Upon arriving for the first time in this remote part of Hokkaido one is struck by the shear rawness of nature at work. Travellers from Asia’s metropolitan cities will feel as though they have been sent through a time machine – back to a place where landscapes are wild, pure and mysterious spaces to be both contemplated & explored. It is precisely this feeling that only one restaurant comes close to exemplifying. At Sobatei Rakuichi one is taken on a sensory journey to the very soul of nature as it exists in a tiny village called Niseko.
Finding Sobatei Rakuichi in the depth of winter takes a little planning and very careful navigation. Guests enter a small parking lot hidden behind 3 meter walls of snow then sliding across a narrow wood bridge before arriving at a patchwork wood building. Interestingly this building was built from scratch by the proprietor Tatsuru Rai, his wife Midori and their 2 sons. A distinct affinity for DIY is well noted both inside and out with the resulting ambience a proletarian vision of design.
Inside the family team, elegantly cloaked in kimono and yukata, greet each customer as they pass into the interior space. Only 12 counter seats allows for efficient service and frees up the Master to focus on the technical precision required to craft soba noodles from scratch before the customer’s very eyes. Dinner is offered as a multi-course journey with small plates of local seafood, & farm vegetables leading up to the starring roll – a handmade soba course. Although each day may vary according to the season’s whims a general course outline for Sobatei Rakuichi is as follows:
SOBATEI RAKUICHI MENU
Shabu-Shabu of Black Pork
Appetizers: from Land and Ocean
Sashimi: Hokkaido Fish and Shellfish
Tempura of the Season
Soba: Handmade to Order
Best of Season Fruit Dessert
Soba or Buckwheat is grown in the northern regions of Japan and is considered to be of higher quality than that imported from abroad. It is also in short supply so that only premium soba restaurants are willing to pay the excess cost of this rarete. The only other ingredient is water which in Rakuichi’s case is drawn from a spring within Niseko. This is of course a region famous for the quality of spring water given its close proximity to the volcanic peaks of Mt. Yotei and Niseko. Spring water is also the basis for the soba “dashi” (or stock) which, much like exceptional whiskey or beer, gives this soup its extraordinary mouthfeel. To our amazement the Sapporo “Hokkaido” beer on tap proved a seamless match for the dashi – perhaps due to both having foundations built on Hokkaido spring water. This match was so good it reminded me of the perfect transition created between a Crottin de Chavignol goats cheese and a Sauvignon Blanc wine from Francois Cotat . The chalky “terre blanche” in Chavignol imparts a steely, mineral-rich character to both the wines and the cheese vis a vis the natural grass eaten by the free ranging goats.
Whatever you order your meal will be centered around the Best Soba Niseko which leaves the details entirely up to personal preferences. For purist soba tasters the best way to appreciate the soba noodles’ nutty buckwheat flavors and hand cut texture is served cold with a dipping sauce. After eating the last noodle the “soba water” is brought and poured into the remaining sauce to enjoy its soft mouthfeel and subtle flavors.
RECOMMENDED ORDERING AT SOBATEI RAKUICHI
For LUNCH order “Juwari” which is 100% buck wheat soba noodle, a side dish of seasonal vegetable tempura and a Sapporo “Hokkaido” Draft Beer. Otherwise the lunch menu consists mainly of soba variations and is a perfect choice for those looking for a shorter version of the Rakuichi experience.
For DINNER there is a single seating and reservations are not only recommended but need to be done far in advance. If you are planning to visit next year, 6 months prior is the best way to guarantee your seat.
For Lunch no reservations are taken so come early as the restaurant usually manages just 2 seatings per lunch hour (24 diners). Dinner is an entirely different story as you will need to book very far in advance or hope that somebody cancels last minute. December 2015 is almost fully booked so consider reserving Sobatei Rakuichi at the time you book your holiday or one year in advance. This is one of the best eating experiences you can get in Niseko and price remains very reasonable for the unique and high quality dining experience.
Sobatei Rakuichi does not accept credit cards, so carry cash with you,. Since the ingredients for their dinners are sourced fresh daily, no cancelations are accepted within 24-hours. Below is a prelude of the crafting of Soba by the Master Tatsuru Rai:
Soba Master Tatsuru Rai demonstrates his craft – Video courtesy of MAD4 YouTube Channel
TEL: (81) 0136-58-3170
OPENING HOURS：12:00-15:00, 18:00-22:00