NESTLED down in the Lower Village, tucked away behind pension Hurry Slowly, is Restaurant Yo, one of Niseko’s great traditional Japanese dining experiences. Yo is no ordinary restaurant – bookings need to be made at least a day in advance as they source their ingredients fresh every morning, and only enough for the customers they have that evening. Just dropping in won’t do, and with only four tables and a barbeque room, booking early is advised.
When you make the booking, you’re asked which menu you’d like. On offer is the original menu at ¥3500 per person, consisting of nine to 10 dishes, where you get to choose the star attraction from a beef sukiyaki course, a seafood course, a vegetable course, or a hand-rolled sushi (temakizushi) course. There’s also another option for Japanese barbecue for ¥4500 per person; served in the traditional style, with a sunken hearth to charcoal grill meat, seafood and vegetables. Served alongside the barbecue is a hot pot, salad, sashimi and more. Then there is the beef shabu-shabu, where you cook the thinly sliced beef in a pot of simmering broth on the table, then dip it into your favourite sauce. Served alongside the shabu-shabu course you get temakizushi, yakitori and salad. We opted for the ¥5500 special course. Here, you can still choose from the previous four courses, with the addition of a few more premium Hokkaido specialties, such as Taraba crab. We both agreed on the beef sukiyaki course.
On arrival, we step through the door into a little stone garden that leads to the restaurant. Even the chef pops around the corner to welcome us. Looking around, each table is in its own small separate room, but windows through to the other rooms ensure you feel private, though not isolated. As the food has already been ordered, the only decision to make is what to drink. The sampler set of sakes is a great way to experience the subtle differences between good Japanese rice wines, and get a feel for what you would like to continue the evening with. We both agreed our favourite was the Hakkaizan, dry with a little spice. Oishii!
The first dish of the evening is a small plate of zensai (Japanese hors d’œuvre), some small school prawns, cream cheese with bonito and nori (dried seaweed), and four plump edamame (soybeans in the pod) with a sprinkle of togarashi (a hot Japanese spice). After we have savoured the zensai, a small flame is lit under a stone cooker in front of each of us. Under the lid, mushrooms, tofu, negi (spring onion), onion, Japanese herbs and the famous Wagyu beef sit in a little broth, gently heating until cooked, with a raw egg on the side to dip in to.
Then, a lidded pot is brought forth. The lid is lifted and a square of tofu covered in a crab sauce is unveiled. Again, the aroma leaps out and drags us in. The tofu, silky soft, takes the subtle flavour from the crab beautifully. The next dish in the progression is a bit of a ‘do-it-yourself-er’. A small clay grill, embellished with kanji calligraphy and filled with glowing coals, lands on the table followed by a tray of goodness – the goodness being okra, shitake mushrooms, Hokkaido diver scallop, Taraba crab leg and Wagyu beef. The idea is to grill each piece to your liking, then dip it in to the waiting wasabi, salt or lemon. It’s just like cooking on an outdoor barbecue, only inside and at a table. The crab is phenomenal, the taraba is juicy and sweet, and the flesh from the legs just keeps on coming. The Wagyu beef flavour lasted and lasted.
A trio of nigiri sushi appeared quickly after the grill was removed, the rice shaped into cute little rounds. They were topped with salmon, eel and scallop, still warm from the cooker and seasoned just so. As the last nigiri disappeared, a plate of ultra-fresh sashimi filled its place. More scallop and salmon, this time accompanied by tuna, snapper and prawn.
By now we were starting to feel content, but there were still three courses to come. The first was a piece of whitefish with sautéed Japanese greens and wild mushrooms. Then, a braised pork belly, tender and full of flavour. The belly was topped with a dab of
hot Japanese mustard to cut the richness. Finally, a slice of azuki (small red bean) and chestnut cakes with a cup of Japanese tea. Feeling content we wandered off into the snow, knowing the next time we come we’ll be hurrying not too slowly, as we know what’s waiting.
For more great reviews and a whole lot more about food, check out Kat and Kim’s blog @ www.bigfoodsmallworld.blogspot.com.
For contact details, opening hours and directions for Restaurant Yo, go to: www.powderlife.com/restaurants.