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“My dream was to open a restaurant that felt like being invited to my own apartment. Most of all, I want the dining experience to be entertaining and playful,” Björn Frantzén insists grinning, just a little mischievously. His conviction has paid off supremely. Frantzén has been announced this week as Sweden’s first ever three Michelin star restaurant. Unsurprisingly, Björn is absolutely overjoyed for the restaurant and his entire team. “I’ve created the restaurant I believed in and would want to go to myself. It’s very different to most three star Michelin restaurants and I am so happy that Michelin have embraced this.”
When I visited a few weeks ago, like any other guest must do, I’d rung the bell of the oak door at Frantzén’s new location, a renovated, three storey nineteenth-century townhouse in Klara Norra Kyrkogata 26. I was welcomed into a dramatic entrance hall with dimmed lighting and a glass ageing chamber displaying a splendid hunk of marbled aged beef where one might expect a picture. Then, whisked into an extraordinary lift that took me slowly up to a breathtaking penthouse salon. It’s furnished in impeccable, yet quirky Swedish mid-Century meets modern style that immediately feels more like the cosy living room of a rather wealthy, discerning and stylish friend.
A dramatic modern fire pit adds to the tangible hygge (cosiness), an overused term now, though here it does make diners feel enveloped in a huge hug. There’s a roof terrace too and, thoughtfully, a coat stand with smart Swedish overcoats for braving the fresh air.
“I want guests to feel I am welcoming them to a house party where they’ll have fun”, reiterates Björn. At his previous restaurant in the medieval Old Town, there were 23 covers, even though the new Frantzén now is five times the size and spread over three floors, the covers remain the same. “I feel very comfortable with this number. It means the kitchen can do all the creative and technical work, yet still serve and ensure the guests feel very special,” affirms Björn.
Frantzén's Relaxed Luxury
“A gap year” certainly wasn’t planned, yet Björn ended up having more than a year between closing the former Frantzén and opening the new. He kept on almost all his key staff, including Viktor Westerlind, his head of R & D. It gave him plenty of time to reassess. Recalls Bjorn: “I became mindful that I needed to reach out to a new generation of discerning diners, who know about ingredients, are well travelled and curious about dining adventurously, though not impressed nor interested in old starchy notions of fine dining.” It’s a consciously disruptive approach. “Luxury is different today. It’s more relaxed. These are people who feel happy turning up in Valentino sneakers and Gucci T shirts.”
Björn also believes what diners are looking for from a “fine dining” restaurant like Frantzén is changing. “For sure creative gastronomy is still important yet diners want more. They want to be fully engaged, immersed on a deeper level, even transformed by their experience.” It’s no exaggeration to say I emerge from Frantzén after 14 courses and many snacks, not stuffed, smiling, content and somehow feeling more balanced.
Take your Time
It is certainly not a place for a speedy lunch, my meal was one of the most lengthy and most exhilarating, and yes, fun, lunches ever. Bjorn says it is not unusual for lunch guests to be “lapped” by guests starting to arrive for dinner. And, full disclosure, I was almost moved to tears by the sheer beauty and brilliance of the dining experience and that’s genuinely a first.
What’s the secret to the incredible buzz? The limited hours the restaurant is open are definitely a factor. Frantzén is closed three days a week Monday-Wednesday. Explains Bjorn: “It means the team are always full of energy, enthused, and raring to go yet relaxed. I used to be a professional footballer so I need to be under some pressure to perform.” Having a menu that is constantly evolving, keeps the team excited and curious too.
Every detail is considered with great finesse. Once seated in their own intimate space within the lounge, Karl Frosterud, Frantzén’s Restaurant Manager invites guests to “meet” their meal. A counter table, rather altar like, at one end of the living room slides back to reveal all the produce diners will be eating; there on ice in its raw state. This takes away from the formality of a menu which we’re only presented with after the meal.
After aperitifs and incredible snacks - seabuckthorn and toasted oat macaron, and venace roe wrapped in a cigar of crispy potato straw, Bjorn’s take on Swedish classic “raraka”- guests go downstairs into the heart of the kitchen. It is one vast room with a massive hulk of kitchen counter, multiple open fires for cooking, a truly rock n’roll soundtrack (from The Rolling Stones to Guns n‘ Roses). Guests sit either at counter tables that I liken to front stalls or a couple of more regular tables to the side as if at a box at the theatre. As Frosterud explains: the four counter seats were the most sought after at the old Frantzén, so they wanted more guests to be able to experience that.
It is more immersive and interactive than any other meal I’ve ever had. Diners are free to wander up and look at close quarters at what is going on and the chefs take turns to prepare and present dishes up close-up.
Björn describes it as Nordic informed by Japanese kaiseki sensibilities with a spritz of French technique.
Crudo of scallop with salted Tokyo turnip, myoga and fermented scallop vinaigrette arranged like a rose looks as exquisite as it tastes (in the picture above). We’re instrusted to life the scallop rose and place it on e the cream of scallop roe and use salt, lime and horseradish to adjust the flavour balance. There’s a clear progression from light yet deeply flavourful dishes including umami rich chawanmushi (Japanese egg custard) with Frantzén “reserve caviar” and aged pork broth through king crab grilled over birch embers with “hot sauce”, sea urchin, finger lime and chrysanthemum.
There’s bbqued quail, truffled endive, sauce perigueux a la royale, a clear homage to haute French dish pressed duck prepared with its own blood. Wild deer is one of the products Björn most likes to work with, treated in truly original style mixing up Nordic elements, traditional fermenting techniques of fermenting, Japanese ingredients and French savoir-faire.
There’s spice roasted fallow deer, blood orange, foie gras butter and jus roti with two kinds of pepper followed by a deeply intense tea of grilled fallow deer bones and fermented mushrooms with red seaweed with silken tofu. Bjorn trained with Raymond Blanc and Alain Passard, experiences that have clearly inspired his love of nature and vegetable forward cooking.
He has spent considerable time in Japan too, particularly staying at ryokan (traditional Japanese inns) where they serve multi-course, beautifully plated, kaiseki meals. “It simply blows me away. Kaiseki is the highest form of tasting menu: it’s reverential and ultra-seasonal. It’s all about balance. What the Swedes call “lagom”. Kaiseiki enlightens me and I want my guests to experience this, thinking about what and how they’re eating in a different, if you like more mindful way.”