BEST IZAKAYA NISEKO
In LUXNISEKO staff’s pursuit of finding the Best Izakaya Niseko we left no stone unturned. Izakaya’s are typically an after work place to unwind with beer and small bites. In Tokyo and Osaka they often have a counter and side tables. They are to Japan what a brasserie is to France – nothing fancy – just good soul food. When one transports this concept to a ski holiday resort such as Niseko what form should it take?
30 years ago, long before most of what currently occupies the land of Hirafu came into existence there was a Niseko izakaya named BANG BANG. Masa Saito and his wife arrived, like most with dreams of skiing the powder snow. From having 15 neighbors to the ever accelerating business growth currently experienced in Hirafu, BANG BANG Izakaya is now surfing the growth that is Niseko. With 2 restaurants packed nightly and an aprés ski crowd clamoring for savory bites and thirst-quenching beer BANG BANG has tapped into a restaurant formula for success.
Like many Izakayas a meal begins with boiled edamame – unlike most izakayas BANG BANG can tell you the farmer who grew them. It is this point that holds the key to why BANG BANG stands above all but a few restaurants in Niseko. Great food always begins with great product. A restaurant that goes to extra effort to source the best produce is almost always a better restaurant. It takes more work and requires better logistics to make it work well. The accountant will also likely complain about the extra receipts. It is not about making it easy, rather it is about the quest for quality. BANG BANG really excels in this area and customers in Niseko seem to appreciate judging by how difficult it is to get a reservation. Such is the success of this approach that there are now 2 BANG BANGS. Outside of the differences in interiors they operate identically food and drink wise.
The room in BANG BANG is comfortably decorated in wood which feels right given that much of the food will be grilled over wood charcoal. In front of the kitchen a bincho tan grill bed stands with Yakitori choices written on oval wood discs dangling in front. A narrow counter seats smaller groups and individuals in front of the bincho tan grill. Handwritten daily specials hang from the walls and entice patrons with local catches from the nearby ocean and freshly harvested vegetables from local farms. Background music of classic Jazz chills the room as the volume and excitement gathers pace through the evening. The energy one feels is part of the charm the makes this the best izakaya niseko.
Service is one those invisible elements that has the power to make an evening much better or worse. The staff here are energetic in welcoming and try to speak as much English as possible. There is a hierarchy at work here that ensures that the seasonal staff are always delivering and any mistakes are dealt with in a calm and agreeable manner. At the end of each meal Saito-san checks each table and swap tales of skiing glory for those interested in such conversation.
Yakitori is without a doubt one of the stars here. To begin with the chicken is called Shiretoko Han Jidori and is sourced from a farm in Eastern Hokkaido. Each part of the chicken is portioned correctly then lined up on a bamboo skewer for grilling. Grilling takes place over bincho tan charcoal which imparts a delicate char to the chicken. Guests are offered a choice of salt or BANG BANG sauce – both of which are applied after grilling. A single chef manages the grill with great focus delivers remarkable consistency throughout the meal.
Tofu salad A classic starter is the BANG BANG salad which is simple, fresh, and full of surprising textures from juicy tomato to crispy toppings.
Edaname – Perhaps there is no dish more closely associated with an Izakaya than this. Sprinkled with coarse sea salt it does not dissapoint
A LA CARTE
Grilled Wagu Steak – A large portion with a matching price tag for the beef lover and a nice match for the big Bordeaux Reds in stock
Grilled Kensaki Ika – The finest squid in Japan and its freshness shines through with a tender chew palate awakening briny juices.
Grilled Kinmedai Fish – Gold-eye fish has a bright red skin and comes grilled juicy with crisp skin and full flavor.
Hokkaido Zuwaigane Crab – One of the most expensive items on the menu is also one of the best taste experiences to be found in Niseko. Steamed whole this everything you dream about when it comes to crab.
Akkeshi Kakiemon Oysters – Winter is Oyster Season and BANG BANG has impeccable sources.
Sautéed Spinach – Simple done write trumps all else and that is the case with the tender leaves that tasted as though they had just been picked.
Four gradients of salmon sashimi – we were advised to start from the lightest flavoured sashimi to the fattest. The sashimi was very fresh, although I wouldn’t focus on sashimi in an izakaya.
Chicken wings stuffed with mentaiko (salted cod roe).
sweet pumpkin sticky mochi (pounded rice cake). This had incredible texture – a slight caramel crust on the outside, with chewy, sticky mochi inside.
Another area where BANG BANG excels is their selection of beer and sake. Niseko has quality choices available for local brews because of the high quality water. Fortunately many of those choices can be ordered here which is yet another area BANG BANG helps support local businesses first.
The wine list at the best izakaya Niseko impresses in both its scope and its prices. Many of their wines are vintages and tend to be skewed towards the upper tier of ranks. The problem is many are past their prime which indicates low turnover or questionable selection. The good news is that Bordeaux and Burgundy fans have many familiar labels in stock. The markups are huge though – more reflective of a pre-bubble Japan than the current state of affairs. For those on a budget there are some good value wines available to help you overlook the big markups. The selection is also very suitable for the food being served at Bang Bang.
WHY IS BANG BANG THE BEST IZAKAYA NISEKO?
The cumulative effect of sourcing exceptional product then cooking with proper technique is one reason. The food is flavorful, textural and the ingredient combinations are interesting. The fact that many of the drinks and food are sourced locally give the experience more depth with the intriguing side stories that accompany the food. Well-trained staff with warm smiles makes each guest feel welcome – even the grumpy ones. Although it is more expensive than the average izakayas found in Niseko the overall experience currently has no peer. This is easily the best izakaya Niseko has ever had and it continues to get better each year. It is perhaps more appropriate to compare the food here to the better restaurants than to other izakayas because, thanks to the exceptional sourcing, the quality level is on par with the best.
ADDRESS: 188-24 Aza-Yamada, Abuta-gun Kutchan Niseko Japan
HOURS: Dinner 17:30 – 23:00 Winter Season 4 months and Summer Season 2 1/2 months
TEL: +81 0136-22-4292
SEATS: 35 with 2 seatings each night available