MOST visitors returning to Niseko each winter have more on their minds than just snow. Great food also looms large as a drawcard for those in the know – and those in the know have always made a beeline for Kame, the Hidden Kitchen. Tucked away behind NAC on the fringes of the upper village, it often took a while to find, and with only limited seating, bookings several days in advance were the only way to guarantee the chance to savour Chef Tomohisa Harada’s fabulous fusion delicacies.
But this year, the search will have to start all over again – the Hidden Kitchen has moved, and morphed into the Secret Restaurant. And in true Harada san style, it is now in an even more out of the way location just off the main road between Hirafu and Higashiyama. It is probably too far to think about walking, but whatever the transport, it is even more worth a visit than it ever has been.
‘Escaping the confines of Hirafu’, as Harada san puts it, has given him the opportunity to upscale to 45 seats, with space for a piano and even perhaps a musical trio for dinner accompaniment. It also puts him back into the open spaces and feeling of freedom that brought him to Niseko 14 years ago and convinced him there was nowhere better to live in Japan. And all in a brand new building that is almost as fusion as his food, with unmistakable traditional Japanese timber elements blending perfectly into a warm Spanish hacienda style.
The same trademark open kitchen is there, and many of the old Kame signature dishes still appear on the menu. Like the garlic chicken, the asari (shellfish) pilaff and a wonderful selection of original pastas, all ranging from around 1100 yen up to a very reasonable maximum of 1600 yen a dish. The pastas are probably the real treats at Kame. Done to ‘al dente’ perfection, they are cooked in more of a Japanese soba (buckwheat noodle) style than their European counterparts.
It is important to say though, that the best way to enjoy Kame is to use the menu only at lunchtime. In the evening, far better to just give Harada san his head, and let him serve you up the multi-course meal he knows is best because of the ingredients he has to work with on the day. All courses are light, flavoursome and well balanced, and invariably end with a ‘pasta of the day’, and if you are really lucky on the night you are there, it will be garlic or chilli!! All you need to say is ‘Chef o-makase’ (I’ll leave it to the chef) and the evening’s magic will all unfold at a nice, steady pace.
In his long years in Niseko, Harada san has built up an extensive network of suppliers of only the best of local produce. He says Niseko is ideally located, with the freshest of seafood only a stone’s throw away in the fishing ports of Iwanai and Shakotan, and surrounded by an array of the most exotic vegetables Japan offers – some of what he uses is grown to order especially for him.
There is a good selection of reasonably priced wine, and the one that stands out as the perfect accompaniment is Sienna, an excellent Romanian red, which is great value at 4500 yen.
Niseko is indeed very fortunate that Harada san declined an invitation to cook at the Queen Alice, one of Tokyo’s leading restaurants all those years ago, and backpacked his way to Niseko instead. And despite the challenges of his new address, he is looking forward to welcoming back old friends from seasons gone by.