Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Our trip to Hokkaido - Niseko

C says:

So, for those of you who haven’t “Liked” AteTooMuch on Facebook (and why not, may we ask…?!), you wouldn’t have seen our short Facebook-only update that we were away in Japan. We were there mainly for the Sapporo Snow Festival, and also for A to hit the slopes in Niseko (and me to luxuriate in onsens) for a couple of days. I love Japan – we’ve barely been home and already we’re thinking of when we can plan our next visit. Won’t be for a couple of years though, sigh.

Niseko, or to be precise, the adjacent town of Hirafu, has a wealth of amazing eateries, catering to almost every cuisine and budget. Some of the highlights of this trip were:

Izakaya Bang-Bang

We went to their sister restaurant Bang2 during our last trip, so we decided to try the original this time. The menu is almost the same, but perhaps sitting right at the counter watching the grill master work his magic contributed to the better experience that we had this time.

They’re truly a well-oiled machine. The place was packed, with people almost begging for a table, but no one lost their cool, orders were filled without too long a wait, and I don’t think there were any order mix-ups that weren’t resolved within minutes.

Everything is good here, but if I had to choose some standouts, they’d be the grilled cheese (we ordered the same one as before but next time we may try the camembert), the prawn, the pork collar and the beef tongue.

J-Sekka Deli

The fact that I didn’t hit the slopes meant that in between numerous onsen soaks, I had quite a bit of free time during the day. A new discovery on this trip was J-Sekka Deli, a pretty chic café that specializes in local produce, with a deli shop on the side.

They do really good coffees, and were perfectly fine with me plonking my ass there for a few hours just chilling out and reading my book. I liked it so much that I brought A on our last day.

They had an amazing Taste of Hokkaido platter, with smoked salmon, sausage, smoked duck and camembert, all made within the region. 

Another dish that we couldn’t not order was roasted potato with corn, miso butter and slab bacon. What I can say – a winning combination of ingredients and again, all locally sourced.


No AteTooMuch trip is complete without a fanboy Anthony Bourdain trail, since his recommendations for Spain were spot on. He recently visited Hokkaido so we watched the episode intently and tried to visit as many places as we could.

The first was Rakuichi, the tiny restaurant in Annupuri where soba master Tatsuru Rai presides together with his wife Midori. Assuming it was pretty out of the way, we went for dinner, where only a kaiseki meal is available. A la carte is available at lunch time, and now that we know how easy it is to access, we’ll be here for lunch next time to have the cold soba.

Still, dinner here was superb, with nothing but super fresh ingredients used, and prepared simply and perfectly. The sashimi course consisted of an amazingly sweet scallop from nearby waters, and a couple of slices of really intensely flavoured chutoro.

The meal ended with freshly made soba (Tatsuru was literally rolling it out and cutting it just before cooking and serving it to us) in an amazing hot duck broth. The broth was incredibly flavourful, and the freshly made soba was unlike anything I’ve ever had – softer than usual, but still with some bite and a very subtle flavour.

What really stood out, though, was the huge oyster that was very lightly steamed. It was incredibly fresh, almost obscenely creamy, and the juices in the shell were mind-blowing.

We’ll be back, Niseko. I’ll make sure of it.

A says:

Best snow ever!

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