Where To Eat In Niseko According To Chef Willin Low, Founder Of Roketto
When restaurateur and chef Willin Low announced the closure of Wild Rocket last year, it felt like an end of an era. Widely recognised as the pioneer of Mod-Sin (modern Singaporean) cuisine, making dishes such as laksa pesto pasta part of the country's culinary vernacular, Low is yet again breaking the rules with his unexpected move. The destination? Niseko, Japan. The place? Roketto, a name that pays homage to his 13-year old restaurant.
An avid snowboarder who discovered the pull of Niseko six years ago, the curious chef admits that the timing was right. "I have been thinking of bringing Singapore flavours overseas as well as doing something completely different from Wild Rocket. When The Maples offered this opportunity to open a casual concept right on the ski slope I couldn’t say no. Besides, how many people can say that they snowboard to work?," says Low.
It just so happens that Low knows exactly what kind of food skiers and snowboarders want. "People want to have a quick, good hot bowl of lunch to nourish and comfort them before they hit the slopes again. While manpower constraints in the resort mean that it will be harder to serve something fussier, we serve different things every day. One day you can have laksa udon, the next you can have bah kut teh ramen, and the following day bak chor mee mazesoba."
And what is an alpine holiday in Japan without après-ski and a dip in the onsen for good measure? Roketto transforms from a lunch bistro into a bar serving sumptuous bites and well-crafted cocktails come nighttime. "I have been a fan and a friend of some wonderful bars in Asia such as Bar High Five in Tokyo, Nutmeg & Clove in Singapore, #FindTheLockerRoom in Bangkok, and Bar Mood in Taipei, which we collaborate with here. My concepts are built around how I would like to eat and hope enough people feel the same way I do," shares Low.
(Related: 6 Of The World's Best Bars Are Right Here In Singapore)
Now immersing himself in everything Niseko has to offer—his posts on Instagram show him testing random konbini buys and finding the best restaurants and produce—he shares that his latest favourite discovery is the local Hokkaido pork called Rusutsu buta. "It has such a sweet, delicious flavour and is just so tender. I had the pork shoulder cut pork chops last night: I pan fried them, seasoned with salt, black pepper, a dash of sesame oil and squeezed some lemons over it. So easy and divine! I'm proud to say that Roketto's bah kut teh ramen uses the same pork."
However, no matter how rich the Hokkaido food scene is, there's still something from home he can't part with. "I keep some laksa leaves in my pantry as I can't find it anywhere in Japan. I dehydrated them in Singapore and brought them with me. Super precious."
CHEF WILLIN LOW'S GUIDE TO NISEKO EATS
Sushi: Chiharu Zushi
"This small, quaint sushi joint is run by a welcoming chef and his wife. I recommend the tuna sashimi platter and a bowl of awesome steaming rice with local horseradish."
Chiharu Zushi (千春鮨) 1 Chome Kita 1 Jonishi, Kutchan, Abuta District, Hokkaido 044-0051, Japan
"The cafe has cute, warm interiors and is lined with books you can borrow. Perfect for spending a chill afternoon with what some say is the best coffee in Niseko. Beans are roasted on premises."
Sprout (スプラウト), 3-Chome-10 Kita 1 Jonishi, Kutchan, Abuta District, Hokkaido 044-0051
"Simple food done very well using local produce and paired with a decent selection of sake. The grilled fish is very good, and I especially love the shokara (fermented squid innards) and I order double portions of their karaage (which is called "zangi" in Hokkaido, by the way)."
Karabina (唐火七), 431-4 Niseo, Abuta District, Hokkaido 048-1511
Dessert: Milk Kobo
"Their cream puff explodes in your face, the warm cheese tarts are very good, and the yoghurt drink is the best I have had. All are made with milk from cows in the farm on the premises."
Milk Kobo Takahashi Dairy Farm Niseko (ミルク工房), Abuta District Niseko 048-1522 Near Hilton Niseko
Tempura: Yoichi Ekiten
"Strictly speaking, this is not in Niseko but I love this tempura place so much that I travel for it (Friendly note: it is within walking distance from the Nikka distillery). The chef has been making tempura for 50 years and the restaurant is housed in a disused walk-in freezer with non-matching tables, chairs and counter seats. Have the tendon, the natto tempura, and an extra order of prawn tempura for me please."
Tempura Yoichi Ekiten (酔地駅天 余市) 2-Chome, 8 Kurokawacho, Yochi, Yoichi District Hokkaido
Roketto is located at The Maples Niseko Lot 204-27 / 29 / 36 / 47 Yamada, Kutchan-cho, Abuta District, Hokkaido, Japan 044-0077