I first experienced Björn Frantzén’s culinary talent almost two decades ago, when he was working at Edsbacks Krog. Back then, this was the only Michelin 2-star restaurant in the country, and there were no 3-star places to be found anywhere in the Nordic region. Then, in 2008, Björn partnered with pastry chef Daniel Lindeberg, and the pair opened a small restaurant (Frantzén/Lindeberg) in the city’s old town. The amazing blend of Björn’s modern style with Daniel’s creative desserts proved to be a marriage made in heaven and, in just two years, they’d gained Michelin 2-star status, and – shortly after – were listed in World’s 50Best. During those few years, I made a point of visiting their restaurant every summer, and was not once disappointed – every meal was simply wonderful. Sadly, though, despite worldwide acclaim, Daniel didn’t see the role of restaurateur as the path he ultimately wanted to take in life, and this – together, possibly, with an element of personality conflict with Björn – led to a decision to quit his association with the restaurant. He left, very suddenly, one day in 2013 – and the two haven’t met since that day!
If Björn was disappointed at Daniel’s departure, he didn’t let this disappointment hold him back. He simply renamed the restaurant (to Frantzén) and carried on regardless, relocating from his pleasant, but small, place in the old town to an altogether more sophisticated venue – an exquisite multi-floor building in the city centre with interiors that were meticulously designed to deliver a flawless dining experience. It was clear that his aim was to become the first Michelin 3-star in the Nordic countries – an aim he achieved in 2018. Today, Björn also runs a few other restaurants, include the Michelin 2-star Zén in Singapore, which is very similar – indeed, almost a replica – of his flagship establishment in Stockholm.
There seems to be one objective at Frantzén, and one objective only: to deliver perfection. From the moment you ring the entrance bell, to the time when you leave, you’re pandered to by a team of professionals who have no other aim except to make sure you’re happy. From what I could see during my visit, they have at least ten Front of House staff, and about the same in the kitchen – all dedicated to serving about 20 diners per night. And that’s not counting the support team that’s clearly working assiduously behind the scenes!
The results of all this are spectacular: every aspect of the dining experience has obviously been thoroughly and carefully thought through, as if they had created a “perfect dining experience checklist”, and were determined to put a tick in every box. Our own experience began on the ground floor, with an explanation of the preserved meats on display, followed by a tour of the prep-kitchen and wine cellar on the 2nd floor. The kitchen is linked by video with their sister restaurant in Singapore, Zén, so that they can work together as a single kitchen (this is the same idea as Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, which hooks up with its sister, Per Se). For the next stage of our tour, we were taken to the rooftop, where there’s an outside terrace and lounge area with very comfy sofas. Here, we were urged to relax, while our amuse bouche was prepared. We didn’t take a lot of persuading – especially since doing so involved enjoying a bottle of champagne. This was an excellent touch, even though it was immediately obvious that there was no such thing as a modestly priced bottle in their wine list!
Still, we always knew it was never going to be a cheap evening, and the team made every effort to make the experience as personal as possible. The manager and our waitress, for example, both came by to shake hands with everyone and to introduce themselves, and we spent a pleasant few minutes chatting.
After this, we were left to chat among ourselves for a while. Our waitress then returned with a drinks menu, and explained the pricing of different options – we could choose either a non-alcoholic pairing (£85 for 5 glasses of juice?!) or select from a range of alcoholic pairings. At this point, I couldn’t help noticing a subtle, but clever, point about the way they run the business here: by presenting each of us with our own individual copy of the drinks menu, they were clearly trying to prompt each of us into ordering a full pairing. It struck me at the time as just a tiny bit ‘salesy’, but – on reflection – It’s unfair to criticise such a strategy. It’s a business, let’s face it. And, what’s more, a business with a not inconsiderable cost base. After all, there’s a large team of people serving small number of diners in a highly luxurious setting, so it’s reasonable that they want to maximise revenues. Just don’t come here if you’re want to dine on a budget, that’s all. Consider that the beverage pairing is an essential part of the experience – that’s the best way to think about it.
At Frantzén each group of diners is managed to a tightly-run schedule. When the time slot for our group arrived, we were chaperoned to the front of the lounge area, where a chef showcased a “treasure box” of all the ingredients that would be used for the meal, along with a detailed explanation of the provenance of each ingredient (just as they do at Waku Ghin). At the same time, the amuse bouche was being served with our glass of champagne. The group was then shown to the floor below – which is where the real excitement begins! We were personally greeted by Chef Björn, and introduced to his kitchen team, while we sat at the counter like theatre-goers watching a performance.
During the meal, it soon became obvious that every aspect of preparation is meticulously timed and organised. Most of this preparation has already been done during the day, freeing up the evening for Björn to take on a monitoring role – he focuses with laser intensity on every dish as it is being served, to ensure that every ingredient is placed perfectly on every plate. Although each dish was fully plated before being served, some final touches – such as adding a caviar garnish and carving the lamb – were done at the table, to maximise the impact of the experience.
Needless to say, the food is top quality, and uses luxury ingredients flown in from all over the world. From the first bite of black tea macaron with whipped foie gras, served on the terrace, to the extra dessert of Alba truffle Mont Blanc, decorated in gold flakes and served in the lounge, this place exudes exclusivity and creativity.
But (isn’t there always a ‘but’?) with such an extensive menu, even with the tremendous efforts made to hit perfection, it’s inevitable that the occasional item may fall just a scintilla or two short of heavenly. Take the Norwegian king crab and sea urchin, for example. These were combined with an extremely powerful “Cantonese inspired XO sauce” – but why? It seemed strange. And the slice of succulent Milk-fed new season lamb, precisely pink-centre cooked, would have been beautiful just by itself. So it was a pity that it came accompanied by a super-spicy blob of Nduja meat sauce on the side – an addition that was completely out of place.
Still, there were more than enough great dishes to make up for these tiny imperfections in the menu. One of the best bites of the night was the fresh and juicy flash-fried Norwegian langoustine, along with the delicately butter-poached Icelandic cod, which was served in seafood and sake stock, and topped with Rossini caviar farmed from Oscietra sturgeon in Yunnan China. And, of course, there was the black truffle French toast, an iconic Frantzén dish since 2008. This, for the uninitiated, consist of a small rectangular block of caramelised bread that’s stuffed with sour dough and stewed onion, then topped with 24-month Parmigiano Reggiano cream, 20-year old Modena balsamic vinaigrette and a stack of black truffle from northern Spain. Wow! And let’s not forget the onion, almond, and liquorice! Variations of this creative “soup” have appeared on the Frantzén menu as a starter, a main – and sometimes even a dessert. Definitely one of Björn’s signature dishes!
The quality of ingredients, the cooking skills and the attention to detail at Frantzen far exceeds the standards of many Michelin 3-star restaurants. And while – at 5 hours – it was a long meal, it never even came close to getting tedious, mainly because of the excellence of the food, but also because of the interesting changes of scenery enabled by the multi-floor environment. The only possible criticism is – and I’m aware that this sounds contradictory – that it was perhaps too perfect. Organisation, rigour and attention to detail are all admirable and desirable in any fine dine restaurant, but too much can make the experience seem over-orchestrated and rigid. And while I always appreciate friendly and attentive staff, this can also go too far, making the service, at times, awkward and artificial. It felt just a little like that here. But all this could just me being a bit strange – not everyone will feel that way. One thing’s for sure – you should judge for yourself. If you’re into fine dining, a visit to Frantzén is an absolute must!