NISEKO IZAKAYA BANG BANG
30 years ago, long before most of what currently occupies the land of Niseko 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 Niseko Izakaya is now on solid footing. With 2 restaurants packed nightly with the aprés ski crowd clamoring for savory bites and quenching beer BANG BANG has tapped into a restaurant formula for success in the highly seasonal Niseko ski town.
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 Niseko Izakaya 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 is comfortably decorated in wood which is appropriate 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 small counter seats smaller groups in front of the grill. Handwritten daily specials hang from the walls and indicate what produce is fresh and most local. Background music of cool Jazz soothes the room as the volume and excitement gathers pace.
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 Niseko Izakaya 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.
Edamame – 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 wonderful texture combining a slight caramel crust with chewy & sticky mochi inside.
Yet another area where BANG BANG excels is their offerings for beer and sake. A considerable selection of everything local is in stock which is just what one would hope for. Outside of local brews there is a fine selection of high quality sake and beer that will satisfy even the most demanding palate.
The wine list at BANG BANG Niseko Izakaya is surprising in both its scope and its prices. A large portion of the wines listed are quite old which on the surface would seem to be a nice discovery for the connoisseur. 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 plenty of choices with the usual big names stocked. The markups are huge though – more reflective of a pre-bubble Japan than the current state of affairs. For those without tight financial constraints there are good matches for the food available.
If you are considering a Niseko Izakaya for dinner then Bang Bang or Bang Bang 2 should be your first choices. Reservations are highly recommended to avoid disappointment. Note there are two dinner seatings in each restaurant allowing for about 2 hours to enjoy your meal and drinks. Taken together Bang Bang is the best izakaya Niseko and one of the best restaurants in greater Niseko.
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 at Bang Bang Niseko Izakaya