a table in the window overlooking the building site and men in hard hats. They are given menus and when the mother sees the menu she wants to cry because it lists 150 dishes and, as you know, the mother hates choice. The mother has yet to buy anything from the Lakeland Catalogue but when she recently noted that they’ve have introduced checked jam-jar tops as well as the striped ones, the thought of the indecision she would have suffer if she did make her own jam and then had to order jam-jar tops was almost too much to bear.

The waitress explains to the mother that this is ‘Asian tapas’, that there are four types of cuisine — Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Thai — coming from four separate kitchens and that it’s probably best to order three or four dishes each. The mother thinks she gets it and the father thinks he gets it but the son probably doesn’t get it because he is too busy texting under the table. The mother asks, ‘Who are you texting under the table?’ The son says, ‘No one.’ The mother is minded to ask the waitress if there is a special menu for bored adolescents out with their parents and, if so, could we see it, please?

There is sushi and tandoori and sashimi and robata and dim sum and curry and noodles and wok dishes. No wonder the mother wants to weep. Finally, though, the mother and the father and the son sift through the 150 dishes and order: octopus nigri; prawn and asparagus spring rolls; soft-shell crab tempura; chicken kali mirch; black pepper sizzling beef; salt and pepper calamari; Japanese garlic rice and a good bottle of Wilunga shiraz, which the waiter opens with a great deal of ceremony and which the mother finds amusing, as the bottle has a screw top. Still, what is a wine waiter to do in this new age of the screw top?

The mother thinks this scattergun approach to different Asian cuisines should not work, but has to accept that maybe it does. The mother would particularly like to single out the black pepper beef, which sizzled and sizzled and was undeniably black peppery, as well as the soft-shell crab tempura: light and wafery on the outside, meltingly soft within. The mother would also like to say that the chicken kali mirch was lovely, spicy, and unctuous but she considered the calamari much, much too chewy. The mother thinks it must take a great deal of skill and dexterity to produce food like this. The mother would like to add that each dish, on average, costs between £6 and £10, which does not sound a lot, but the portions are small and the dishes mount up, so expect to pay £30 to £40 a head, which is not cheap.

As it happens, the mother would have liked to stay for pudding, as she is fond of pudding, and had her eye on the cardamom and saffron kulfi, but in the end the family do not because the boy who has been texting ‘no one’ now has plans to go out. The boy says no, the mother can’t come, so the mother says, ‘What? Not even if I promise not to talk about what’s new in colanders, unless the conversation really stalls?’ Honestly, she thinks, this boy doesn’t know he’s born. Or, as they say in Haiku:

‘Oh, son of fifteen

Not even if I wear my

Bestest fatty jeans?’

Haiku, 15 New Burlington Place, London W1. Tel: 020 7494 4777.