January 20, 2017
I wasn’t able to reserve a place for Björn Frantzén’s three-month pop-up in Macau, but the opening of its first permanent international branch Frantzén’s Kitchen in Hong Kong offers a solid consolation. Head Chef is Jim Löfdahl, the first chef Björn Frantzén and Daniel Lindeberg hired when they opened Frantzén/Lindeberg in 2008. Lindeberg left in 2013, resulting the renaming of the restaurant, and Frantzén has closed since July 2016 and will reopen in a new location later this year.
Even though some are arguing the trend of foraging and fermenting is overdone, New Nordic has yet to even arrive in Hong Kong. That’s hardly surprising — it is difficult to make the economics work. From flying in ingredients from Scandinavia, one of the world’s most expensive region, to finding a space in the world’s priciest real estate market Hong Kong, the whole endeavor is costly. The sky-high rental cost is mitigated when the Swedish husband-and-wife duo Arne and Helen Lindman, owner of the apartment block on 11 Upper Station Street, invite the Michelin two-starred Swedish restaurant to set up shop on their building’s ground floor.
Frantzén’s Kitchen seats 36, with several small tables and a bar area that serves also as a chef’s table. We sat across from the main chef, who was preparing appetizers and desserts behind the chef’s table. Main courses were prepared at the kitchen in the back.
The paper table cover was also the menu. We ordered some riesling and around a dozen items. Sounds like a lot but the portion size of the main dishes are only slightly larger than a typical amuse-bouche.
The first thing that caught my attention was the caramelized brown butter that came with the crispy flatbread. A mixture of cooked and fresh cream, Jim explained, while telling a story of how butter was a Viking creation.
First up was the Poached oyster ”63.4c”. Slow cooked in the aforementioned temperature then topped with frozen sea buckthorns, seaweed powder with walnut and juniper cream, the dish was mostly tasteless and less than the sum of its parts. Some ingredients, such as oyster and sea urchin, are simply best served fresh and raw.
The Apple and lingonberry macaron was better. The sticky yet crunchy texture of the apple macaron matched well with the airy foie gras parfait. A nice balance of texture and flavour.
The night’s most playful dish belonged to the Swedish sushi. Despite the name it had nothing to do with sushi; the only resemblance was its shape. Representing the rice was crispy strands of white moss, and the fish was substituted by a piece of raw fallow deer. This tasteless duo were opposites in their texture; the former crunchy while the latter chewy. The sole source of flavour came from a dusting of frozen foie gras.
Of the four snacks, my favourite was the French Toast with Périgord truffles, balsimico vinegar and aged cheese. The crunchy toast succeeded in holding the combination of classic French and Italian ingredients together.
We shared four mains, two seafood and two meat. Starting off was Roasted Hokkaido scallop in ”Nordic” dashi with ginger oil, spruce and finger lime. The scallop was perfectly seared and the finger lime provided a touch of tartness. Truth be told this was a very Japanese dish, the only thing Nordic was the dashi with a smoked flavour from caramelised dried scallops.
Janssons frestelse is a traditional Swedish casserole made of potatoes, onions, pickled sprats, bread crumbs and cream. Even having never tried the original, it is obvious Frantzén’s interpretation is entirely different. Served in a pool of anchovy-infused buerre blanc sauce and topped with vendace roe from Kalix and caramelized onion, the flaky cod melted in the mouth and paired well with the rich butter sauce. I was told Vendace roe is the world’s smallest fish roe and is often found in Nobel Prize banquets.
Most expensive item on the menu is the Swedish dairy cow dried aged for 100 days with truffle ponzu, beurre noisette and truffle salt. Out of stock, we had Japanese wagyu instead. The meat was cooked by sous vide for 2 hours at 70 degree, fried for 3 minutes on each side then breathed in the pan for 7 more minutes. Already succulent on its own, the meat’s flavour was accentuated by the truffle ponzu, although the texture wasn’t as tender as expected, especially considering the slim cuts.
Although a piece of grilled chicken didn’t look particularly innovative, as to be expected at this point of the meal there is more than meets the eyes here. The meat was cooked by sous vide for 3 hours, one hour each at 43°C, 53°C and 63°C, then covered in chopped hazelnuts and chanterelles with a blond miso and Jerusalem artichoke purée on the side. While tender, the white meat was relegated as a sideshow by the creamy purée, an explosion of fermented sweetness.
On the menu were three desserts: Sticky beetroot, Smoked ice cream and Syltkakor, a brown butter shortbread with Nordic berries. We ordered one each.
I was puzzled by the first one. Sticky beetroot? Turns out it is a feat of gastronomic engineering. Large Australian beetroots are slow cooked for 3 hours while being turned once every 6 minutes. Bake for several more hours to condense their sugar level, peel off the fruits into small pieces then cool them down quickly. The result is a chewy texture with a firm centre. Served with berries, liquorice foam and balsimico vinegar, the dish was an unusual mix of taste and texture that grew on me after each bite.
Tar syrup was poured on the Smoked ice cream, melting the layering salted fudge. A glorified hot fudge sundae with nuts.
We chatted with Jim for a bit while chowing down the chewy shortbread. We touched on topics from inspirations, cooking techniques, ingredients logistics, Swedish farms, living in Hong Kong to his expectation of the new joint. The atmosphere was friendly and transparent.
This meal was as much about the food as the experience itself. The food was playful; a fusion of Swedish traditions with French and Japanese techniques. Not every dish hit its note but I appreciate the effort and thoughtfulness behind the cooking. The bill was $2,200 for two, a hefty sum that didn’t even buy me a full stomach, but Hong Kong’s dining scene is certainly better off with a novel concept like Frantzén’s Kitchen.
Address: 11 Upper Station Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 17.30 – midnight