Escape into a blue cube in the middle of Sapporo’s Susukino pleasure quarter to delight in a moment of French food and natural wines that honor classical elements while daring to do something new. aki nagao is an unparalleled dining experience that weaves together French techniques, Hokkaido produce, natural wines, and space and craft inspired by Chef Nagao’s unique sensibilities. Team aki nagao’s gift to all is expertly curated food and wine pairings, each a movement in a wonderfully orchestrated performance. So fulfilling and heart-warming is the experience that you will want to visit time and again.
Sapporo’s Susukino is one of Japan’s premier entertainment quarters. Right in the middle of the busy district, on the first floor of a building filled with eateries and bars, is the flagship of a group of eight restaurants under a single chef featuring French cuisine and natural wine. Bestowed with a Michelin star, aki nagao stands out in the neighborhood, striking an elegant pose with its deep blue cubic exterior. The door offers an escape from the busy atmosphere outside into a calm space of antique brick and whitewashed walls.
Upon entering, you will be drawn to two artworks: a copy of the Da Vinci piece Lady with an Ermine and a stainless-steel plate. Both works of artist and Sapporo resident Yuzo Chiba, together they capture the contrastive elements that typify the aki nagao style – the traditional and classical side by side with the modern and new. Opened in 2010 by Hokkaido native Chef Akihiro Nagao, whose greatest realization from experiences in Tokyo and France before bringing him back to Sapporo was just how wonderful Hokkaido is. An incredibly competent and friendly service team is integral to the joy of dining here. Very few restaurants place so much value on drink pairings, and the team here adopts the perfect style for understanding guests’ preferences and making recommendations. Service staff well versed in whiskey and sake in addition to wine, a sommelier in charge of non-alcoholic pairings, and team members who can seamlessly cross over between the kitchen and dining room: all professional but each uniquely individual, they create the most exquisite pairings through a meticulous exchange of ideas with the chef. The richness of their communication spawns combinations of uncompromised quality.
Stunningly delicious and creative cuisine made from Hokkaido’s best produce
Aki nagao offers a single chef’s degustation course. It includes two appetizers, soup, a fish dish, a meat dish, and dessert. The content changes dramatically from season to season, with small daily changes based on the best produce available at that moment. And a great rarity at authentic French restaurants, with sufficient notice, the chef can even prepare a children’s menu.
The secret ingredient in Nagao’s cuisine is, without question, love. Love for the ingredients, the producers, the service staff, and the guests. He discovered this element when contemplating the foods people say they love most, and so often, it is whatever their mother makes. Professional chefs wield their knowledge, techniques, and experiences, but the food mothers make for their children is positively brimming with love. If a restaurant has that element, it can be genuinely wonderful.
Nagao’s dishes have a multi-sensory appeal. The combination of Hokuto wagyu rump and Hakodate Ezo abalone is a texture and temperature sensation. The proteins – one from the land and one from the sea – are cut and cooked in ways that yield identical textures and yet vastly different flavors, surprising guests as they sink their teeth in. A dish with incredible visual impact is fried Lake Shikotsu red salmon wrapped in oboro-kombu shredded tangle. You will not find the fish in this dish, only the fish’s head and tail. Guests are instructed to use their hands to devour the playful dish that allows guests to drop all pretense and inhibitions and feel like a child again. The chef’s creation of a mi cuit fish dish of Rausu kinki (broadfin thornyhead) with three oil sauces was inspired by the joy of colors and the beauty on the edges where the colors start to merge. Paprika oil in orange, a yellow oil made with garam masala, and green parsley oil, this dish is made with mostly Hokkaido ingredients but features non-Japanese spices and seasonings, demonstrating the chef’s uninhibited style. The Ezo deer in the meat dish is hunted by a Shiranuka veteran whose clients span the Japanese archipelago. Chef Nagao is very particular about tender flesh and fine grain, so he always specifies his order for a three-year-old doe. He ages it for about two weeks and then roasts the block of meat whole for exquisite texture and flavor that changes many guests’ minds about venison. Paired with a concentrated, classic French red wine sauce, the chef simultaneously displays respect for traditional French cuisine and an innovative sensibility. There seems to be no limit to his ingenuity.
Every dish could be the star at aki nagao, and there is no self-proclaimed signature. Chef Nagao believes guests should decide because a specialty is a dish many people want to eat over and again. He dreams of creating even one type of modern local cuisine whose methods are passed on over generations to please the many who cannot get enough of its delicious flavor. The best local example is ‘soup curry’ – a Hokkaido specialty that has emerged in the past 20 years. That is his impetus for formulating creative dishes every day. He is in the thick of a process to create a new dish that everyone will want to copy, not tracing the lines of existing local foods but launching something new – the future of local cuisine.
The vast majority of ingredients hail from Hokkaido because that is what guests seek when they visit the far north Island. Chef Nagao carefully selects the highest quality items and attends to his mission of preparing them to accentuate their best features and flavors. Nagao also grows vegetables and herbs in fields owned by his company, and he forages for wild vegetables in the spring and mushrooms come autumn. Even the cooking water is from Hokkaido! The mineral-rich deep ocean water used in preparation is from Iwanai Town, located in the Nishi-Shakotan region.
Natural wine dominates the collection at aki nagao, including wines from countries worldwide and 15 Hokkaido wineries. The in-store seller holds many wines ready to drink, and another 10,000 bottles age gently in a seller at a separate location. Chef Nagao says the wines are chosen not based on name value or knowledge. It all comes down to taste. And when you get deep into food and wine, you see it is all about people. It is not a coincidence that delicious products are made in the hands of lovely, inspiring people who take their work seriously. The restaurant team undertakes regular tasting and checking of storage conditions. And as with ingredients, wines must be watched carefully to find their peak. Some are best enjoyed young and fresh; others will not be ready for five or ten years.
Almost every guest visiting aki nagao partakes in a wine pairing course. The options are either a Hokkaido wine course or one composed of natural wines from around the world, and in both, the focus is on the synergy between the cuisine and the wine. Pairings take many forms – alignment of flavors, supplementing missing elements, generating totally new tastes – and the aki nagao pairing course meanders beautifully through each. Natural wines, in particular, vary significantly by the bottle, so the team does a tasting to check the condition each day before service. The chef makes final minor adjustments to the cuisine based on these assessments, resulting in a highly polished pairing experience.
Going beyond pairing, a very popular option at aki nagao is ‘tripling’ – the chance to try two different drinks with one dish. Chef Nagao’s cuisine contains numerous interwoven elements, and two glasses highlighting separate elements ensure double the pleasure! And guests still thirsty for more will be delighted with the selection of digestifs and sweet wines. The chef also sings the praises of the non-alcohol pairing course containing offbeat, creative combinations of Hokkaido ingredients that not even a chef would consider. Head sommelier Misaki Ueshima talks cheerfully about how the team never compromises regarding the things guests put in their mouths. Whether you like a drink or prefer something non-alcoholic, you will be glad you visited aki nagao for the true taste of happiness the marriage of food and drink brings.
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥8,000