Niseko: a city tasting tour with chef Willin Low
Singapore born and raised Willin Low was a lawyer for eight years before donning whites and quickly making a name for himself as a chef. He blazed a trail for modern Singaporean (Mod-Sin) cuisine with his restaurant Wild Rocket where truly unique creations such as pasta with a laksa pesto wowed diners. Having closed the doors there in 2018, he continues to lead his casual restaurant chain Relish, but now devotes most of his time living and working in Hokkaido, northern Japan.
The avid snowboarder was drawn partly to the slopes and legendary powdery snow of Niseko, but also to the food. He has since recreated Wild Rocket - to an extent - in the form of his new restaurant Roketto at a ski resort called The Maples. It's where he uses Japanese ingredients and influences to inflect Singaporean comfort food. On the menu that may mean ramen with bak kut teh, the classic pork bone soup beloved in Singapore, or other mash-ups like udon noodles with fragrant, spiced laksa. In the evenings, Roketto morphs into a cocktail bar serving small plates and collaborating with some of Asia's top bars such as Singapore's Nutmeg and Clove or Tokyo's Bar High-Five, both on the 2019 list of Asia's 50 Best Bars.
Here are his recommendations for where to eat in and around Niseko, the ski capital of Japan and a hugely-popular destination for local and international adventurers.
Sushi Shin by Miyakawa
A superb refined sushi restaurant serving the best seasonal fish with a great sake selection. "If you are looking for fine dining in Niseko, this would be my top choice" chef Low says. It has sister restaurants at The Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, also serving edomae style sushi, as well as in Sapporo where it hold three Michelin stars.
Trust chef Low's advice: "Possibly one of the top three croissants I have eaten in my life!" Boulangerie JIN is also likely to be the most difficult to get to bakery you would ever imagine as it is in the remote village of Makkari-mura. Fermented local butter, superb quality water, a wood oven and a talented baker is all you need to make the croissant magic happen.
"Last season I stayed in an apartment next to this cafe and would grab a flat white for fuel before heading to work". The beans are roasted right here on the premises. It’s also a charming comfy cafe to just chill in. They recently celebrated their tenth anniversary which shows their popularity.
Wakimizu no Sato
Not an F&B establishment as such, but no foodie would want to miss Yoteizan’s famous spring water and the tofu shop behind it. The spring water is used to make the tofu here and there’s a wide array of tofus for you to try before buying. There’s even a tofu donut! My favourites here are the Nama Yuba, delicate soy bean sheets, and tofu noodles.
An Italian restaurant with a modern vibe, sekka lab serve some wonderful pasta. I enjoyed every single pasta here and in particular the seafood pasta and the gnocchi, made using the super delicious Kutchan potatoes, were outstanding.
Less famous than the Rakuichi soba restaurant that Anthony Bourdain loved so much, but no less popular is this casual, cosy and fun izakaya owned by the son of Rakuichi’s chef. Great fried chicken and grilled seasonal fish. Also don’t miss the baked local potatoes with shiokara or fermented squid with butter and lots of sake.