We’ll get A-Bu-Cha out of the way first because it’s exceptionally famous, and rightly so. The izakaya & bar has been so successful they recently opened a second outlet but it lacks the historic charm of the first so make sure you book the original. Sadly the latest reservation they take is at 6.30 pm but you can treat it as a continuation of après and ski to the restaurant illegally on the road (with a bit of Dutch courage), keep drinking and stuff your face. Being an izakaya (pub style) it serves a variety of Japanese food such as sushi, yakitori and hot pot, and although we’re not normally fans of the latter, it’s the house speciality and it is very, very good. HK$250 including some beers is the going rate, but you have to try the Yebisu “creamy top” stout.
190-13 Aza-Yamada Kuchan-chou Abuta-gun Hokkaidou, (81) 0136-22-5620, www.abucha.net
Fridge Bar, otherwise known as Gyu, is a bubbly little watering hole in the lower village – little being the operative word. The entrance is a fridge door so you have to crouch down to make it inside the den. It’s warm and cosy - a great place to have an Irish coffee - and the cocktails are superb, albeit expensive. One will set you back HK$100 which isn’t cheap but you’re on holiday so why not?
(81) 0136-23-1432, Lower Village, towards the bottom of Yotei-Zaka Street, look for a small door on the right.
When you go to Japan you want to eat sushi and the best in the region can be found at Hanayoshi. It’s a 15 minute drive from Hirafu in the nearby village of Niseko Town and although it will cost you HK$800 for a round trip (immensely galling for Hong Kongers used to cheap cabs) it’s well worth the trip. The restaurant is spacious but only consists of a few tables served by one eager waiter and a robed sushi master. You take off your shoes, sit around low wooden tables and gorge on outrageously fresh sushi. Their sashimi is world class – the tuna is a deep, deep purple – while dishes you might normally find boring like cucumber maki are elevated with little touches such as a splash of sesame. Their signature is the seafood salad (unbelievable) and you can be full for HK$300.
80-2 Hondori Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun, (81) 0136-44-3444.
The Bigfoot Bar (in Bigfoot Lodge) is one of the cheeriest places to have a tipple in Niseko. Most appealingly, they employ international bartenders from Oz and London so you’ll actually get a proper drink. That’s reflected in the prices (HK$110 for a cocktail) but they’re top notch and their punch bowls are mortal. It’s full of wood, sofas and soft lighting so it’s a place for chilling - and there’s also a fireplace which is a massive bonus when you’re in a ski resort. It’s populated with a slightly older crowd until about 11.30pm when the ski bums (the wealthier ones) let loose.
Ebisu-tei is a small, relaxed restaurant where you can warm up with hearty local cooking. If you want something easy going and good value – this is the place to go. It was set up four years ago by Shingo Sugiyama, 31, from Tokyo, who’d been skiing in Niseko for over a decade before establishing his little eatery. His personal ownership adds to the intimacy and like A-Bu-Cha it’s an izakaya that serves a variety of Japanese delights. The fried rice is sensational and then there’s the horse sashimi. It’s something you have to try - partly to say you've tried it, and partly because it’s worth eating. It’s not tough as you might expect and it’s got a rich, hearty flavour. You can eat and drink here robustly for HK$200.
Just lower than Bus Stop 7 on Yotei-Zaka St., (81) 0136-22-6544
The Barn is arguably the coolest building in Niseko and their food is top draw. Signature dishes include beef cheeks and crème brulee, with some decent wines to back them up. It’s a warm place (great for a pre-drink) that holds two sittings at 6.30pm and 8.30pm respectively. The menu changes regularly and costs HK$550 for three courses, which is on the pricey side but it stands alone in Niseko. If you’ve had enough Japanese food, it should be high on your list.
170-323 Aza-Yamada, Kutchan-cho, Abuta-gun, (81) 0136 23 0888, www.nisekobarn.com
The J Sekka Deli & Café serves the best coffee in Niseko and although you’re normally woken up by the fresh mountain air (not to mention eagerness to get on the slopes) a quality espresso is sometimes all you want. They also do a roaring breakfast so if you’re approaching the day gingerly; it’s a great place to ease into your morning.
167-3 Aza-Yamada, Kutchan-cho, (81) 0136 21 3088, www.j-sekka.com
We’d wager that pound for pound, considering the setting, the food and the service; this is the best restaurant in Niseko. It’s a 15 minute walk from the Annupuri Gondola but the trek only adds to the relish. Set in a traditional Japanese chalet hidden over a little bridge, the restaurant consists of just 12 stools lined up at a wooden bar counter. It’s staggeringly charming. You’re served by a husband and wife team dressed in traditional Japanese robes. She serves, moving quietly and gracefully, while he cooks - handmaking the soba noodles (buckwheat) in front of you. Accompanied by arguably the best vegetable tempura you’ll ever eat (served with green tea salt), the soba is other worldly and the whole experience will stay with you forever. If you do one thing in Niseko – do this. (8m.20s). HK$200 for lunch and it’s magic.
Annupuri – see town map, (81) 0136-58-3535
The is the place to eat Japanese food on the mountain. Just hop up the Hirafu Gondola and then ski to the bottom of the first pocket of trees and you’ll find it. Unlike all the other restaurants on the slopes it doesn’t feel like a school canteen and the ambience is warm. Frankly, all the food’s good so you can tuck into any of your mountain favourites but the katsu curry is particularly tasty. There’s also a stove where you can warm yourself up and you shouldn’t be put off by how busy it gets either. The turnover is pretty quick so you’ll get a seat promptly and eat well for less than HK$150.
Under Hirafu Gondola, no reservations
We wouldn’t normally rave about an Italian restaurant in the Japanese mountains but Del Sole serves one of the best pizzas you’ll have in the whole of Asia. Just ski to the Annapuri base and walk the five minutes to this little eatery. The oven is wood-burning, the crusts are thin and their toppings are varied. They also do a fantastic coffee but their Affogato is even better - a perfect way to round off a meal. Like The Frying Pan, it’s ideal if you want some western carbs halfway through your day. Lunch for HK$200.
Annapuri Main Restaurant Strip, (81) 0136 28 3535, www.pizza-delsole.com
Soup curry is a local speciality but if you want the best then you have to head to Izumikyo which is just outside Hirafu on the way to Kutchan. They serve about a dozen types of soup curry and they all come with different spice ranking from 0-22 to suit your taste. If you can get 13 or above then we’ll take our hat off – it’s that spicy – and coming from Hong Kong where you rarely set your taste buds on fire, feeling that heat is sensational. You’ll be happily replete for HK$150.
(81) 0136 23 1116 www.tsubaratsubara.com
If you’re looking for a place that goes late, offers krunky music and provides plenty of opportunities to make sour faces knocking back shots – Jam Bar’s the destination of choice. They have over 30 shooters on the chalkboard and often host HK$100 all you can drink nights which only tie up once all the booze has run out. Party central.
Sasayaki-Zaka St. (81) 0136-23-0700
We stumbled across The Frying Pan on our latest trip to Niseko and although it isn’t a restaurant you’d make a special trip to for supper, it’s a great place to wolf down hearty western fare at lunch. What it offers is value and service. A steak with potatoes, risotto, bread, ice cream and coffee all comes to less than HK$150 which is quite incredible. The other thing is if you’re used to European skiing with big lunches sometimes you fancy gweilo carbs halfway through the day rather than a ramen or roe. It’s nearly always quiet so if you’re missing tartiflette and other Alpine specialities this is the place to get a cheap, ‘nearly’ fix.
482-2 Aza Niseko, Niseko-cho, Abuta, (Telephone N/A) On the main restaurant strip in Annupuri
Head Chef Yuichi Kamimura used to work at the iconic Tetsuya restaurant in Sydney and his restaurant leads Niseko’s haute cuisine charge. He uses top quality Hokkaido produce and then refines it into glorious fusion food. They offer several tasting menus ranging from HK$600 to HK$1,450 dotted with dishes such as toro tuna belly with olive and eggplant, and roast Wagyu with Hokkaido wasabi. If you’ve got a special occasion to celebrate, this is where to book – and leave the kids at home.
1/F, Yamashizen West, 185-8 Aza-Yamada Kutchan-cho (81) 13621 2288, www.kamimura-niseko.com