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LUXURY HOTELS ARE (ALMOST) BACK TO NORMAL IN HOKKAIDO

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We’re in Hokkaido for two weeks to see for ourselves how some of the best lodgings have coped with the pandemic that closed the country down for a few weeks. So far, it seems to be a string of success stories. With the exception of masks and hand sanitisers, and closed karaoke bars, life in Japan’s northernmost island seems to have pretty much returned to decent levels of normalcy.

The Kiroro Tribute Portfolio Hotel in Hokkaido, which is the high-end lodging in the massive Kiroro complex, is one such inspiring story. Kiroro is an all-year round paradise for vacationers. Guests can ski in the winter and enjoy a variety of outdoor sports in other seasons. The Sheraton Kiroro and the winter-only ski in/ ski out Yu Kiroro are also part of this complex.

RE-OPENING OF KIRORO TRIBUTE PORTFOLIO HOTEL IN HOKKAIDO

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HOTEL SUCCESS STORY

Like all hotels in Japan, The Kiroro Tribute Portfolio Hotel shuttered for two months during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. It opened in the first week of July after a thorough clean-up and review of new safety procedures. When it finally opened its doors to paying guests, hotel general manager Hiroyuki Watanabe recalled that only two people checked in. The next night, another couple arrived to stay at this pretty large and impressive hotel. Occupancy was dismal for the first few days.

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We ate at Moliere Montaigne, the newest venture of Michelin three star chef Hiroshi Nakamichi. It’s located at the beautiful Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono, a massive complex of sleek lines and sophisticated interiors.

The restaurant felt normal in spite of the fact that all the staff were wearing masks. The arrival process, too, entailed a slight detour. Instead of proceeding direct to our tables, we were escorted to a holding room. Here, we filled up health forms and got our temperatures checked.

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As we all registered below 37 degrees, we proceeded to our reserved table in a room with a Scandinavian / Hokkaido vibe. Social distancing was definitely in place here, as several tables were deliberately kept empty.

FINE DINING AMIDST THE PANDEMIC

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The masks were the only deviation from what was otherwise a completely normal fine dining experience worthy of Michelin stars. Moliere Montaigne, sister restaurant of the famous Moliere in Sapporo, has just opened with a chef from the mother ship at the helm. The amazing dining experience Chef Nakamichi is known for was intact.

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The food was excellent as it has always been. Chef Nakamichi is known for using the best ingredients from around Hokkaido, but in a most original way. His cooking is neither quite Western nor Japanese, although the original Moliere in Sapporo is known as a French restaurant. After receiving three Michelin stars, I believe Chef Nakamichi’s cooking evolved superbly.

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We began with an assortment of Instagram-worthy appetisers and then went on to two main courses — both so good that all conversation stopped at the table. To start we each had an entire shellfish covered in a crust of black squid.

MOLIERE SIGNATURE DISHES

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The chef then sent us a dish charateristic of Nakamichi: grilled meat — this time juicy pork on bone — arrived, arranged tantalizingly on a bed of fresh tree branches.

He also made the famous cheese with berries dessert of Chef Nakamichi at the end of the evening. I’ve eaten this dessert at the Sapporo restaurant so many times. Seeing this again felt like a sign that normal times are not too far off.

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If this is how the post-pandemic future of the world’s best restaurants will be like, I confirm that almost nothing will be lost in the experience — whether in taste or in service.

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