Chef Yuichi Kamimura grew up a son of restaurateurs in the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Early life revolved around the long, hard hours required to maintain a restaurant leading him to leave home at the age of 18 for the US in order to study English and avoid becoming a chef. After graduation he worked for a year selling luggage in New York City before eventually returning to Hokkaido in 1998 where he worked for a further 2 years at his family’s restaurant. Still unsettled by the familiar pattern Kamimura once again broke free – this time for Sydney where he ended up in the kitchen of famed Japanese-Australian chef Tetsuya Wakuda. It was here that he would discover and hone a Japanese-French style of balanced flavours, surprising textures and contemporary plating design. Under Tetsuya’s tutelage Yuichi “the cook” matured into Kamimura “the chef”.
Upon returning to Hokkaido he opened the eponymous restaurant “Kamimura” in Sapporo. In December 2007 an opportunity presented itself in a newly constructed luxury apartment called Shiki Niseko. The new space was larger and also presented an chance to re-examine how his cooking style related to the natural surroundings afforded in his new home. This is reflected in the seasonal focus on the region’s farmers, fisherman, hunters and gatherers that define the seasonality on display throughout the course menu. Chef Kamimura’s rising status directly mirrors that of the tourism of Niseko Village.
Walking into the restaurant for the first time one is struck by the warmth and contemporary design feel of the room. Riccardo Tossani Architecture’s design of the restaurant, created by Interior Design Principle Atsuko Itoda reflects the multi-cultural aesthetic of Kamimura’s culinary art. The minimalist palette of materials, spot lighting and axial approach to the main dining room all serve to focus the clients attention on the artistry of the cuisine.
Near the front, an impressive wine cellar stocks both local wine and spirit makers as well as classics from regions such as Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone. We were told the wine list is prepared by an outside consultant and then executed within the restaurant. An omakase wine menu to match the food choices is offered but was disappointing in quality and ability to match with the flavours, textures and richness of the food. Customers are instead advised to order off the impressive list of wines. Be warned to come prepared with some knowledge of wine as the restaurant is staffed with seasonal help – young working-skiers with a casual lack of knowledge when it comes to proper wine service.
One of the ways in which top-flight restaurants in Japan maintain consistency is to limit the choices a diner can make. Kamimura is no different, offering just a short-course early dinner along with the signature 9-course degustation. Requiring a reservation at least 24 hours in advance means the kitchen is well-prepared for your visit. The food itself is visually highly appealing and most often plated on a white porcelain backdrop in geometric formation. There seems to be 3 threads of style at work within the meal reflecting both the technical foundations and spiritual ambitions of the chef.
[quote_center]”I do not mix French & Japanese styles – I just happen to cook in both styles. Each dish gets renewed everytime I cook …”[/quote_center]
One might add molecular gastronomy to the French and Japanese influences which although adding a fresh visual verve to the meal, also proves to be the weak link. The powders are the main culprit here and hopefully fashion will soon pass it by. Offered “truffle powder” on one course with quail egg we received what is essentially a tasteless mix of oil and maltodextrin with all the texture of slow-melting plastic snow. Blame the food guides for promoting trendy techniques over solid cooking but the results are rarely positive. In place of carefully constructed, concentrated and balanced French sauces we find simple flavours that lack depth and critically – do not match with wines. Acid – the critical element present in sauces that bridges food and wine is missing. Juxtaposition has replaced harmony and the result is a helter-skelter meal where everything is unexpected but little about it satisfies. A bit like going to a Rodin exhibit but finding out all the bronze pieces are in fact cheap replicas.
Ingredients are one of the most intriguing parts about the meal. One feels as though you are travelling throughout Hokkaido with an oyster sourced from one place and a wine from another. Each course could be a small taste of a unique place. This is the type of menu one wants to embrace – one that tells the stories of the terroir. The kitchen is simply not there yet in terms of dynamically defining each ingredients best qualities. At times flavours are tepid – as in the Sea bass Poeler – or overpowered as was the case of the Chorizo-wrapped oyster. A slight assembly line feel to the food service occurs more than once although the blame for this must lie with the quality of staff available in a small town.
“Kuruma Ebi” King Prawn with Tomato Powder & Micro Herbs
Terrine of Foie Gras & “Saikyo Miso” with Port WIne
Grilled Rock Fish with Tomato-Seafood “Bouillabaisse” & Edible Flowers
Roast Sanda Beef with Farm Potato Galette & “Wasabi Butter”
Hokkaido Milk Ice Cream with “Kabocha” Pumpkin, Caramel & Hazelnut
Easily the best course was the grilled Japanese beef with potato gallette and spinach – a classic combination that also worked well with the chosen wine. Dessert of pumpkin, caramel and hazelnut was the textural winner of the night with it’s contrasting crackles, crunches and creaminess. A wonderful harmony developed in the mouth as the meringue, caramel and ice-cream melted. A perfect end to an otherwise hit and miss dinner.
There is a lot to like about this ambitious restaurant and many of the inconsistencies can be put to the challenges of operating with largely untrained, seasonal staff in a remote location. Essentially there are 3 solid months of business then quiet for 9 months. How Kamimura somehow makes it work at all ought to be admired and respected. One hopes that as Niseko grows so too does Kamimura. For the moment it delivers a dining experience below similar packages found in Tokyo but above almost all found in Niseko.
GREEN SEASON (JULY-OCTOBER)
LUNCH: 4-COURSE….¥ 3000 5-COURSE…… ¥ 5000 7-COURSE…..¥ 8000
DINNER: 6-COURSE….¥ 7000 7-COURSE….¥ 10,000 9-COURSE….¥ 13,000
SNOW SEASON (DECEMBER-APRIL)
DINNER: 18:00 5-COURSE….¥ 7000 20:30 9-COURSE….¥ 13,000
Children over 5 are welcome for lunch at Kamimura but are required to remain seated at their table whilst dining.
Reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance of the booking.
〒048-1511 483-1 Aza Niseko Niseko-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido
TEL: (81) 0136-212-288
SEATS 50 + PRIVATE DINING 10