What’s Hot in Japan: An Introduction
What’s Hot in Japan: Onboard the SQ A380 SIN-NRT
What’s Hot in Japan: ANA Pokemon Jet to Sapporo Chitose
What’s Hot in Japan: Cross Hotel Sapporo
What’s Hot in Japan: Furano and Asahikawa
What’s Hot in Japan: Lake Toya Onsen
What’s Hot in Japan: A Day in Hakodate
What’s Hot in Japan: Domestic IOJ Service between HKD and HND
What’s Hot in Japan: Ramen in Japan
What’s Hot in Japan: Red-eye on the A330 KIX-SIN
After a morning of shopping in Sapporo, we checked out of the Cross Hotel and head towards the JR Sapporo Station to wait for the shuttle bus that will bring us to Lake Toya. There was a free shuttle bus for registered guests for the 2 hour journey to Lake Toya and it was a very nice clear afternoon when we reach the lakeside hotel. In between during our bus journey, we did stop over at the same transit point for a break just as I did during my bus ride from Niseko to Jyozankei in last December. The bus ride in the last 30 minutes was one of the most beautiful drives as we descended into the huge lake surrounded by green hills.
Prior to our trip, I had decided that an onsen experience was one of the most essential in Japan, since I enjoyed that a lot in my last trip. Initially I had wanted to head down to Noboribetsu, but decided on Lake Toya after reviews and I was mesmerized by the lake view from the resort. Since an onsen experience is best coupled with a Japanese Kaiseki course, I was quoted a rate of around ¥137,000 (~US$1,400) for 5 persons staying in one large Japanese style suite. The rate would include access to the onsens as well as a full Japanese dinner and breakfast for 5 persons. It might sound expensive at first but let me just say this was a very good value since the onsen stay perhaps mark the high point of this trip.
Upon our arrival at the lobby of the Nonokaze The Lake View Toya Resort, we were assisted with our luggages. A long entryway invited guests to the spacious lobby area where I proceeded to check-in. Guests were introduced to the resort in a space by the lakeside that had huge ceiling to floor windows showing the gorgeous lake view. They were also provided with a refreshing glass of beverage and a pack of coffee biscuits while waiting to check-in. Adjoining this space was a small boutique that retails these snacks as well as some Hokkaido specialty gifts. Behind the check-in counters lies a small supermarket and a bakery. Check-in took some time as many other guests were arriving around this time as well but we were able to enjoy the lake view in the afternoon.
The suite we obtained actually has a small foyer that leads to a pretty sparse bathroom. On the left facing the lake was the Japanese tatami living room that will be laid with 3 futon bedding for the night. On the right side facing the town was a western-style room with 2 double beds that can fit 2 young adults. There was also a work desk in the room. There is also an outdoor terrace and an enclosed balcony beyond the Japanese tatami rooms that would provide us with vantage points to enjoy the fireworks that the town sets off every night during the summer months.
Our first activity upon checking in was to have some of the red bean snacks provided in the room. There was 5 packs for every registered guest and it was a nice sweet treat for those who enjoy Japanese red beans. Since the onsen was one of the main facilities of the resort, we changed into the provided yukatas before proceeding to the top floor. The natural spring baths in the resort was divided into a male and female section and it occupies 2 floors with a outdoor rooftop section that provides beautiful vistas of the surrounding lake. The onsen also has various type of baths starting from the summer seasonal bath infused with citrus fruits, a herbal infused spring bath, a cold water spring bath and the outdoor section one floor above. It was definitely very refreshing and relaxing to unwind after several days of sightseeing around Hokkaido for the last few days. The beautiful lake view added to the enjoyment and it was easy to spend a lot of time here. Guests are expected to cleanse themselves before dipping in the onsen and there was ample stalls for guests to do that. Due to the expanse of windows, it was bright in the onsen and that changes the ambience of the baths since many onsens that are more traditional are usually cosier in nature with wood panels.
After the bath, we had some time to relax in a small lounge or to explore the rest of the resort before heading down to the basement for our Kaiseki 会席 dinner. During the check-in process, guests were asked for any allergies as the dinner meal is fixed by the chef on the day and there is no choice. This style of dining might seem adventurous for some but I do enjoy Kaiseki meals on my last onsen stay so I was looking forward to the meal this time as well.
Our group of 5 were led to a private room like all the guests and this provided a great ambience for the meal. First we started off with an amuse bouche which was a shrimp with mountain yam and lady’s finger in a cold refreshing broth. Then we were served a flute glass filled with a blue summer-themed cocktail, cold towels and hojicha. The server attending to our table also brought out 2 kinds of dipping sauce, one homemade by the resort which had a refined sweet taste and the standard soy sauce. They were places in a unique container that needs to be operated like a pipette filler during my chemistry class in high school.
When we finished with our amuse bouche, the next course appeared which was a tasty soup with pork belly and leek. This was one of my favourite in the whole course as it was sweet and warmed the stomach for the next few courses.
While we had the warm broth, the server returned with fresh wasabi including a wooden grater. And having had real wasabi before, I knew we were in for a treat since fresh seafood does taste better with fresh wasabi. This was a prelude to the next course which could perhaps be considered the main course in western meal terms since it was obviously the largest zensai (appetizer) platter for one I have seen. This is the course that provides a mix of flavours and includes a good portion of sashimi which was superb! As expected the platter also includes numerous pickles and has a wide range of flavours that really tantalizes the taste buds. Among the fresh raw sashimi served was a very delicious amaebi (sweet shrimp) that marks the highlight of this ‘appetizer’ platter!
A piece of grilled fish followed thereafter and like the presentation of all the dishes before it, I never knew that a piece of grilled fish could look so good! the texture of the fish shows the skill of the chef as it was perfectly grilled such that it was not too dry.
Today’s beef course would be a cold plate in the form of a wagyu beef shabu-shabu. What made it unique was the array of Hokkaido vegetables on top of each beef portion that has a distinctive texture when eaten with the beef. There was also 2 types of dipping sauces – ponzu and sesame for use with the beef. This was another tasty course that many diners would enjoy.
One of the last course before the rice was a kind of sunomono which consist of some roe in a cold broth served with sesame and ginger. This helped to cleanse the palate a bit before the server came out once again with a pot of rice and scooped each one a bowl of Hokkaido rice. My brother was a huge fan of the white rice and I have to agree that it was perhaps one of the best tasting rice I have ever had. The rice was served plainly with a bowl of soup and a side dish of assorted pickles. The sparse accoutrement was meant to bring out the texture of the rice itself.
Once the rice was cleared, the server returned and enquired if we would like coffee or tea to go along with out dessert. I ordered coffee and the dessert was another big plate that comprises of a cup of sorbet, a blueberry cheesecake, a fruit shortcake and a slice of melon. By the end of the meal, even if one did not finish or like some of the food, they would be full due to the number of courses. Needless to say, I was satisfied, but here lies the difficulty of kaiseki meals since it is really difficult to ensure diners enjoy all the courses. For me, it was difficult to say any one dish particularly stood out but the harmony of the dishes and the overall satisfaction made for an excellent meal! Throughout the dinner, our server was proficient enough in English to converse with us and provided some tips for our next stop in Hakodate. Service during the meal was also one of the most personal with one main server attending to us for the whole course until the dessert was served. Diners need to understand a Kaiseki meal is like an experience and for some once might be enough, but for me this style of food just might be the best dining experience ever!
After the meal, we head back to our room to ensure we would be in time for the summer fireworks over the lake. In addition, we found out from our server that the fireworks that night would be special with a more spectacular finale. Indeed there was a beautiful finale and it was nice to be able to enjoy it from the balcony of our room.
While the fireworks might mark the end of the day for many visitors, we decided on heading to the lobby for a short stroll and since our room rate includes resort credits as well, we purchased some snacks and souvenirs from the resort boutique and convenience store just in the lobby. Other facilities in the resort includes a game arcade for children, a relaxing music lounge in the lobby and a bar on the basement beside the Japanese restaurant.
The next morning, I woke up earlier to use the onsen again before embarking downstairs with my family for breakfast. Similarly the Japanese breakfast was another elaborate multi-course affair. Like dinner yesterday, our server ushered the 5 of us into an enclosed room with cutleries already placed on the table. Breakfast started with a green salad and several shot glasses of smoothies and healthy booster juices.
After the salad, each diner was served with a two-tiered bento box containing various pickled vegetables and beans in a multitude of flavours. This was to be consumed with the rice provided. Besides the boxes of pickles there was also a small bowl containing 3 small eggs that looks like quail’s egg. There was also a small contraption to pinch open the egg provided amongst the utensils.
After the boxes of pickles, the main course was served and this consisted of tamago or Japanese-style eggs and another piece of grilled fish. The fish this morning had a totally different texture and tasted more like codfish that contains more fats. This dish was also served with white radish and some sort of kelp. A small bowl of lotus root and vegetable consomme was also served with the meal. Beside the consomme is another small bowl of miso soup.
As you can see from the photos above, this was another fantastic breakfast that aims to leave diners satisfied. But this was not all as a small dessert bowl for breakfast was also served. The finale was a small bowl of mix fruits topped with yoghurt. Since Hokkaido is also famed for its milk, yoghurt can be commonly found in hotel’s breakfast.
Considering the amount of quality food that the hotel served and its beautiful setting in the rural countryside of Hokkaido, I thought this stay was still pretty good value. Furthermore the service we encountered during our stay was phenomenal and my family did enjoy every moment of staying in this resort. With that, I can truly recommend that travellers spare some budget for a stay in this resort and for the ultimate experience choose the Japanese dining option!