The last two times I was in Hokkaido in summer for the flower farms I never bothered to look up good restaurants, preferring instead to subsist on combini food. However this time, my sister insisted. So with much difficulty I managed to source and reserve a proper restaurant. Fit in with our plans well too as it is smack in the middle of nowhere in Biei, not too far from a couple of famous trees (Mild seven trees they’re called).
We headed there early, hoping to have an earlier dinner than intended as we were all done for the day at Furano, about half an hour away. However, the Japanese, being sticklers for proper timing, really only seated us at 6pm sharp. No slippers allowed, one of the older managers told us. Since we were clad in slippers and had no other foot wear he kindly acquiesced to let it go. A relief that’s for sure.
We were seated by the generous windows, facing a field, or a garden of something that has yet to reach its peak. Very serene and zen with all the light wood, natural light and green views.
I’d already preselected the ¥9000++ menu so all we had to do was order our drinks. Not an extensive drink menu so do not expect a cellar full of old world wines and fine sake.
We kicked off the meal with a cheese and onion quiche or tart of some sort. It was tasty, but did not quite blow the mind. At least it was fresh and piping hot from the oven. Always a plus.
Next, a cheese taco cradling a piece of potato. Hokkaido is renown for its agricultural produce, such as corn, potatoes, asparagus, melons; as well as its dairy products, beer and seafood amongst others. So I was very glad to see this creation of crispy cheese and soft potato. It was indeed an appetite stimulant. Not that my appetite needed whetting at all.
Before you dismiss this as just another hunk of bread, let me clarify that this is THE model of a perfect bread. It’s skin is crisp, like the most fragile crackling, and not so thick that one has to alienate himself from fellow diners by tearing a bite off with his teeth, caveman style. The interior is soft and fluffy. Tasty even, with chunks of cooked potato hidden within. It stays warm for a long time, with the help of heated beans hidden in another compartment of the cloth bag.
This platter of spreads were set upon the table alongside the bread. Ratatouille, pork pâté, smoked herring and freshly pickled vegetables. There is no sane person on earth who would hate such a largesse as this. Even if the individual components were average, I would still love the entirety. Just in case you were wondering, I did like everything, but as I’m not fond of smoked fish, that is my exception by default.
Bread with potato alongside the smoked fish, pâté and pickles. My sister, the bread connoisseur, couldn’t get enough of this bread.
Fried zucchini, battered in some very fine panko. They managed to keep the zucchini firm, so it had a pleasant bite to it. It could however, do with a touch more seasoning.
Potato cappuccino. That would mean cream of potato soup served looking like a cappuccino in a cup with cream froth. Potato and cream meld together such that I can’t tell them apart. No wonder we all love mashed potato. It is delicious heartiness in a delicate cup, and we took cue from a neighboring table to inconspicuously float a few pieces of bread in the cup to soak up every last drop.
This threw us off balance. A floret of boiled broccoli. Neither the sauce or crispy brown bits at the side could save this from being convincingly average.
A glimpse of the simple and rustic yet elegant decor.
Salmon next. Skin was crisp, but I wish it were more flaky tender. A shame that it was slightly overdone.
The venison makes an entrance. I was just a little concerned about how very red it looked but kept my peace. The effusive waiter placed it on my plate with a flourish, explaining that the deer was freshly hunted and roasted over charcoal, to their recommended medium rare doneness. It was served with a spoonful of rich jus and grated fresh horseradish.
He proceeded to spoon some potato gratin alongside the venison. I cut into the venison with a degree of trepidation and dipped it into a mixture of sauce and grated horseradish.
It was perfect. The ruby red succulence of the medium rare doneness betrayed no bloodiness oozing out onto the plate. All that was left was just juicy, meltingly tender meat. And what took it above and beyond was the horseradish. What a beautifully balanced and executed dish. Absolutely perfect in every way.
For dessert they brought out this exquisite behemoth of a Mille feuille. A generous helping of patisserie cream peeps out, sandwiched between two slabs of pastry made up of hundreds of layers each. Every buttered layer in the pastry is separate, intact and almost gauze thin. The waiter will ask if you’d like one or two finger width slices of this beauty.
The waiter then duly slices up the Mille feuille and serves it with a quenelle of vanilla ice cream topped with berry syrup. Every element is carried out with precision and finesse and the results are that of a top notch, consummate pastry chef.
Just when we thought we were done, out came a bowl of warm, freshly fried mochi donuts dusted with sugar and kinako powder. Quintessentially Japanese with a western flair. I loved every bite. And thus ended the dinner on a high.
We went back the next day to buy the potato bread and croissants from the bakery. Safe to be said that it did not disappoint. Most of the croissant ended up on my lap. Testament to how extraordinarily flaky and delicate the morsel was.