The Big Bang
Since December 1986, Bang Bang restaurant owners Masanobu and Toshiko Saito have been delighting Niseko holiday-makers and locals alike with world-class Japanese cuisine and a genuine izakaya dining experience on Niseko’s main street, Hirafu-zaka.
Skiers themselves, the Saitos moved to Niseko in the early 1980’s to be as close to the snow as possible. Masanobu worked in a seasonal position at Niseko Kogen Hotel before starting his own restaurant a year later.
“There were a lot of Japanese skiers coming here, but they spent most of their time in their hotel rooms,” Masanobu says. “The local workers though, had very few places to have a good time with good food. So, I decided to open an izakaya—more for staff than for tourists at the time.”
And that’s when Bang Bang began. The restaurant name is a play on the typical western pronunciation of the word konbanwa which is Japanese for ‘good evening’ or ‘good night’. “Bang Bang is open from evening until night, so the concept is to repeat ‘konbanwa’ twice. Bang. Bang,” Masanobu explains.
After 15 years successfully running the one restaurant, and growing through Niseko’s boom as a ski resort, an opportunity arose in 2000 for the Saitos to purchase the building next door and create what is now their sister restaurant, Bang Deux.
“At the time, there was a “café boom” in Japan. The big chains like Starbucks began to appear in Japan, so we began Bang Deux as a café. The original Bang Bang was over capacity every night in winter and our café guests kept asking for the Bang Bang menu! So, we decided to operate the same menu out of both restaurants,” he says.
The husband and wife make the perfect team. He with his confident yet understated calmness, and her with an infectious sense of enthusiasm and a smile from ear-to-ear.
They’ve kept a largely unchanged menu for their entire existence, grounded on carefully selected, Hokkaido-sourced fresh and seasonal seafood, grilled meats and vegetables from local farms. “It’s very important for me to use Hokkaido produce. I like customers to try Hokkaido foods,” Masanobu says.
Each year, they add just a few new dishes to keep surprising their highly valued returning guests. Such is Masanobu’s confidence in his menu that, when asked to name a signature dish, he replied “you must try them all.”
Their attention to detail isn’t limited to the menu though. The owners train their wait staff to seat their guests in a certain way within the restaurant each night. “We try to mix the nationalities when seating foreign guests. For example, if I have Japanese groups, Chinese groups and Australian groups, we try not to place them next to the same nationalities as much as possible,” Masanobu says.
“Suppose if I went to Paris and I was placed amongst only Japanese groups in a restaurant, I would be very disappointed.”
He thinks little touches like this are part of the reason guests keep coming back every year. That and the food of course. “Well, that’s maybe not for me to say, but should be said by others.”
In a resort which has, through its success, become more westernised, Bang Bang feels like a real, authentic taste of Japan, both literally and metaphorically. “Niseko is such a modern resort town these days, with new buildings arriving every year. I plan to keep our older style restaurant as it is. I hope the warm, homely feeling will keep attracting visitors from both Japan and other countries.”
Their team is made up entirely of Japanese staff, which adds to the authenticity. “I am sure my guests appreciate the Japanese culture and custom, rather than a westernised customer service experience,” he explains.
It’s a team who benefit from the owner’s theory that everyone in Niseko should enjoy the lifestyle. “We focus on work when it’s time to work, and rest when it’s time to rest. That keeps us healthy, mentally and physically, and leads to better customer service.”
That theory sure seems to be working. Tables at both Bang Bang and Bang Deux are booking out months in advance.
“We take online bookings and by email, as well as walk-ins when there is a cancellation, but I would recommend you book in advance to reserve a table,” Masanobu warns.
After 32 years serving guests from all over the world, the charming Masanobu and his friendly wife Toshiko have learned to speak more than enough English to easily hold a conversation.
But that doesn’t matter all that much, the food at Bang Bang speaks for itself.
This article was originally published in the Experience Niseko 2018/19 Winter Magazine.