Because Hokkaido was only settled by Japanese from the mainland in the very recent past, it lacks a lot of the traditional architecture and history usually associated with Japan.
But diner’s at the Dragon Restaurant, just below the main intersection in the centre of Hirafu, can savour – in addition to a superb culinary treat – a glimpse of Japan as it was in the days of the samurai. Just 50 metres down the hill from the Seicomart intersection, but 200 years back in time.
Dragon creator and food and wine whiz Noriko Masubuchi and her partners have cleverly re-created an old, run-down pension (anyone remember Pension Ibex?) into a slick restaurant and bar complex which offers totally up-to-date fusion cuisine in an elegant Edo Period atmosphere. For a chance to see Japan as it was once, as well as to enjoy an excellent, well-priced meal, Dragon is one restaurant not to miss.
Noriko san and her sister, Fumie, first burst onto the Niseko food and wine scene in the 2006/07 winter season at the Dragon Wine Bar – a cosy, bright little gathering place overlooking the main ski slope from the second floor of the Alpen Hotel. But with their new offering this year, they have moved downhill and upmarket in a most impressive way.
Noriko san is a real Niseko veteran – she began visiting as a fanatical snowboarder at age 21 – and it was a boarding injury six years later that set her on the path to her current vocation. Unable to indulge her passion for powder any more, she turned just as enthusiastically to wine and food, gaining the rare distinction in Japan of becoming a sommelier, with a strong background in Italian cuisine.
This expertise – the ability to pair good food with just the right wine – is the first thing that sets Noriko san and Dragon apart in Niseko’s night dining scene.
The other is her meticulous attention to using only the best of natural ingredients that Hokkaido can offer. With the exception of the lamb (the grilled rosemary lamb in an original Noriko-san green sauce is one of the highlights of the menu) all other main ingredients are locally sourced, including the beef, chicken and fish, and the superb Ezo Shika (Hokkaido Venison) that is Dragon’s signature dish.
It goes without saying that all vegetables are organically grown, and the sauces they are served in are masterpieces – blending as many as 30 ingredients to produce exquisite flavours.
Our table voted the venison dish the outstanding favourite among the main dishes, but followed closely by the grilled Bifuka beef (a Hokkaido specialty). The standout appetiser was the scallop (as only Hokkaido can produce them) with prawn and crab sauce, but for sheer creativity, the simple salad, with what the menu describes only as ‘Dragon’s special dressing’ is unbeatable. If you can persuade Noriko-san to reveal the recipe for that dressing, PLEASE let us know.
And finally, don’t even think about trying to select your own wine from the small, but very well-chosen wine list. Just ask Noriko-san. We thought the Dusty Road pinot noir from New Zealand was as good an accompaniment to the meat dishes as we have found anywhere in Niseko, but only drank it because Noriko-san the sommelier gently but firmly vetoed our original choice. That is the way to really enjoy the Dragon experience. Relax, and let Noriko san take care of it all for you. (And DO try the magic wine she produces to go with dessert)!!
Dinner 6-11pm. Bookings recommended 0136 21 7700.