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Hidden Gems – Michel Bras, Toya

In the run up to the Elite 100 Restaurants 2015, Andy Hayler picks out some of his favorite hidden gems.

There are a few restaurants in the world with pretty views in interesting locations, but none is more striking than the setting of Michel Bras in Hokkaido, the northernmost of the four main islands of Japan. The restaurant is located in the Windsor hotel, the solitary building on the rim of a vast volcanic crater. Within the crater is the large volcanic lake Toya, with its transparent blue waters and pretty islands. The other side of the building looks out from the crater rim over the Pacific Ocean.

The restaurant itself is a replica of the legendary Michel Bras in Laguiole, France, complete with artificial stream running down one side of the dining room. Here head chef Cedric Bourassin reproduces the dishes of Michel Bras, whose cuisine has held three Michelin stars since 1999 in France. What is interesting is that, although there are many dishes in common, the Toya version is in no way inferior to the original. Indeed, because of the stunning ingredients available in Japan, if I was forced to choose between the two I would say that the Japanese version of Bras has the potential to have a slight edge over the original. When Michelin briefly produced a Hokkaido guide, Michel Bras Toya was awarded the ultimate three stars.

Many of the same famous dishes are on offer, from the delicate cep tart to the iconic gargouillou, a dish copied and adapted in restaurants all over the world. This dish consists of dozens of vegetables, herb and flowers, some cooked and some raw, prepared in a variety of ways. The final result is beautiful to look at as well as to taste, the one that I tried involving eighty separate components.

This might be followed by confit of local wild Hokkaido salmon in pistachio oil, the fish having the sort of superb flavour that is mostly a distant memory in Europe. Wagyu beef is another dish that takes advantage of the dazzling quality of Japanese ingredients, in this case the beef served simply with some diced vegetables.

Your meal might finish with refreshing lime coulant. Service is impeccable, the smartly dressed waiters very attentive. This is truly a destination restaurant in every sense of the word. To get here involves a lengthy train journey from Hokkaido, then a winding drive up the volcano. However, the fine cooking is worthy of the truly remarkable setting.