Hokkaido Day 3: Niseko Village People Cafe

We made it a point to dine at Ren’s Pirka for dinner, but due to the popularity of the restaurant (and a 10-seat limit at the teppanyaki table), we had to make a reservation for 5:30PM! And since we’re having an early dinner that night, my brother and I decided to stuff ourselves silly with chocolate at the Village People Cafe for lunch and squeeze in as many hours of skiing / snowboarding as possible, before dinner time.

The fact that Niseko Village People Cafe is “supported” by Royce made it all the more interesting! I’m not sure exactly what “supported” here means, but all the products sold here are Royce products. Remember how I said in my previous posts that Hokkaido prides itself in its dairy products? Well their chocolate, whether it is from Royce or Ishiya (makers of the famed 白い恋人 chocolate cookie sandwiches), is damn good.

Niseko Village People Cafe 1

Niseko Village People Cafe 1

Very simple (almost makeshift) design and decor at the cafe.

Niseko Village People Cafe 2

Niseko Village People Cafe 2

Here’s a collection of Royce goodies found at the Village People Cafe.  They have several other products which I haven’t seen in Hong Kong, but by far the best is still the Nama Chocolate 🙂 And I should be thankful that the Nama is available at CitySuper here in Hongkers.

Preparing My Royce Hot Chocolate

Preparing My Royce Hot Chocolate

Chocolate Menu at Village People Cafe

Chocolate Menu at Village People Cafe

A dream menu for chocolate lovers.

Royce Chocolate Bars

Royce Chocolate Bars

These chocolate bars comes in 4 flavours: White, Creamy Milk, Milk and Black. And you know what these remind me of ? … the makers of Royce chocolate should seriously consider placing 5 golden tickets in these chocolate bars … ship them around the world and invite the 5 rightful holders of the golden ticket to visit their chocolate factory. HA! That would be awesome. Hey, they didn’t have eBay in Charlie’s world.

Nama Chocolate at Village People Cafe in Niseko

Nama Chocolate at Village People Cafe in Niseko

Potechi Crunch Chocolate from Royce

Potechi Crunch Chocolate from Royce

The Potechi Crunch Chocolate had a bit of peanuty taste to it, and as the name suggests, it is quite crunchy. Unfortunately, the Nama Chocolate was just a little bit on the harder side – probably a result of it sitting in the fridge for longer than it should have). The best time to have it is when you take out the chocolate and let it rest for a bit at room temperature … when you put the Nama Chocolate in your mouth, it’ll just melt in your mouth. This together with the Nama chocolate was ¥400.

And finally, this is the reason we visited the cafe …

Hot Chocolate by Royce at Village People Cafe in Niseko

Hot Chocolate by Royce at Village People Cafe in Niseko

This almost tasted like melted chocolate bar. Yep, pretty potent stuff … it was probably a little watered down because otherwise it’d be too thick. Melted chocolate bars for hot chocolate … damn. That was what gave us enough energy to last until 5:30PM without having a proper lunch.

Village People Cafe
Next to Hilton Niseko Village
Foot of the Annipuri Hill

The Slopes at Hirafu

Not exactly a food post, but here’s a attempt at using a 3-burst frame from my D60 whilst I was on a ski lift. Luckily, I didn’t drop my camera!

Sceneries from Hirafu 1

Sceneries from Hirafu 1

Sceneries from Hirafu 2

Sceneries from Hirafu 2

Sceneries from Hirafu 3

Sceneries from Hirafu 3

I just thought the scenery (and shadow of the trees) looked pretty nice with the sun shining low on the other side.

Hokkaido Day 2: Dinner at Abucha

Abucha Located at the Bottom of the Hirafu Hill in Niseko

Abucha Located at the Bottom of the Hirafu Hill in Niseko

Abucha was recommended to us by a friend (Thanks Nick!) who visited Niseko last year. It turns out the restaurant is quite a popular go-to place when you’re in Niseko / Hirafu at night. Abucha (the original restaurant) seats about 30 people with an adjacent bar that holds another 20-30 people max. All in all, its a small place but its definitely quite cozy, especially during the winter season.

The Young Team Working Around an Open Kitchen at Abucha

The Young Team Working Around an Open Kitchen at Abucha

The entire staff team is a young (early 20’s to early 30’s?), yippee,  snowboarding bunch (see Abucha’s website), bringing a very vibrant environment to the restaurant and bar. The food is also very impressive considering the team is so young … but if you’re looking for gourmet sushi and/or sashimi, then this is not the place for you. Here, you’ll find very good cooked [authentic] Japanese food such as sukiyaki, yakitoris, grilled fish, grilled chicken, fried chicken wings, cooked scallops, a mixture of sausages, clam cooked with white wine sake, among other dishes on its menu.

We started off with a Hokkaido Beer Pirkawakka first, just to see what its like:

Hokkaido Beer Pirkawakka

Hokkaido Beer Pirkawakka

This was either a Pale or a Pilsener – I’m no expert, but I’m leaning more towards a Pale. Its dry, refreshing, light, slightly bitter with a fluffy / dense head, which reminds me a little bit like that of Guinness and one that faded quickly into think white collar with every sip (See photo below).

The White Collars from Hokkaido Beer Pirkawakka

The White Collars from Hokkaido Beer Pirkawakka

Here’s a description from the beer’s poster (word for word):

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Pirkawakka means Beautiful Waters 🙂

“‘Pirkawakka means ‘Beautiful Water’ in Ainu and this word has a beautiful sound that images of Lake Shikotsu’s underground water ‘Naibetsu River’ that was chosen by the Environmental Agency as being one of the top 100 rivers of Japan.”

And here’s what we had, which I’ve just listed out:

Raw Scallops Cooked in Broth and Butter at Abucha

Raw Scallops Cooked in Broth and Butter at Abucha

This was nothing special. It was sliced scallops cooked in broth with a dab of soy sauce and block of butter. The thing is, butter only works well with scallops if it was grilled (not with soup) on a teppanyaki grill … or other grill for that matter. Once the butter melted into the soup, I couldn’t taste it … it had no caramelized butter to it which is what makes a grill scallop so good 🙂 IMHO

Edamame (枝豆) at Abucha

Edamame (枝豆) at Abucha

Edamame at Abucha. Cooked just right … you know how sometimes you get edamame thats turned a little yellowy green? That’s cooked too long … and with the sea salt sprinkled on top of these beans, its one of my favorite simple foods.

Grilled Hokkaido Chicken with Salt at Abucha

Grilled Hokkaido Chicken with Salt at Abucha

Add “Hokkaido” in front of anything food, and you’ll get the best quality and freshest food. This Grilled Hokkaido Chicken was extremely 鲜甜 (fresh and “sweet” in the Chinese sense), the skin was crispy and when dabbed into a bit of salt, this was one of the best grilled chickens I’ve ever had.

Fried Chicken Wings with Dumplings Inside at Abucha

Fried Chicken Wings with Dumplings Inside at Abucha

Fried Chicken Wings with Dumplings Inside at Abucha (Picture 2)

Fried Chicken Wings with Dumplings Inside at Abucha (Picture 2)

Dumpling inside a chicken wing? This is the first for me 🙂

Sukiyaki at Abucha (Picture 1)

Sukiyaki at Abucha (Picture 1)

Sukiyaki at Abucha (Picture 2)

Sukiyaki at Abucha (Picture 2)

Fresh Eggs at Abucha for the Sukiyaki

Fresh Eggs at Abucha for the Sukiyaki

The Sukiyaki was very tasty and came with a generous amount of beef, tofu and cabbage. The soup base itself was also very flavourful, but as we found out that same night during our sleep, we were really thirsty and it might have something to do with the MSG in the soup base (I think).

Clam Cooked in Sake at Abucha

Clam Cooked in Sake at Abucha

You have a choice of having clams cooked in white wine or sake. Since we were in Japan, we went for the sake version of course … but I thought it tasted similar to the white wine version. As with all broth cooked with clam (fresh clams!), the soup was the best part!

Lightly Salted Grilled Mackerel

Lightly Salted Grilled Mackerel

This was only so-so … perhaps it was sitting a little too long on the grill, but the other side of this was a little too burnt for my liking …

Mixed Sausages at Abucha

Mixed Sausages at Abucha

The sausages came in different sizes and type. Some were chicken sausages and some were pork I believe, and came mixed with herbs, pepper, chili, etc. It reminded me of Taiwanese sausage actually … and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If you’re eating sausages on its own (i.e. not hotdogs), then German and Taiwanese franks are the best.

It wasn’t cheap though, at around ¥17,000, it was about HKD 500 per head. But if you’re in Niseko, I do believe its worth a visit, if not for the food, then the alcohol at the bar and the crowd definitely makes the experience that much better 🙂

Apparently, they also have Abucha 2 (across the street, or soon-to-be anyway) and an Abucha Bakery. If you’ve tried the latter or will try Abucha 2, I’d be interested to hear what its like!

Abucha
Izakaya & Bar A-Bu-Cha
190-13 Aza-Yamada
Kutchan-cho, Hokkaido 044-0081
Tel: 0136 (22) 5620 (18:00~2:00)
Fax: 0136 (23) 0245 (24hr)

Hokkaido Day 2: Restaurant Gulliver

We spent the morning getting ready, warming up and testing the powder on Hirafu and before we know it, it was already 1PM – time for lunch! Fellow skiers / snowboarders were lining up at restaurants at the foot of the slopes and the only one we didn’t really have to wait was Restaurant Gulliver at the Niseko Scot Hotel (I think that’s the name of the hotel), next to the Hirafu Welcome Center.

We were looking for something to fill us up so that we can be on our way to the ski lifts ASAP, and there weren’t much to choose from anyway. We got a Ramen, Tempura Soba Noodle, Mongolian Lamb Barbeque and a Smoked Salmon & Roe Pasta. Here’s what they look like (the lens on my D60 was fogging up after being in the cold for so long, hence the “foggy pictures”):

Japanese Ramen at Restaurant Gulliver

Japanese Ramen at Restaurant Gulliver

I didn’t try this, so I can’t tell you what its like. Sorry!

Tempura Soba Noodle at Restaurant Gulliver

Tempura Soba Noodle at Restaurant Gulliver

This was a little odd. I was expecting the soba noodle and the sauce to come separate, but the soba was already drenched in the sauce / soup. The tempura was like any tempura (nothing to write home about), but the soup was a little bland … and since soba itself is tasteless anyway (at least for this one) … I wasn’t too fond of this dish.

Mongolian Lamb Barbeque

Mongolian Lamb Barbeque

This BBQ dish wasn’t bad at all. The bean sprout and lettuce sort of reminds me of the mixed sauteed veggies you would get at the end of a teppanyaki session … it was one of those, mixed with a good amount of lamb meat. Its funny, the lamb (I suspect) was probably imported from somewhere … making Japan the only place I know who imports food because its cheaper – not the other way ’round.

Smoked Salmon and Roe Pasta at Restaurant Gulliver

Smoked Salmon and Roe Pasta at Restaurant Gulliver

This was what I had and it was good, but an interesting dish because it was smoked salmon and roe on spaghetti which was in chicken broth. It was like eating noodle soup … with spaghetti (Hong Kong style!), but that actually turned out to be quite good. The broth was just right, not too bland, not to salty, and it was accompanied by the smoked salmon and roe, which added a good flavor, texture (Have you had noodle soup with roe on it? This was my first time!) and balance to the dish.

The food actually wasn’t bad, but I guess everything taste better when you’re hungry. Would I go back? Hmm … maybe not, but that’s because there are so many other choices to choose from, if it wasn’t for the line-ups.

Siu Yeh Rating: 6.5/10

Restaurant Gulliver at Niseko Scot Hotel
(Next to the Hirafu Welcome Center)

Hokkaido Day 2: Breakfast at Yotei Restaurant

Luckily, breakfast was included in our hotel package at Hilton Niseko Village … otherwise, it’ll probably cost us an arm and leg if we had to pay separate. Everything in Japan is pretty expensive, and judging from the quality of the buffet breakfast at Yotei Restaurant, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was at least ¥2,000 (Around HKD 170) per head (the Yen exchange rate is ridiculous right now!)

Anyway, Yotei Restaurant located on the 3/F. of the hotel is very trendy in design. The architect of the hotel is designed in a oval shape and so most of the designs in the hotel follow a similar theme. And like most other restaurants in the hotel, it enjoys a spectacular view of the adjacent Mount Yōtei (羊蹄山) – hence the name of this particular restaurant (see photo below).

The View from Yotei Restaurant's Buffet Breakfast

The View from Yotei Restaurant's Buffet Breakfast

Buffet Breakfast at Yotei Restaurant

Buffet Breakfast at Yotei Restaurant

Hilton Breakfast

Hilton Breakfast

Omelette, Salmon, Hash Brown, Bacon and Grilled Tomato

Omelette, Salmon, Hash Brown, Bacon and Grilled Tomato

The buffet breakfast opens at 6:30AM – early enough so that visitors who want to get to the slopes early can pig out and get enough energy to tackle the powder at Hirafu and / or Annipuri.

There are just too much food to describe … I mean, it is a buffet breakfast, but I’ll say this: almost all the food found at Yotei aren’t too oily, even for the bacon and hash browns. The quality is top notch and that’s not a coincidence. Japanese people are extremely healthy in their diet and what’s served here at Yotei reflects that.

Here’s what they have: Fresh lettuce and roquette salad (with Italian, Japanese and Vinaigrette dressing), cherry tomatos, ham, smoked salmon (with lemon, diced onions, and capers), hash brown, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, fried eggs (sunny side up or any way you like it), omelettes, waffles, pancakes, French toast, Japanese congee and all accompanying condiments (i.e. radish, pickles, etc.), seasonal fruits (i.e. grapefruits, peaches, mandarin, apples, pineapples, etc.), croissants, pains au chocolat, toasts with all types of jams (including Hokkaido butter, Nutella, marmalade, Marmite, etc.), all types of cereal, HOKKAIDO MILK, grapefruit juice, lemonade, orange juice, pineapple juice, apple juice, et cetera, et cetera …

I probably missed out quite a few other items, but you get the point.

By the way, I’m part of the HATE club for Marmite 🙂

Yotei Restaurant
Hilton Niseko Village, 3/F.
Higashiyama Onsen 048-1592 Niseko N, Niseko-cho, Japan 048-1592
Tel: +81-136-441111
Fax: +81-136-443224

Hokkaido Day 1: Melt Bar and Grill at Hilton Niseko Village

So after another 2.5-hours bus ride from New Chitose Airport to Niseko Village, and another 30 minutes to check in, settle down and decide where to eat, we were already starving again. Afterall, what we had at the airport was only a snack. At the time, the sushi and teppanyaki restaurants at the Hilton were closed and we weren’t going to settle for pub food (not in Japan!) at Ezo. So we quickly made our way to Melt Bar & Grill on the second floor and managed to just squeeze in our orders before their kitchen closed.

Melt Bar and Grill at Hilton Niseko Village

Melt Bar and Grill at Hilton Niseko Village

The manager at Melt was a little reluctant to seat us, but after just a little pleading and patting shoulders … we sat down and asked for a risotto to share, a bouillabaisse and Hokkaido Sirloin for each of us.

Risotto at Melt Bar & Grill

Risotto at Melt Bar & Grill

Japanese chef can cook up some pretty decent Italian food and I’m not the first guy to say that 🙂 (Check out Iron Chef Italian: Masahiko Kobe) This risotto isn’t the best I’ve had, but the rice was chewy (not too soft, not too hard), which is great. The rice was creamy and not dry. The parma ham and the cheese was a little bit overpowering in this dish, but didn’t cancel each other out.

Bouillabaisse at Melt Bar & Grill

Bouillabaisse at Melt Bar & Grill

I was a little disappointed with the size of the soup. It was served with a spoonful of shredded crab meat in an empty bowl, then the server came with a teapot and poured the seafood soup in. Fancy presentation, but too little soup! One of my most memorable experience with bouillabaisse was at Le Marche (by Movenpick) in downtown Toronto, where they piled on the mussels, clams and scallops (and copious amount of white wine and broth!). You would be full just having a bowl of that … but having a friend who worked at the seafood counter at Marche helped too.

Anyway, despite the size (and at ¥1,500!), the soup itself was actually really solid. It was very flavourful in terms of both seafood and tomato base, without either overpowering the other – just the right balance. A hint of herb added to the soup helped too …

Hokkaido Sirloin at Melt Bar & Grill, Hilton Niseko Village

Hokkaido Sirloin at Melt Bar & Grill, Hilton Niseko Village

Then came the Hokkaido Sirloin. Actually, everything came relatively quickly … I guess the staff was hurry to leave work. Even though all of the dishes came within 10-15 minutes, it came in a relatively orderly fashion.

So we wondered what a Hokkaido steak would taste like. We weren’t expecting Kobe beef, but what we had turned out to be quite similar. The northern Japanese island prides itself in their diary products, so its no surprise they take their cows seriously.

The sirloin was thinly sliced, so unlike the thick cut you would expect from Dakota Prime, where a medium / medium-rare would mean redish-pink in the center of the steak, you won’t get that here. Rather, this sirloin is soft and like the name of the restaurant suggests, it literally melts in your mouth and that’s thanks to the fine marbling found on most top-tier Japanese beef, including this one.

Marbling on Grilled Hokkaido Sirloin

Marbling on Grilled Hokkaido Sirloin

There’s so much more marbling on Japanese steak, but that’s also what makes them so special, compared to American or Australian beef (unless you’re talking about Wagyu beef from those countries, but even that has less marbling).

By the way, Melt apparently also offers buffet dinners so I’m not sure how that is. But judging from the dishes we had, the standards should be pretty high.

Enjoy!

Siu Yeh Rating: 8.5/10

Melt Bar & Grill
Hilton Niseko Village, 2/F.
Higashiyama Onsen 048-1592 Niseko N, Niseko-cho, Japan 048-1592
Tel: +81-136-441111
Fax: +81-136-443224
Email: niseko@hilton.com