14 Mar 3 stars for Sweden: Restaurant Frantzen
Wow! What an experience. Frantzen in Stockholm. Only last month the restaurant was awarded 3 Michelin stars – the first for Sweden. It now joins Geranium (Denmark) and Maaemo (Norway) in the Nordic region.
With this latest accomplishment, Björn Frantzen, head chef and founder, has reset the world’s culinary compass towards Sweden – a relatively underpopulated country renowned for crime drama, cool design, tech start-ups and a love for foraging.
The day I ate at Frantzen, I had already walked 15 km/10 miles in the falling snow. Even the ducks looked cold. I had a booking for 5.30pm. You don’t have to eat that early, but many Swedes do. Americans will feel at home.
I’m not star crazy. Or am I? Secretly? Maybe. I dedicate this blog to the 95,500 or so people who tried to reserve at Frantzen for April and who will have to wait. The 23 covers equate to 500 seatings per month – with all 500 quickly snapped up for the month of April. The advantage – those 23 guests who make it for each seating are made to feel very special.
Frantzen – casual elegance
Frantzen first opened in 2008 as Frantzen/Lindeberg, in Gamla Stan, the medieval (aka touristy) part of Stockholm. It was a partnership between Björn and pastry chef Daniel Lindeberg. The restaurant climbed to two Michelin stars in 2010.
Then, with the departure of Daniel in 2013, it became Restaurant Frantzen. It closed in 2016 to prepare for last September’s opening in its new location in downtown Norrmalm, not far from the Central Station.
The new Frantzen is in a 19th-century labyrinthine town house in a quiet street. The restaurant is located over three floors: reception, kitchen & eating area, and the ‘Living Room’ in the eves.
The design is by Joyn Studio whose ambition as a studio is ‘to put people in the right mood’. They definitely have succeeded here. It’s all about ‘casual elegance’ with a Nordic/Japanese influence.
When I meet great chefs, I get star struck; like when I met Virgilio Martínez of Central in Lima. It was no less so in the moment when Björn greeted me. To be a great chef, you need leadership, presence, creativity; to be grounded, inspirational, and to have tireless energy and curiosity.
Björn seems to have all these qualities. He radiates charisma – in an understated, Swedish way. I wanted to photograph him, but the light was set for dining rather than photos. It wasn’t in me to take a so-so photograph of a man who was all about creating the perfect experience.
Linking Swedish producers with chefs
Frantzen is the culinary star of the Björn Frantzen stable. I would have also liked to have visited his Gaston Wine Bar in Gamla Stan. There’s a limit to how many gastronomic experiences you can have in 3 days, especially as most of them don’t open till 5pm.
In 2011, Björn also founded Exceptionell Råvara with ‘out-to-lunch’ (that’s his Instagram name) journalist Mattias Kroon. The project links Swedish producers with chefs. Other chefs involved include Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken Magasinet and Mikael Jönsson of Hedone (my first Michelin-star experience) in London.
What’s special about Frantzen
The late Franca Sozzani, Editor of Vogue Italia, defined the luxury of today as involving: “… exclusiveness, nearly uniqueness, and not because it is addressed to a few people, because it’s special instead.”
Now the meal set me back the price of the sweater that I wanted to buy from Acne Studios (Sweden’s uber-cool fashion brand). I could have bought that sweater in over 45 stores around the world, and online. Meanwhile, Frantzen is unique. Even if I go back to Frantzen, it won’t be the same – the menu changes, the music changes, the guests change and I will have changed.
In any case, I probably would have ruined the Acne Studios sweater in the wash.
Arriving at Frantzen
Enter through the solid wood and reflective glass door at Klara Norra kyrkogata, No 26, and I passed into another world; a world of delightful culinary fantasies, where each guest’s experience is tailor-made and personally guided.
I was greeted by name. My gaze was distracted by the dry-aged meat cabinets in the reception area. They were hung with pork from Frantzen’s own pigs, and quail from France… on the menu that night.
I then walked through a sliding glass door, along a dark corridor lined by two rills with floating orchids, and up in the lift to the tunes of ACDC‘s Back in Black.
Carl Frosterud, the General Manager, greeted me on my arrival at the second floor. Here the restaurant has its own terrace… it was too cold that day to go out, even for a short time. I was escorted down a corridor lined with jars of pickles, conserves and dried this and that to arrive in the heart of the Living Room, with its log stove drawing me in.
Here I was seated by the fire and the open kitchen, where the team were preparing the appetisers. Everything was calm and flowing – music included. This was food as art, as performance, as design – and, I would add, as spiritual connection, but that’s my hippy-dippy side showing up.
Appetisers by the fire
Just at the right moment, as if by magic, the appetisers started to flow. To accompany them, I went for a fruit juice… gooseberries infused with lilac syrup.
The sommelier, Lukas, then invited me to the kitchen area. He slid back a cover to reveal some of the ingredients we were going to eat that evening. Each ingredient had a story. Many were Nordic. Some were not; like the myoga, Japanese ginger, of which only the flower buds are eaten, while Frantzen’s own-label caviar was sustainable caviar from France.
Fruit juice rather than wine
I chose the fruit-juice rather than the wine pairing. It seemed more of a Swedish experience. This was the first time in my life that I have felt that fruit juice has gone as well with a meal as wine. In all, there were about 10 different juices, created and made by Frantzen, of course. I did not taste all of them. Each one I did blew my mind in the same way that a good wine does.
Swedes, though, are big drinkers of champagne and of good wine, especially wine produced to the rhythm of the environment. Looking at the wine list, I saw a few names that I knew from having met them with Clos Driver, in particular Dhondt-Grellet (at 26 years old named Champagne Producer of the Year 2017) and Domaine Weinbach (Alsace) to name two. The sommeliers paid as much reverence to the juices as to the wine.
The journey continues…
When the moment felt right for all, I was accompanied along the corridor. I then went down one flight of narrow stairs to the kitchen. It was here that I was personally greeted by Björn, as if I were visiting his home.
Most of the seats are around the L-shaped bar, with a solid walnut surface, a generous 80cm/30inches wide. I was seated at the end nearest the chefs… that made me feel so special.
The power of now
The synchronisation of the kitchen team was mesmerizing. It made me recall the words of Eckhart Tolle in The Power of Now about the natural state of “felt oneness” … a “state of connectedness with something immeasurable and indestructible”. I last experienced this at the performance of the Kodo drummers from Japan at the Barbican in London, back in 2016.
The 3-star menu begins… with fish
Then on to the meat…
And finally the dessert…
Retiring to the Living Room
We returned to the Living Room for some more delights and a few surprises..
Touches that mattered at Frantzén
- The ‘global‘ team in the kitchen, reflecting a global experience. Executive chef Marcus Jernmark joined from New York’s 3 Michelin-starred Swedish restaurant, Aquavit, where he was also Executive Chef. While Björn himself has worked at the likes of Chez Nico and Pied à Terre in London and L’Arpège in Paris.
- The atmosphere of ‘casual elegance‘ meant that I could just be my (respectful and appreciative) self, wearing the same shoes that I had worn to tramp around in the snow all day.
- The music – selected by Björn and to go with the rhythm in the kitchen – Carlos Santana, Raphael Saadiq, Carole King, James Taylor… Wow, I hadn’t heard these for a while, and they were perfect for the tempo.
- Almost last, but not least, my neighbours at the bar… two very pleasant, elegant Swedish women with blond hair and black, thick-rimmed glasses. We didn’t talk much – in the same way that I don’t like to talk when I am having a massage; I prefer to be at one with the experience.
- The beautifully hand-written bill, or check as Swedes call it in English, given that most of them speak American English.
This was not about eating out… this was about living a five-hour experience of the senses. Like with Central Restaurant in Lima, I won’t forget that evening, ever. I want to be back… just like in the lyrics of ACDC’s Back in Black.