Continuing on our local tasting tour, this month we take you to experience French flavours at Bistro Côté Jardin and have a chat with Chef Thomas. Nestled in the valley between Mount Yōtei and Mount Niseko-Annupuri, Bistro Côté Jardin is set in the calm surroundings of The Chalets at Country Resort. The Bistro serves authentic French cuisine inspired by local Hokkaido produce and international ingredients.
The rustic charm of Bistro Côté Jardin greets you before you even enter the cozy restaurant. Chef Thomas’ own vegetable gardens line the walkway and the large, bright windows of the interior. Chef Thomas from Mâcon in France and his wife Yuki from Sapporo have created a little French oasis in the mountains of Hokkaido and their dedication is evident throughout the dining experience at Bistro Côté Jardin.
You may well be tempted as I was by the ¥1,000 lunch special, of a delicious galette with garden salad. We resisted this initial offer and chose a selection of different dishes to share. Eager to taste the French fare, we started off with a classic prawn Ratatouille chock-full of healthy summer veggies from the garden like zucchini, tomatoes and eggplant – very fresh! A second dish, terrine of sardine with an anchovy and olive tapenade, was an adventure for our taste buds. This dish was a new experience for me and I loved it. The terrine was rich and tasty and the olive and anchovy paste was a perfect accompaniment. The starters were served with delicious home-baked bread and non-alcoholic apple cider.
The delightful scents drifting from the kitchen were a trusted indicator of the dishes to come. Yuki brought us the first of our three selections – a spinach, egg and gorgonzola galette. This Bistro Côté Jardin favourite is a simple yet sophisticated treat that Thomas is a master of. Chef Thomas makes his galettes in the traditional French form of the Breton galette; a savoury crepe made with buckwheat flour. The thin buckwheat flour is the vehicle to hold any combination of fillings, such as smoked meats, shellfish or vegetables. It is very thin and the flavour is slightly nutty, pairing perfectly with the apple cider we were drinking.
We opted for the classic and the contemporary at our lunch, with a traditional roasted spring chicken and a salmon and vegetable dish with sorrel sauce. The roasted chicken served with an array of potatoes, and seasoned with thyme, was a hearty and warm dish perfectly suited to a rainy afternoon. The salmon with sorrel sauce (freshly collected from the garden outside) was another new flavour for me. I learned that the French sorrel is a perennial herb, resembling spinach or lettuce leaves, with a tangy lemon taste. The sauce added an extra dimension to the salmon and the vegetables such as radish, bok choy, beans and carrots.
The local and fresh focus of Chef Thomas’ creations – extended right through to the delightful dessert of the day. A plum clafoutis; made with local plums, was paired with homemade ice cream for a very light and satisfying conclusion to our meal. With a cup or two of traditional Taiwanese tea based on Yuki’s recommendations, we were quite content to stay in this little French escape all afternoon.
Thomas’s journey as a chef is an interesting one. Originally from Mâcon in the Burgundy region of France, he studied at culinary school for 4 years apprenticing and working in some great restaurants around the famed gastronomic region. After school he started work at a restaurant in a nearby village and when the sous chef had to leave for military service he took his position. Upon his predecessors return the two men travelled to Uruguay to work in a mutual friend’s French restaurant in Punta del Este, Uruguay. Staying for one year and helping build the famous restaurant brand of “La Bangogne”, Thomas then met another Chef who was travelling to Bora Bora and took the opportunity to keep traveling.
With no work lined up he travelled to Tahiti where he heard about a charter cruise boat looking for a chef. For 6 months he worked and travelled around the many islands of the region, stopping every 2 to 3 weeks in Bora Bora, where he would set up a market to sell fruits and vegetables picked up in his travels. When his 6 months contract ended he went to live on a small island with a French couple he had met – and found that the Le Méridien was nearby. Thomas worked at Le Méridien in Bora Bora for 4 years and this is where he met his wife Yuki. Together they travelled to work in the Méridien in Noumea, New Caledonia and stayed for 3 years.
Eventually the couple made their way back to Yuki’s home City of Sapporo and Thomas started his first restaurant “Le 1st Flour”in the city. They lived in Saporro for 5 years before taking the opportunity to move to Niseko nearly 2 years ago and start Bistro Côté Jardin.
1. What is your favourite ingredient you are using, and the ingredient’s place of origin?
I really like using Thyme in the summertime, the aroma is great. It is a great herb to use in Mediterranean style dishes that I like to prepare that are light and fresh. I grow some here but there are many different types and I use it a lot with vegetable dishes, fish, chicken and also sauces and jus.
2. What is your favourite pick from your own menu?
While I have only made it a handful of times this summer, I love making couscous for summertime lunches. Whether it is with zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, lamb from hokkaido, lamb shoulder confit, or sausage there are many ingredients that it goes great with. Again it is the Mediterranean style dishes I really like. Also fish in a basic way roasted with lemon or a fresh ratatouille are also great summer plates.
3. What is your favourite place to stop for a summer treat in the area?
Around this area, I just tried Niseko Brewing Company’s beer and that was very good. Also Pon Pon Farmer’s Market in Niseko Town is great if you have kids and want a variety of fresh and well priced bar food. Also I just tried B.C.C White Rock’s pizza which is a new option in the area and that is very tasty.
4. What is your number one Japanese Restaurant?
I wouldn’t say I have one favourite but off the top of my head there is Sessa in Hirafu which does really nice and simple Japanese style cuisine. Also Houzuki, on the road leading up to Mt Yoeti does great Udon for lunch.
Our all-time favourite Japanese/French restaurant is actually in Sapporo. It is called Igarashi. It is owned by a talented Japanese Chef who cooks right in front of you similar to a sushi restaurant using Japanese techniques to create French style cuisine.
In Summer until early December the restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. Occasionally Yuki and Thomas close if they have no reservations, so making a booking is essential.
Thomas explained how his cooking changes with the season. Obviously in winter the dishes are more hearty and fatty to give people the energy they need. Onion is a key base vegetable of French cuisine and features heavily in Thomas’s winter cooking.
Starting early December the restaurant switches to Winter mode and is closed for Lunch. Dinners are popular so please get in contact with Yuki to make a reservation.
Aza Kabayama 30-149
Kutchan cho, Abuta gun,
Hokkaido, Japan 044-0078