Everyone who has been to Niseko has a story about THAT restaurant that you just have to try when you go to Niseko. Actually we have a list of about 20!
But what happens if you arrive for your first trip just after Christmas, and you drop past the famous A-Bu-Cha or Kamimura to book and they tell you: “Our next open table is at the end of February.”
Niseko has a 100-day winter season, and there are tens of thousands of people in the resort every day who all want to do the same thing – ski and experience Niseko’s famed dining scene. So read on to learn a little more about how restaurants work in Niseko in winter.
Do you need to book ahead?
Yes and no. If you come in summer, you can walk into any restaurant you like any day of the week and you’ll be very unlucky to be turned away because they’re fully booked.
But if you come in winter, many restaurants will be booked out by the evening, a few will be booked out a week or more ahead, and some will be fully booked until the snow starts to melt and winter is well and truly over.
In the two peak periods – Christmas through New Year and Chinese New Year – you literally have very little chance of finding a table for two, let alone 10, in the main villages.
So you’re reading this as you’ve arrived on Christmas Day and you haven’t booked – never fear. There’s very little chance that you’ll have nowhere at all to go. You just won’t have your pick of in-village restaurants – you might need to ring around (or get your concierge to help you if they offer that service) or jump in a cab and head out of the village. This is actually where you might find some of the most rewarding cultural adventures that not everyone gets to experience!
When booking ahead is essential in winter:
- You’re travelling during the peak dates of Christmas / New Year or Chinese New Year
- You’re planning a big function or booking for a large group
- You’re aiming for an earlier seating (some restaurants will do 6pm and 8pm seatings)
- You’ve got young children in the group that can’t wait for a later time
- You’re looking to eat at a popular restaurant (any in the top 10 on TripAdvisor tend to book out regardless of the date or time)
Did you know? Some of the most popular restaurants will keep most or all seats for walk-in guests. Your only choice will be to get there before they open.
When booking ahead might not be absolutely essential:
- You’re travelling outside of peak dates
- You have a small group (four or fewer) and all are adults willing to wait a little for a table
- You’re happy to eat at a later time (many restaurants that are booked out at 6pm may have seats open by 8pm)
- You’re happy to try your luck – some restaurants keep seats only for walk in guests, others don’t take bookings at all. You won’t be out of a dinner
especially if you go exploring at a later time, and a stroll around can bring you to some exciting new secret spot!
- You aren’t sure whether you’ll go out or not – or not sure which night you’ll choose. Wait until you’re in resort and your reception staff will be able to give you good options for your group!
Legendary dumplings at Long Tan, Kutchan town / Fresh Sashimi at Ebisutei, Lower Hirafu
How to decide where to go?
First things first – check out our own online Niseko restaurant directory to whet your appetite and start bookmarking some options. And when you get to Niseko, pick up a copy of the latest Powderlife magazine which is provided in most accommodation in Niseko, or in businesses and magazine stands. In every issue we highlight some great restaurants and wrap up interesting information about what’s new and cool in town.
The Wine & Dine Guide is the official Niseko restaurant bible online and as a handy pocket size booklet in resort. It isa comprehensive directory of pretty much every restaurant in the area. You can search by cuisine type, restaurant type or village area to find what you need.
If you want to see what others are saying, Tripadvisor is also a great resource. Almost every Niseko restaurant is listed here and other guest’s reviews will give you a good idea about whether the restaurant is right for your group. As Tripadvisor separates by geographical area, check both Kutchan and Niseko areas to see the full selection.
Once you have a few places in mind…
Have a browse around Instagram #nisekofood for some mouth-watering inspiration!
Step 1: Book Online (from September)
The best place to book is online, with a small but growing number of popular restaurants increasingly requiring credit card details to secure bookings and relying on online platforms like Yelp.
Some locals restaurants you’ll find online simply don’t take bookings through hotels or any other way. The following are on Yelp
These restaurants aren’t on Yelp, but they do require you book online:
- Abucha (change to English, officially taking bookings from September)
- Bang Bang (fill out the contact form and they’ll get back to you)
Step 2: Give them a call (from November)
If the restaurant you want to book isn’t online, just try giving them a call. Lots of restaurants start taking bookings in mid-November for the winter season. Many restaurants in Hirafu or inside the Niseko resorts have English-speaking staff to answer the phones. For restaurants outside the resorts in Kutchan Town, Niseko Town and beyond, you just need to try your luck.
Find their details on on Powderlife.com or Wine & Dine websites. Dial +81 and drop the 0 to reach Japan. They’ll either take your booking or let you know when to get in touch.
- Staff are often not in store until 5pm for dinner service, so you may not get an answer until evening.
- Have a pen and paper ready in case any confirmation numbers are provided
- Take the name of the staff you’re speaking to just in case!
- Check if you need to re-confirm the booking the day before (some restaurants require this)
Some popular restaurants that only take bookings over telephone:
Step 3: Check Google Maps & Book your Taxi
Not every popular restaurant is near where you’re staying. Without a car or chauffeur service you’ll need to either book taxis or catch a bus.
The free village shuttle will take you around the length of Hirafu, and NIseko Resort Shuttle will ship you between each of the four resort towns – but both services end by 8.30 pm so you may be stranded!
Make sure the place you’re staying and the place you’re eating are suitably close, and check with the restaurant if they have a shuttle service available.
Pro Tip: Watch out for cancellation penalties!
The majority of Niseko restaurants close for the quieter summer months. They have a short 4 months with which to pay a year’s rent, so every table is precious. To help recoup costs when guests cancel, most restaurants now have cancellation fees that apply to last-minute cancellations.
Most charge about 3,000 JPY per head if cancelling within 24 or 48 hours – a fair amount for a meal you don’t even eat!
Make sure you’re aware of your restaurant’s cancellation policy and should you need to change or cancel, do it well within the grace period.
Pro Tip: Always ask the locals
And ask your ski instructor, your hotelier or even the waitress at your next meal! The locals that have been in town for the season or longer will have their own favourite spots, and this can be the best way to get to know great new spots that haven’t yet been discovered by the tourist hordes.
Most important of all – enjoy!