Whether you fancy wagyu shabu-shabu hotpot, Michelin-star French food, handmade soba noodles or piping hot naan from a food truck, our list of Niseko’s top 10 restaurants will set you on the right course.
Niseko is recognised the world over as a powder paradise, but Hokkaido’s stellar produce has also made the mountain town a convergence point for chefs and food lovers from around the globe.
One such example is Mod-Sin Chef Willin Low, founder of Wild Rocket (Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants), Relish and Roketto Izakaya in Singapore. Willin now comes to Hokkaido every winter to operate Roketto Niseko, only for the white season.
“I first came to Niseko about seven years ago, and there isn’t really anywhere that has comparable powder snow, so when the offer to open in Niseko came up, I jumped at it. I love snowboarding and the produce here.” For him, it’s a match made in heaven.
This 12-seater soba restaurant is now reservations-only, with lunch beginning at ¥10,000 (£70.50). Part of the magic is watching owner Tatsuru Rai make soba before your eyes at the counter, kneading pure buckwheat flour, hand-cutting the dough into noodles, then cooking them as part of your kaiseki multi-course dinner. The interior of the wooden lodge is warm and cosy, with Tatsuru’s own curation of jazz greats to accompany the delicate dance of the kitchen. 2020 is the final season of the 21-year old restaurant in this incarnation – the building will be demolished in summer 2020, with the new Rakuichi rumoured to be helmed by Rai’s son.
Unique to Hokkaido, soup curry is a light curry over chicken, pork, prawns, or our favourite – meatballs, with vibrant, tender-crisp vegetables. Served with rice, it’s manna from heaven on an especially cold day. The restaurant is clean and comfortable, with wooden booths for seating and brisk service. Bowls start at ¥1,300 (USD$11.95).
This French-Japanese restaurant by Hokkaido native Yuichi Kamimura was awarded one star by the Michelin Guide in 2012, and continues to impress with its seasonal degustation featuring ingredients such as aged potato from Kutchan, Hokkaido venison, and snow crab. The setting is elegant, with starched linens and muted earth tones, juxtaposed against large picture windows showing the changing alpine landscape. There’s an early bird dinner menu for ¥9,000 (£63) per person, or splurge on the full Chef’s Degustation at ¥18,000 (£125). Remember to sit up straight!
Another Hokkaido speciality is zangi – crispy fried chicken served with a thick soy-based sauce. Izakaya Koharuya’s version is moist with a delicate crunch. A myriad of delicious sharing plates are served here, featuring gyoza, grilled meat on skewers, pristine raw oysters and sashimi. This tiny restaurant is cosy, and best patronised when blanketed in snow for maximum effect. Expect to spend between ¥2,500-4,000 (£18-28) per person.
Somoza is housed in a century-old kominka tucked deep in the forests of Hanazono. Here, the ambience is serene; the epitome of zen. Gaze out at the trees while you savour a delectable Japanese-Italian repast including warming ‘farm soup’ in a hand-shaped clay bowl, tender niseko duck, and panna cotta with local berries. Once finished, explore and absorb the history of the building. The gallery is also an exhibition, arts and culture event space, and houses owner Shouya Griggs’ collection of art pieces. The six-course lunch menu is priced at ¥3,800 (£27), while the dinner tasting menu is ¥18,000 (£125).
This popular restaurant is no-frills, and often packed. Best arrive 10-15 minutes before opening, or join the queue 30 minutes after to allow the first batch of diners to finish, as this way you spend less time waiting in the snow. The must-try dish is the Niseko Ramen, featuring noodles in a miso base with corn and bamboo shoots, given the Hokkaido-spin with a silky potato puree topping. Ramen bowls are priced between ¥800-1,000 (£6-7), and side dishes such as grilled chicken wings and gyoza are also on offer.
“We moved here looking forward to some great seafood, but it was actually hard to find. I started sourcing oysters and crab for ourselves, eventually putting on ‘Seafood Nights’ for our friends,” say James Gallagher, an Australian who moved to Niseko to work in property in 2005. In 2009, with his wife Keiko as partner and head chef, James took the opportunity to start Ezo Seafoods, filling the gap and showcasing the best, sustainable seasonal seafood in the region. They certainly do it well, with James visiting the markets personally and Keiko’s light but magic touch in the kitchen. Depending on your selections, the costs can start at ¥3,000 (£21) and climb upwards to ¥10,000 (£70) per person for a feast of oysters, scallops, snapper and crab. The vibe is laidback, so go with the flow on what’s fresh and how it should be prepared.
In the day, Roketto serves ¥1,500 (£11) Singaporean rice and noodle bowls (tinged with Japanese) such as snow crab laksa and the stewed pork rice bowl, but by night, it morphs into an exclusive restaurant serving a modern Singaporean omakase (chef’s choice menu) from ¥11,000-14,000 (£77-98). With a maximum of eight diners nightly, this could be one of the hardest bookings to get in Niseko, but dishes such as burnt butter abalone and crab roe pasta make it worth the effort.
Highlighted on the Michelin Bib Gourmand list, Hanayoshi is a small, traditional joint with counter, table and tatami mat seating. The array of sushi and sashimi selected and served up by Niseko-born Ryohei Yoshioka is exquisite – expect to spend ¥10,000-12,000 (£70-84) on dinner featuring pristine sashimi, sea urchin, salmon roe and botan shrimp to pair with premium local sake and shochu.
One of Niseko’s earliest restaurants, Masa Saito started Bang Bang because he fell in love with Niseko and wanted it to be his base. Located in the heart of Hirafu, the 35-seater restaurant grew in popularity over the years, resulting in the opening of Bang Bang 2. Both restaurants are relaxed and buzzing with people, serving up chargrilled wagyu and scallops, hairy crabs, and for those who are more adventurous, horse meat sashimi. Prices per person are between ¥6,000-12,000 (£42-84).
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