This sobadokoro is already booked through the year.
What separates a good restaurant from a great one? Attention to detail and fresh ingredients are the basic requirements; craftsmanship and technical skill, too, is paramount. We find that our favorite Japanese restaurants tend to be the smaller, more intimate settings that tick all these boxes, and where every meal is an adventure via the free-form menu that is omakase (“chef’s choice”).
Led by Soba Master Tatsuru Rai, Sobatei Rakuichi (樂一) has been our favorite restaurant for many years for special occasions. We will never, it seems, tire of the delights that come out of that tiny kitchen in this loving pared-back space they call a restaurant. As its name would suggest, authentic Japanese soba is the order of the day at Rakuichi, though some of the menus include simmered, grilled dishes, and sashimi and sushi.
As widely respected for exceptional soba craft as is Jiro for sushi, Tatsuru Rai operates the 12-seat restaurant, considered one of the world’s great soba houses, with his wife Midori. He mixes, kneads, and cuts all of the buckwheat to order.
The family team is always elegantly cloaked in kimono and yukata, greeting each customer as they pass into the cozy interior space and study the menu hand-written by Midori every day, and varied every day according to the season’s whims.
Dinner is offered as a multi-course omakase with small plates of seafood and seasonal vegetables, leading up to the handmade soba course, where lucky diners get to see Chef Rai knife his famous soba REALLY up close.
To put his epic into context, Chef Rai was the first person to appear on stage at the fourth annual MAD Symposiu, in Copenhagen last year. Instead of giving a speech, he simply “made noodles” in complete silence and stunned everyone.
Dinner at Rakuichi is all booked out through the busiest winter season next year! This might be hard to believe for some of you, but it came as no surprises to in-the-know traveler and our co-founder Jeanette Hall, who has been in and out of Niseko so much that her family practically spend half a year at Zekkei.
Anthony Bourdain is right about this place. Here is when he visited in 2011.
“Many came here after seeing Sobatei Rakuichi featured in his show. And these years with Niseko’s increasing popularity as the winter resort, can’t say I am surprised one has to make dinner reservations at least a year in advance, or hope that someone cancels last minute,” says Jeanette.
“While lunch is a good choice for those looking for a shorter version of the Rakuichi experience, they don’t accept reservation as usually two seatings are the most they can manage. Expect long lines and don’t forget the slurping!”