Once the secret powder escape of Asia, Niseko is now the annual must-visit, Japanese mountain town. But hey, it’s for good reason – for some, the amazing snow and ski is the pull, but for many others, the food is the main draw.
And what do you get when you’ve got cold weather, cosy fireplaces, stellar Hokkaido produce and Japanese whiskies? The perfect recipe for date night, we say.
Whether you are looking for special-occasion establishments with Michelin nods or downhome izakayas, here are our top bar/resto pairings for date night in Niseko.
Date #1 BarGyu+ & Ezo Seafoods (Hirafu)
Drink: Head to BarGyu+ as early as 5pm when they open. Take your Instagram shots with the famous fridge door as a backdrop, then go in for a whisky or two before making your way back up to the main Hirafu intersection.
Eat: Ezo Seafoods in down the parallel street on the right, and there Aussie owner James focuses on the best Hokkaido seafood, simply grilled, steamed or raw, allowing it to shine. Ezo is normally booked out 3 months in advance in the winter months, but they do have 2 tables available for walk-ins from 5pm.
Date #2 SekkaLab & Sakebar Sasa (Kutchan town)
Eat: The lesser known Kutchan town is great, no crowds and ½ the price of Hirafu haunts (but shh we didn’t tell you that). Newcomer Sekkalab serves delectable Italian cuisine, elevated with Hokkaido produce and is set to be on the must-eat list in the coming seasons. We fell in love with the charcuterie board, and we reckon you may just fall in love over it.
Drink: Walk off your meal one street over to Sakebar Sasa. It is all things Japanese – small and quaint with a largely-Japanese menu. Over 30 sakes and iced (!) lollies are on offer, and we recommend you share a bottle as you decode the various Japanese customs which you may come across.
Date #3 Niseko Brewing & Sushi Hanayoshi (Niseko Town)
Drink: It’s not all whisky and sake in Japan, there’s craft beer too, and at Niseko Brewing there are 5 on offer, and some 20 local beers on tap. Once you’ve sampled your fill, make your way 300m down the road to Sushi Hanayoshi.
Eat: Featured in Le Guide Michelin, this small Japanese restaurant offers omakase at JPY10,000 (think seasonal sashimi, uni, snow crab) accompanied by an enviable wine list and pedigreed local sakes. You’ll be rolling out of there, so make sure you have a hard day on the slopes first.
Drink: A small, elevated wooden hut over the snow, the intimate Karabina is an izakaya (aka Japanese tapas bar) in its own right, serving yakitori and other bites – but since you’ve got Rakuichi on the cards, we recommend you climb up, and cosy up next to the wood-burning stove with a few rounds of Shōchū.
Eat: A brisk 200m walk to Rakuichi after will reawaken your senses, and within, the couple who run this Le Guide Michelin recognised sobadokoro will enthral you with their seamless dance. They cook and serve in a graceful and hushed manner, with the owner’s tasteful collection of jazz making a pleasant soundtrack to the experience.
Date #5 Kamimura & Toshiro’s Bar (Hirafu)
Drink: Anniversary, birthday or milestone in Niseko? Then this is the pair to do. Begin at the bar or by the fireplace at Toshiro’s, where the selection of spirits and cocktails will wow you (and your date). Once you’re suitably toasty (or toasted), make your way to Kamimura.
Eat: Snuggle close as you stroll in the cold down the street to Shiki Niseko, where the Michelin-starred chef Yuichi Kamimura creates French-Japanese culinary alchemy. This restaurant is consistently one of Niseko’s best tables, for good reason.
Eat: The only pairing here where you won’t be able to walk to the next destination (because bars in Hanazono are few and far between), we recommend the by appointment only dinner at newcomer Somoza, set in a 150-year old Japanese kominka relocated from the Tochigi prefecture. A degustation dinner of seasonal Hokkaido produce cooked with an Italian slant is served in this serene setting, amongst the pristine pine and maple forest — definitely helping bring on the zen.
Drink: A taxi-ride will take you back to The Barn, another stunning architectural delight reminiscent of the traditional Hokkaido farm barns, but with a glass front facade. Here, wind-down with a selection of wines from across the world and original cocktails, before you head back to your chalet/resort and get cosy.
Date #7 Ezo Pub & The Crab Shack (Niseko Village)
Drink: We love the casual apres-ski vibe at Ezo, and you will too. Come straight off the mountain in your ski gear, then settle in by the heaters with some mulled wine or a frothy beer and some bites.
Eat: Two-minutes away, ‘The Village’ is a collection of boutiques and restaurants housed in traditional Japanese machiya structures — one of them being The Crab Shack. Here, you can huddle over a shabu- shabu or nabe teeming with succulent crab, local wagyu and Makkari pork. What’s a winter date without some hot pot?
There’s a huge demand for restaurants in Niseko in winter, so our top advice is book your restaurants as soon as you know you’re going. Or book your stay with The Luxe Nomad, and let the complimentary concierge do the rest!
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