The hospitality industry took a massive blow in 2020, with many restaurants closing or rapidly adapting to the times by providing curbside pickup and delivery options. However, these adjustments inspired one restauranteur to create a Private Restaurant Experience (P.R.E.) in attempt to fill the desire for fine dining during these unprecedented times.
Jess Varughese, an entrepreneur whose world travels informed his palate, decided to open Haiku, a Japanese Kaiseki-inspired concept with an exclusive year-long preview in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District, in January 2021. After months of research and travel to Japan, Varughese and Albert Diaz, formally of Zuma London and Zuma Miami, established a clear vision for Haiku.
The attention to detail, precision in technique, focus on the ingredient and, most importantly, the restraint shown by Japanese chefs is a true inspiration.
Taking inspiration from the traditional culinary experience and making it their own, the duo will utilize the finest ingredients, artistic presentation and meticulous execution to craft this new luxury restaurant. Considered by many to be the world’s finest meal, Kaiseki is traditionally a multi-course, beautifully presented tasting menu, and the chef decides the order of the courses. Kaiseki chefs consider it to be the embodiment of “Omotenashi,” which means wholehearted hospitality—something we’ve all been craving recently.
“The inspiration for Haiku comes from a deep respect that both Chef and I have for the various elements that make the Japanese culture and cuisine so very special. We have traveled to Japan, worked, shopped and cooked with amazing chefs there and enjoyed some incredible cuisine,” Varughese said. “The attention to detail, precision in technique, focus on the ingredient and, most importantly, the restraint shown by Japanese chefs is a true inspiration. We aim to build a global brand that respects and showcases these attributes.”
The new luxury restaurant will offer a safe, bespoke and elegant experience for members, limited to 40 like-minded individuals. Members can host private dinners for up to 16 guests and partake in one-of-a-kind events with guest chefs and sommeliers from around the world. Varughese explained that safety is the new extravagance, and change is the only constant, claiming that this new model allows them to add jobs, uplift the local economy and give back to the community in a particularly difficult time for the industry.
Varughese explained that safety is the new extravagance, and change is the only constant, claiming that this new model allows them to add jobs, uplift the local economy and give back to the community in a particularly difficult time for the industry.
Additionally, Haiku and its full staff will only open to one party each evening, which eases safety concerns while also ensuring a spectacular experience.
“As the pandemic took hold, we spoke to our future guests and also our friends in the culinary press. Two common themes emerged: first, that food lovers desperately missed the experience of an amazing meal in a beautiful setting, the ritual nature of it, and second, the ability to socialize with their close friends and family in a safe way,” Varughese said.
Running with the concept of choosing to fly private rather than commercial, Varughese created something truly unique. Each P.R.E. event will feature a 10-12 course Omakase menu with wine, champagne and sake pairings. Membership is contingent on paying an initiation fee and making a commitment to five reservations at Haiku during the 12-month period.
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The menus will change seasonally and at the Chefs and Sommeliers’ discretion, but members can also confer with Haiku’s exclusive concierge for special requests, additional wines and menu supplements. Sample dishes include Togarashi Pork Crisp with cured lionfish and finger lime; Elderflower Tempura with Stracciatella, dashi and white balsamic; a selection of “Edomae” Sushi; Butter Poached King Crab with uni, yuzu koshu, and myoga; and Smoked Ice Cream with coffee jelly.
“The key hallmarks of the cuisine are Shun (“in the moment”), a harmonious progression of dishes, Omakase (“trust the chef”) and Ometenashi (thoughtful and perceptive service). Shun dictates that the menu changes often,” Varughese said. “We don’t call ourselves a Kaiseki restaurant. We respect the culture too much to do that. We are humbly and deeply inspired by it, and ours is a modern interpretation of it with a focus on the great produce we will source locally.”
Another awe-inspiring aspect of Haiku is its beautiful design. Designed by Scott Kester, the 1,500-square-foot space exudes mystery and sophistication from the onset. From the moment of arrival, guests are met with an intimate vestibule entrance where they are treated to a moment of serenity and a welcoming glass of sake.
Through a set of intricate wood carved screen doors lies a striking yet inviting space with a modern Tokyo vibe. A 16-seat Chef’s tasting counter sits in the center of the room. Bold blue chairs, an inverted cathedral ceiling, scalloped walls and projection lighting all work harmoniously to create a dramatic yet elegant ambiance.
Though Haiku’s roots will be in the private dining experience, there are future plans to transform it into a public restaurant in early 2022.
“We are excited to be building a world class brand around this unique concept, with multiple outlets in selected global cities. We have put together a terrific team of professionals, and I am excited about the chance to expand the Haiku brand together as conditions allow us to,” Varughese said.
For more information on membership or the new luxury restaurant in general, visit haikurestaurants.com.