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Image 1: After spending a few days in Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido in northern Japan, we took a two hour train ride to Toya…
Image 2: … and boarded this shuttle bus for a 40min ride to the top of Mt.Poromoi.
Image 3: After half an hour, we could spot a white structure at the peak from a distance. It really reminded us of our journey to Bras in Laguiole but on a much larger scale with a bay on one side and a lake on the other.
Image 4: The road ended with a long parking area of the hotel where a concierge was patiently waiting for our arrival.
Image 5: Once these huge automatic wooden doors opened…
Image 6: … a grand atrium appeared with marble staircases located at the other end. It was a totally different world in here! This lavish hotel hosted the G8 Summit in 2008. Impressive indeed!
Image 7: A quick glance of the ground floor and it was obvious that this hotel brought in the best from France. We saw pastries from Michel Belin, bakery by Lalos, and even a stylish boutique of Michel Bras displaying books, knives, and postcards similar to the small boutique area in his restaurant back in Laguiole.
Image 9: Wow, they even brought in a branch of the legendary Kitcho from Kyoto to which we were heading over in a weeks time.
Image 10: Strategically set on the peak, the hotel fully utilised its location by equipping floor-to-ceiling windows offering a panoramic view of the region. Quite an extravagant hotel! We had plenty of time to enjoy the hotel's onsen facility in the evening since our meal was booked for lunch the following day.
Image 11: We skipped breakfast the following morning as we wanted to make sure we had enough space in our stomach for this highly anticipated meal, especially after 15 consecutive Japanese meals over the last few days. Not that we got bored with Japanese cuisine, but it was about time for a change! We took the lift to the top floor of the hotel...
Image 12: … across the hallway and through the double glass doors was where we found Michel Bras. Yes, he was here! Michel spends some of his time in Toya when his restaurant at Laguiole is closed during winter. We couldn’t have come at a better time.
Image 13: The layout was just like Laguiole with a main corridor separating the kitchen and the long dining room with glass panel on one side providing a stunning view of Lake Toya to each diner. A more spectacular place than Laguiole I must admit.
Image 14: This place was basically his dining room back home but replaced the landscape of Aubrac with Lake Toya as the backdrop!
Image 15: www.windsor-hotels.co.jp/michel-bras Chef: Cedric Bourassin
Discovery & Nature: ¥28,350 (8-course)
Closed Wednesday all day and Thursday lunch.
Image 16: Bras' silverware set looked familiar…
Image 17: … with exactly the same table setting.
Image 18: Even the bread…
Image 19: .. and butter. Hard to believe we were having this cuisine ten thousand kilometres away from Laguiole!
Image 20: Our enjoyment began with something crunchy. A pair of sesame sticks…
Image 21: … came with a semi-cooked egg in its shell. A lovely warm start!
Image 22: Followed by an earthy cèpe tart.
Image 23: And his classic spoon set of amuse bouche consisted of wild mushroom, beetroot with whelk, and a chicken broth jello. Not a huge portion, but enough to whet our appetite.
Image 24: Next was the iconic dish - gargouillou resulted from an enormous effort by Sébastien and Michel working with local farmers.
Image 25: Came with his signature knife, this salad contained 70 items. The only item that was not local was a piece of ham from France.
Image 26: Since our first visit to Bras, we experienced many "taste of garden" type of dishes from other places, but nothing was as lingering as gargouillou! Not only did each ingredient have a clear flavour, it was also the precise timing and seasoning that made this dish extra special.
Image 27: A seafood course of Hokkaido crab (tarabagani). Though chargrilled, the crab leg retained a good amount of moisture; and contrary to my initial belief, the red wine chocolate sauce was actually very mild without overshadowing this delicate crustacean. A very high quality course!
Image 28: On the side was a unique pepper like vegetable that they described as "sweet banana". It was stuffed with foie giving it a rich mouthfeel.
Image 29: An exquisite vegetable course accompanied by soft yuba skin and truffled vinaigrette; a brave east-and-west fusion! The manager explained that the vegetable is another great achievement by Michel working with a local farmer.
Image 30: They called this “asparagus lettuce” but I called this "Chinese lettuce" which is not an unfamiliar vegetable in the Chinese market. The leaf resembled lettuce but the vegetable was a blend of asparagus and lettuce and hence its name. We were very satisfied so far as this was what we came here for - The Bras cuisine using Oriental ingredients!
Image 31: The tasting menu was more focused on vegetables rather than seafood. Up next was an onion tart layered on top a piece of spinach, truffle cream and olive oil foam. A warm flaky tart base with a simple combination of onion and spinach. I guess a good course didn't need to be complex when you got good ingredients!
Image 32: Main course was a thin piece of local beef gently cooked on the grill served with some groundnuts. The server explained that it was two years ago when he brought Michel and Sébastien to his friend's Wagyu farm midway down the mountain for a barbeque. Since then, the restaurant has been using Wagyu from that farm. A truly local ingredient!
Image 33: Just with a tiny piece of myoga ginger confit on top; it needed nothing more. A tender, juicy, not excessively fatty piece of beef with a scent of charcoal. I wanted more, a lot more!
Image 34: As expected, another classic of Bras, aligot!
Image 35: I had his aligot many times but still never got bored of it. However, for some reason, I preferred his version at Laguiole, possibly due to the richer and creamier cheese at Laguiole.
Image 36: The tasting menu wasn’t filling at all so I had a lot of room for cheese.
Image 37: I sampled all six types of local cheese on the board. Despite Hokkaido being famous for its dairy products, especially their ice cream that I fell in love with, the selection of cheese here was slightly disappointing I have to say.
Image 38: And finally came the dessert that we were both longing for, a chocolate coulant topped by vanilla ice cream guarded by a thin paper cone of pumpkin.
Image 39: Look at the warm runny pumpkin sauce bursting out!
Image 40: A wonderful balance of flavours - the pumpkin sweetness, rather than sugar sweetness, was not overly intense so that I could still sense the chocolate and smell the vanilla. Bras' coulant never fails!
Image 41: The second dessert was cacao nougatine and ginger cream sandwiched in between a stack of three spiced biscuit squares. The best way to have this was to soak it with the coffee sauce on the plate to create an interesting coffee-ginger interplay. Amazing!
Image 42: Last course - a small cup of local curd of cow topped by a piece of thin sugar with a drop of chocolate sauce. A very light and silky custard to wrap up the tasting menu; a menu that Bras truly demonstrated his philosphy that "simple ingredients are often the most powerful". A triumph of simplicity and quality!
Image 43: While in Hokkaido, I was having ice cream at least once a day and that day was no exception.
Image 44: And even better, ice cream with five flavours as our petits fours: Pear sorbet, chocolate mousse, blueberry ice cream, mascarpone cheese, apple & cherry.
Image 45: They then led us to the lounge area for tea and a chance to meet the head chef of the restaurant. The manager also brought us a shot of pear and passion fruit smoothie as our last petit four. A fruity finish to another memorable meal…
Image 46: … and the beginning of a long chat with Michel and Cedric, sharing with us their fascinating stories of establishing the first Bras cuisine outside France ten years ago.
Image 47: After an overnight of snow fall, the majestic mountain landscape was transformed into an elegant snow diorama. I really wished we could stay longer, but unfortunately, it was time to leave as Kyoto and its restaurants were up next on our trip!