by The Weekender

With the snow dumping down in the mountains, it’s officially ski season, which means it’s time to hang around ski towns. Few things generate as much of an appetite as working your way down a mountain in the cold, and an after-ski meal must first off be satisfying, something that’s easy enough to take care of. But then, if you think about it, you are on holiday, so you know you also want something a little special.

With the collection of top hotels, lodges and condos that surround a popular ski mountain such as Colorado’s Aspen or Switzerland’s Gstaad, there will always be some culinary secret, a spot that isn’t out on the main street. And in the right towns, you could have the kind of meal at a spot like that that makes you rethink all the restaurants in your own hometown.

Tokyo Tables headed up to Hakuba for a bit of time in the hills, and inevitably dined around the town. Not bad, caters to a largely Japanese and Australian crowd of skiers, guaranteeing a range of hearty options from Japanese comfort food to Mexican (via Osaka), fresh sushi and Japanese beef to English pub cheer.

And then one night, we asked our local man where the spot was, and he directed us to Mimi’s Restaurant and Lounge Bar. He was right. Mimi’s feels like it dropped out of another world, and there’s a good reason why. Run by Simon and Wendy Rawlings, the restaurant parachutes into Hakuba whole for the season from Australia’s Victoria state. There the couple run an award-winning restaurant, Summit Ridge, in the ski town of Falls Creek. They have brought staff — chefs, waiters, bartenders — over and set up shop in Hakuba’s Poenix Hotel for the past three years.

The restaurant is elegantly decorated and dimly lit at just the right level to draw attention to the view of the snow falling outside the window, but the menu is what really grabs your attention.  One page breaks the meal into starters and main dishes, and it’s compelling enough to make you want to ponder: “Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi, Prawn, Walnuts, Witlof, Beurre Noisette“ or “Chicken Liver Pate, Fortified Wine Jelly, Cornichons, Crustini”. Not simple choices, but you want to make them to find out what’s going on.

We went with the New Zealand Lamb (Pea & Mint Salad, Squash Puree, Jus) and the French Duck Breast (with Confit, Nashi Pear, Asparagus, Purple Mustard Jus) and were served two full plates of skillfully cooked and presented dishes that satisfied our curiosity. Both beast and fowl were tender and flavorful, with the sides depthening the dishes’ arrangement.

These were proceeded by the aforementioned shrimp with walnuts and a mushroom soup. The soup’s earthiness brought to mind the thought that for a country with such a love of mushrooms, Japanese restaurants don’t really ever stray in to the realm of the mushroom soup (not talking about the nabe or shabu-shabu kind, of course). And that’s one of the pleasures of Mimi’s. Chef Michael Newby is taking local ingredients, such as Shinshu Pork, Hakuba salmon and regional oysters, and putting an alien take on them. Aussie cooking in Tokyo is perhaps best represented by Salt and Arosso, but that must be just the tip of the iceberg of what’s going on down under. Together these three restaurants suggest that there are good things cooking down below us here in Japan.

Mimi’s would be the perfect way — and very romantic one, when you are in that kind of mood — to top off a great mountain holiday if you head to Hakuba to put in some ski time. Just a note, though, it may be difficult to return afterwards to your local Tokyo options.

Mimi’s Restaurant And Lounge Bar
4690-2 Hokujo, Hakuba-mura
Kitaazumi-gun, Nagano-ken

Open nightly from 6 pm
(0261) 72-4060