Restaurant Frantzén in Stockholm is the best restaurant in the Nordics at the moment. That doesn’t take anything away from other amazing experiences like Noma, Geranium, and Maaemo, but I never thought I would say this about a restaurant – the current version of Frantzén is flawless. The team at Klara Norra Kyrkogata 26 cooked a meal so close to perfection that I would struggle to point out any areas of improvement. Every little bite from start to finish was a well-balanced flavor explosion. You can sense that Björn Frantzén leaves nothing to chance – each dish is meticulously crafted and perfected before it reaches the guests. An overload of luxurious ingredients, yes, but never compromising on taste.
Since the re-opening in the autumn of 2017, Frantzén has come a long way. I expect the three-Michelin-starred restaurant (Sweden’s first) to make a big leap on the World’s 50 Best-list when that is announced in Singapore on June 25th, 2019. I believe the restaurant deserves a top 10 position, maybe even top 5. Whether such an advance is even possible from their current no. 65 spot, I’m not sure of, however. All I can say is that, throughout the experience, the service was impeccable. The setting, both the lounge and counter-dining, is magnificent. The moment you enter that elevator on the ground floor, you leave the real world for some hours, and you don’t want to return afterward.
The Short History of Restaurant Frantzén
To understand why restaurant Frantzén has become so great, we need to look at its short, but fascinating history. It all started in 2008 in a different venue; specifically on Lilla Nygatan 21 in Gamla Stan – Stockholm’s old town. Back then, the name was Frantzén/Lindeberg, because it was co-founded with pastry chef Daniel Lindeberg. The two guys, who had known each other for ten years since working together at Edsbacka Krog in 1998, were both skilled craftsmen in their own right. Björn ruled the savory kitchen and Daniel was in charge of the sweets. Ambitions were high, and already in 2009, they got their first Michelin star, followed by the second in 2010. In 2012, Frantzén/Lindeberg was ranked the 20th best restaurant in the world by the World’s 50 Best organization. The next year, in 2013, it was number 12. That wasn’t enough for the chef duo, however, especially not for Björn. He wanted to have the first restaurant in Scandinavia with three Michelin stars. He wanted to be number one.
– Fine dining is all about being the best. Everyone wants to be no. 1. That’s more fun than being no. 3. If you have one star, you want two, if you have two, you want three.
The quote is from the 2015 documentary Hunger. It’s currently available on YouTube, but only in Swedish and without subtitles, unfortunately. A camera crew follows the duo Frantzén/Lindeberg from the moment they anxiously await the judgment from the Michelin Guide in 2012 until they part ways in the spring of 2013. The short summary of why the collaboration ended is that the two chefs had different ambition levels. Björn wanted to succeed even more and was willing to pay a higher price for that than Daniel, and towards the end, they could no longer work together. What was supposed to be a documentary about the road towards a third Michelin star, instead, became the story of how the hunt for perfection resulted in a broken friendship.
– We used to be best friends, and now we hardly congratulate each other on our birthdays, says Björn Frantzén in the documentary.
Today, Daniel runs Lindebergs Bageri och Konditori – a bakery and pastry shop in Nacka, on the outskirts of Stockholm. In July of 2016, restaurant Frantzén, still with two Michelin stars, closed its doors to relocate and renew itself. 75 million Swedish kroner and more than a year later, the new Frantzén re-opened. I was there on the official opening day, September 6th, 2017, and wrote a review from the meal. Not even half a year later, Björn, finally, received the highest culinary honor – his well-deserved third star.
Frantzén – The Welcome
The old Frantzén was a nice restaurant venue (today, home to restaurant Kagges), but it fades in comparison to the new premises. You enter through a stunning wooden facade at the ground level. Two staff members welcome you and offer to store any jackets or luggage you may want to leave behind. A door on the opposite wall slide opens and reveals a dimly-lit hallway that seemingly leads nowhere. At the other end, barely visible on the left side, is an elevator. It’s almost pitch black when you step inside. There are only two buttons lit up: one reads The Entrance and the other The Restaurant. Slowly, the lights brighten. Music starts to play. Back in Black by AC/DC played on both of our last visits, but Björn recently asked his Instagram followers for new elevator music requests, so that may have changed.
Frantzén – The Penthouse Lounge
Next thing, you find yourself on the top floor of this 19th-century townhouse in a beautifully designed penthouse lounge. An eclectic mix of cushioned and comfortable blue and yellow velour chairs and sofas, as well as leather safari chairs and sleek wooden tables, are precisely lined up on the carpeted floors. Green plants fill every corner and even a traditional Swedish Dalahäst is used as window decoration. There’s a small kitchen to serve the lounge at the far end and a brick-clad fireplace on the right side for that good ol’ Scandinavian hygge vibe.
Restaurant manager Carl Frosterud greets you and directs you to a table. The Champagne trolley rolls up promptly. Frantzén is a Krug ambassador and the house Champagne is Krug Grande Cuvée (SEK 680 per glass), but there are more affordable options too. The wine list is vast, but, luckily, cleverly presented on an iPad which allows you to search and sort as you please. This room is where you will enjoy the first couple of snacks of the meal, and also where you will return after desserts to have coffee or tea, optional apéritifs, and petits fours (or fika, as the Swedes would call it).
But first, a presentation of the ingredients you are about to eat. The tradition of showing off the fresh daily catch is common in Japanese sushi restaurants, where the chef often holds up a small wooden box with everything lined up. At Frantzén, they take it one step further. A hatch in the kitchen counter is pulled aside. Safely placed on ice are the house caviar and other seasonal delights that are in store for you this day. You may see scallops, langoustines, or lobsters, perhaps sea urchins, and whatever fish and meat that is on the menu that day. Each ingredient’s origin is explained, as well as how they will be put to use.
We smelled the black and white truffles that would soon be shaved generously over a few of our dishes. A delicious velouté of Hokkaido pumpkin with sea urchin, saffron, orange, and seabuckthorn oil was served at the counter while we sipped our Champagne. Frantzén has its own Prestige Selection caviar from the Danish importer Rossini. Frosterud wanted us to taste it straight up, only with the premium quality Purity Vodka to wash it down. Was it a little wink to Punk Royale?
Some of the most memorable bites from the meal are enjoyed in the lounge. Bite-size bits of beauty that make you realize that Björn Frantzén isn’t only relentless in his quest for perfection, but also equipped with an exceptional palate. A beer croustade was delicately constructed. The wafer-thin crust broke like a perfect layer of mille-feuille, spilling its contents of finely-diced scallops and trout roe onto the tongue. It was lifted ever so slightly by a mild spiciness from Japanese mustard and more texture and umami flavor from crispy shiro kombu. A small tartelette with celeriac and truffle was maybe the best of them all. The construction almost popped in the mouth, releasing flavors of nutmeg, argan oil and maple syrup. The new presentation we got in March was even more stunning than the previous version – and not only because of the edible gold on top.
After the snacks, you’re offered a breath of fresh air (or the opposite if you’re a smoker) on the balcony. If it’s cold, there are robes from Tiger of Sweden for you to borrow. Once you’re ready, it’s time to move downstairs for the main part of the experience.
Frantzén – The Counter-Dining Experience
Despite having a space that is five times larger than the old Frantzén, the restaurant has chosen to still serve the same limited number of guests – peaking at 23 covers. The lucky fifteen who get a seat around the kitchen counter have a panoramic view of the kitchen, while eight additional seats, divided between two four top-tables, are placed slightly on the right flank with half the guests facing the wall. Much better for a group conversation, however.
Frantzén has dubbed their concept casual elegance. Calling one of the best meals in the world casual is not gonna fly with a lot of people, but, at the same time, I get the point. Gone are any signs of white table cloths, the service is professional yet relaxed, and you’re basically seated inside a kitchen. A state-of-the-art kitchen, mind you, with an open fire section, a shiny golden duck press, and some of the world’s finest chefs at work. Björn Frantzén has always strived toward the idea of the à la minute kitchen. Almost everything is cooked right in front of your eyes and served as fresh as possible.
If you’re looking for strictly New Nordic, you’re in the wrong place. The French and Japanese influences are too strong at Frantzén. Sustainability is also not the main focus here. Instead, it’s all about utilizing the very finest of produce, regardless of where in the world it is sourced. I recently sat next to head chef Marcus Jernmark (who’s currently stationed at the Singapore branch Zén) in a discussion panel during a podcast event, where he was challenged on this topic. The philosophy, according to Jernmark, is to choose the top ingredient in any category. However, if there is a more local option that is as good, they will always prioritize that.
It’s extremely difficult, but If I had to pick a favorite among the savory servings, it would probably be the lobster or langoustine tail (again, what is used depends on the quality at any given time of the year) which is lightly grilled before it’s deep-fried for a few seconds together with premium Koshihikari rice. Crunchy, succulent, warm, and delightful. A clarified butter- and ginger-emulsion on the side is fatty and refreshing at the same time. We actually looked at each other and started to laugh, that’s how good it was.
Another signature dish that deserves to be highlighted, is the chawanmushi (warm Japanese egg custard) that is topped with a hearty amount of the Rossini Prestige Selection caviar. This dish has been on the menu at least since the re-opening, and was based on a previous version from Gamla Stan as far as I can gather, and it just keeps getting better for every visit. Our last two meals at Frantzén were in late October 2018, and mid-March this year. The first time, a dish of onions, almond, and liquorice was presented as still in the works. If that was the case, it must have been perfected by the second visit, because I cannot imagine how you could make those flavors play together in a more excellent way.
Then there’s the, perhaps, most famous of all Frantzén’s dishes – the French toast grand tradition 2008. A toast soaked in butter with a Maillard crust. Tableside, it is topped with a cream made from the finest Parmigiano Reggiano Vacche Rosse, a few drops of vinegar aged on juniper wood, and a sinful amount of black truffle shaved by the senior sous chef Petter Johansson.
– He has a degree in truffle, said our lovely hostess Klara Larsson.
Whether that makes a difference in terms of flavors, I don’t know, but he sure knows how to shave that truffle thin and stack it high.
On the sweet side, I honored Frantzén’s pastry chef Cecilia Tolone’s dish of tea, milk, and honey as the best thing I ate in 2018. The 26-year-old, originally from California, has a background from the French Laundry and also worked at Craftsman & Wolves in San Francisco and Lindebergs Bageri och Konditori before she scored her current position. She’s easily one of the biggest talents in the industry. On our latest visit, the new dessert was rhubarb, saffron, and pumpkin seeds – a combination few would even think about. Tolone is also responsible for the brown butter Madeleines that are served as the very last bite. Light as air, always served straight-from-the-oven-warm, and with that delicious combo of sweet and salty flavors. You get nine in a bowl filled with sugar, but they’ll keep refilling them if you eat up. Some additional words on that below …
Thirteen Hours and Ninety-Nine Madeleines Later …
Back in October last year, the meal at Frantzén was actually Kaitlin and my first (unofficial) date. In March this year, we celebrated her 25th birthday. I asked her to name any restaurant in the world, and I would take her. She chose Frantzén! We had a lunch seating at noon and no other plans this day.
– We intend to stay here all day! we informed the team.
– The record is over twelve hours, they told us, laughing.
Needless to say, we were up for that challenge. Thus, more than thirteen hours later, at almost 2 AM the next morning, multiple rounds of Yatzy and Sorry! (Ludo / Fia med knuff) and ninety-nine (!) brown-butter Madeleines later, the staff finally realized we were serious and told us they had to close. Sorry, Frantzén! You’ve just made that lounge too damn cozy, and we just couldn’t stop until we scored a straight sixes in restaurant-Yatzy. A world record I don’t challenge anyone to repeat. Just go home when you’re done.
Have you ever had a flawless meal anywhere? Tell me your story in a comment below.