A move of premises this year has allowed Björn to increase floor space – his restaurant is now housed in a renovated 19th-century building – while exercising his own interior judgements, implementing the sort of lavish home furnishings Swedes have become notable for while designing a labyrinthine restaurant over a number of floors. With just 23 covers, Frantzén is still extravagant: the entrance is smart and discreet, leading you into a hushed and thoroughly-scrubbed waiting room and there’s a plush carpet and three glowing, attention-grabbing set-in-the-wall “meat ageing cabinets” inside of which hang hunks of meat: Swedish beef and upside-down French quails, displayed as you might find ties in an accessories store.
A chef stands over an open fire, barbecuing something and waving a Japanese fan implement, and there are more chefs hunched over a counter… more tweezers… more piping bags
A Star Trek-style sliding door reveals a hallway, at the end of which is a lightless lift. I enter and wait to ascend (or descend, it’s not clear which), then a ceiling light blasts on and music begins… Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”. Music is a major theme here, each track a personal selection by Björn and an insight into his musical inclinations; jumping from Bowie to the Stones, to Phil Collins, Van Morrison and Paul Weller. There is a clear and distinct British appreciated and for that, he should be applauded.
Upstairs there is a wall of colourful jars – pickling fruits, berries and vegetables – and scattered books on cooking and architecture. There’s a cigar humidor, bottles of Krug, a roaring fire and blankets slung over trendy seating – all very lagom. The aesthetic high point is a counter behind which chefs fiddle with tweezers and piping bags. The idea is to use this space for canapés, a place where guests can enjoy the lavish and ornate atmosphere prior to their meal. The entire floor is a bachelor’s design, a Nordic Patrick Bateman-themed shagpad.
And so, dainty and decorative canapés arrive. There’s beer-cooked Swedish lobster in roasted cabbage pie, followed by “raraka” with vendace roe (from Kalix in the north). Then a light and puffy savoury macaron with pumpkin, foie gras, orange, sea buckthorn, toasted oats, green peppercorns and yuba (tofu skin) holding a mix of scrambled fowl eggs, condensed Swedish maple syrup and white truffle. They are all light and tasty, expressive creations from a sophisticated kitchen, cramming in components like it’s a game of ingredients bingo.
I am then guided to the counter and shown the ingredients “toolbox”. This isn’t upon request, but an evolution in modern guided dining, stage two of the restaurant experience. A sliding panel reveals the kind of stuff you expect from a two Michelin-starred restaurant: lobster, caviar, oysters, sea urchin, all on crushed ice. The expensive larder of concealed ingredients is a culinary tease, a show-off inventory for what to expect downstairs. Björn comments on how, “It took several thousand dishes to get where we are today,” and with a menu that promises plenty of upmarket ingredients, diners can never complain about being harshly treated.
Down a floor and the restaurant and kitchen reveals itself. A chef stands over an open fire, barbecuing something and waving a Japanese fan implement, and there are more chefs hunched over a counter… more tweezers… more piping bags.
I sit for lunch, having entered the restaurant over an hour ago.
It’s a sort of nostalgic nod to the meals I’d make as a student when toast and cheese would feature heavily
What follows is complicated. The menu is extensive, but elegant and inviting. Each course is a careful assembly of several-thousand finicky ingredients, demonstrating a strong Nordic-Japanese blueprint. There’s crudo with scallop and Japanese acidulated turnip, a wild arctic trout tartar with roe washed in rice wine and a baked wild turbot that’s arranged table-side in an overblown, magisterial presentation. When the ingredients are this good, though, I don’t care how it’s presented. Björn could walk over on his hands and knees, shirtless and rubbed in foie gras, with the turbot gritted between his teeth, and I’d eat it just as pleasingly. A buttery sauce of fermented white asparagus and beurre noisette is spooned over the turbot with Frantzén “reserve caviar” placed on top. The technique is classically French, but the ingredients and cooking unmistakably Swedish.
Then two thick rectangular slices of French toast arrive, concealing pipped creamy aged Parmesan and dotted with 100-year old vinegar. The dish is finished with a pile of grated white truffle, so much that the aroma temporarily fills the room. Truffles appear on the menu throughout, liberally shaved and sprinkled by a caring hand, but they become a norm on a menu which, I believe, should be appreciated and treasured, used sparingly as not to overdo and indulge the guest. The “toast” is a rich and buttery sandwich, small but plentiful, like a Swedish interpretation of the croque monsieur, except better and more artery-damaging. It’s a sort of nostalgic nod to the meals I’d make as a student when toast and cheese would feature heavily.
King crab is grilled over birch embers and arrives in a small square ramekin, along with sea urchin, finger lime and chrysanthemum. The waiter describes an accompanying “hot sauce” but frustratingly divulges no further when I question him on this. I distrust all such ambiguous descriptions. What’s so special about it? Is it the tears of a white rhino? Grounded tiger cock? What are you hiding? Either way, the result of lightly-pulled apart white crab meat with the creaminess from the sea urchin and piquancy of the lime is graceful and precise – a fresh and timely course in proceedings.
This is one of the longest and most exhausting meals I’ve experienced
Liquorice-glazed veal sweetbreads are expertly cooked and have appeared on Björn’s menus in some form since 2008. This incarnation is served with anise herbs, lemon peel, caramelized onion, roasted onion velouté and toasted almond milk. A dangling French quail from downstairs then makes an appearance: a single barbecued leg is served with “sauce à la presse” and endive (similar to chicory), pear and truffle. The dainty leg means limited meat, but at this stage I’m nine courses and five hours into lunch, so am thankful for a more manageable course. A rich tea follows, made from the grilled quail and is served with fermented mushroom and truffle tofu. It is served using all of the classical Japanese tea ceremony utensils. Hot stock is poured over the tofu, melting away the curd and infusing with the steaming liquid to release a fragrant truffle aroma. It has the strong umami taste of Bovril.
The only sweet dish on the menu, discounting a candy trolley upstairs in the lounge, arrives in two bowls: one consisting of a dozen mini sichuan pepper-glazed strawberries, and the second: a dried yoghurt meringue in the shape of a flower, inside of which birch tree oil and raw Swedish buffalo milk ice cream merge. It was a well-timed dose of sugar after such an oleaginous meal. The competent unity of Japanese influence with an appreciation for Swedish ingredients demonstrates artistry and light-of-hand application, as every plate did throughout. It was sweet and delicious.
This is one of the longest and most exhausting meals I’ve experienced. It is also one of the most considered and thoroughly researched, pairing regional and global pickings and successfully achieving that difficult flavour-balancing act, made more punishing by Björn’s decision to apply so many sensory ingredients. It’s posh nosh in Stockholm, so viciously expensive. At the time of writing, the fixed menu costs 3000 SEK (£272) or 4650 SEK (£422) with beverage pairing. Japanese, French, Spanish and American wines are all represented as well as Björn’s own Japanese-inspired Kuma beer.
The building’s inextricable construction makes it impossible to do a runner, so you’ve no choice but to hawk your grandmother’s silver and live frugally for several years. But by jolly Christ, it’s exciting and worth every Krona. C
Frantzén, Klara Norra kyrkogata 26, 111 22 Stockholm, Sweden
+46 8 20 85 80; restaurantfrantzen.com