Fresh off the plane at Chitose, the whole tour group was ushered onto a couple of waiting buses and bundled straight off to lunch. When we pulled up outside a one-storey log house, the snow blanketing the entire landscape made it look like part of a charming picture postcard. But what got me really excited was the big 'WAGYU' on the restaurant sign.
Log House BIBI serves meat sourced locally from Nakasatsunai, a village located in Tokachi, Hokkaido, a region famed for tender wagyu beef. Apart from beef, there is also the option of pork, lamb and chicken, all of which you get to cook over a charcoal fire on the grill pan that sits in the centre of every table. The charcoal imbues the cuts of meat with greater flavour than what you would get over a normal gas fire.
|Best eaten from right to left|
The chicken turned out to be a revelation. Usually, because chicken takes ages to cook on these grills, the meat ends up tough and dried out. We didn't have very much expectations for the cuts of chicken in this restaurant to be very much different, especially because they gave us such thick, generous portions. We lay them out on the grill, where we had just seen slivers of beef sizzle, pop and ooze fat in waves, browning quickly on both sides and just demanding to be eaten at once.
In contrast, the chicken just, well, sat there, taking its own sweet time to cook. With nothing better to do, I used a new spoon to ladle some of the dipping sauce over because I can't abide by unseasoned chicken. And then we looked at the chicken, and waited. When we decided we couldn't wait any longer, we used the kitchen scissors provided to cut the chicken into bite sized chunks, hoping that it was mostly cooked through so we weren't contaminating the scissors. A few quick turns later, the chicken looked as done as it would ever be, so we helped ourselves.
Each piece was soft and juicy, and with the sauce giving it extra oomph and the charcoal lending a subtle hint of smokiness, the chicken turned out to be a sleeper hit. We felt sorry for having misjudged it so grievously, and really pleasantly surprised. The slices of pork belly similarly turned out to be succulent and far from rubbery, and went well with the bowls of rice we were given.
After grilling the vegetables, we turned our attention back on the beef. The immediate hiss and sputter when a piece of beef liberally streaked through with fat is placed on a grill is a glorious noise. When you basically have a piece of fat studded in places with meat, then the crescendo gets taken up a notch. Once cooked through, hot oil dribbles off, forming a rather menacing looking film that sits on top of the sauce you've dipped it in. When you can hardly feel the give when you bite down, and the meat seems to dissolve on your tongue, the world just seems a bit brighter, even in the dead of winter.
Since the restaurant is situated on the bank of the Bi Bi river after which it is named, after lunch we went to walk around the patio to watch the ducks and swans placidly floating around. The restaurant claims to have more spectacular views in the autumn and spring, and also offers feed buckets should you be inclined to toss things at ducks.