Frantzen’s Kitchen brings a touch of Swedish passion and flawless execution to the street of the Orient
Review by Sam Sinha
Footballer-turned chef Björn Frantzén’s first international foray, Frantzen’s Kitchen in Hong Kong, is a masterclass in organisation, passion and flawless execution. Running the kitchen day-to-day is Jim Löfdahl, who patiently introduces each dish and welcomes diners as they arrive – this modern farm-to-table restaurant leaves us full of memories of surprising and memorably delicious dishes.
Frantzen’s Kitchen stands proudly on the corner of Tai Ping Shan Street and Upper Station Street in the increasingly popular dining area of Sheung Wan, in downtown Hong Kong. The glass frontage allows us a peek at the smartly dressed staff finishing their preparations before service and as we enter we are greeted warmly and sat down at the prime location of the bar in the centre of the intimate dining room – the perfect vantage point to watch the chefs at work.
The dishes are finished off and plated here in the restaurant, while the messier cooking is taken care of in the small kitchen hidden away at the back of the space. The chef’s go about their business with a refreshing calmness. Everything is laid out in perfect order and plating is performed with military precision. They have obviously been trained immaculately and every member of staff seems to be putting their all into what they are doing.
I start with a Brekeriet sour beer from a craft brewery in Southern Sweden, and the crisply satisfying sour-bitter balance gets my taste buds prepared for what’s to come. A nod to the Asian location, a pair of elegant wooden chopsticks are laid out on dolphin-shaped rests. The menu sports helpful pencil sketches of the dishes telling you what’s what on each plate. This turns out to be a godsend as we try to identify the individual elements later on.
We order a set menu of some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes and watch as the savoury macaron is prepared in front of us: a sandwich of fermented lingonberries, foie gras parfait, fresh chervil leaves and a dehydrated Swedish apple juice disc. It’s a thing of beauty and raises a smile as we pick it up and bite through the various textures: crisp yet yielding apple macaron, creamy parfait, crunchy apple disc. It’s a flavour bomb; rich parfait underlies everything but is lifted by the sweet apple and sharp lingonberries, the chervil adding a fresh herbaceous note. A standout dish already!
Another of the ‘snacks’ is the signature French toast. But this is no ordinary French toast, and a million miles away from the thick slab of eggy bread and condensed milk that is Hong Kong’s version of the sweet treat. This is very much a savoury affair: balsamic soaked bread is toasted, doused in lemon juice and topped with aged cheese and a mound of freshly shaved truffle. We know it’s fresh because we watched him shave it. The aged elements along with the truffle provide a rich umami base and are almost too much too handle, but served on the side is a delicate truffle infused tea which refreshes the palette.
Snacks done, and we are already impressed. The service is immaculate and elegant but nicely informal and chef Löfdahl or one of his staff explain each dish to us, and are on hand to answer any questions that we have.
We are presented with homemade Swedish crisp breads with impossibly smooth and light, whipped brown butter which has toasty notes and satisfying saltiness. The cosy dining room starts to fill up with Hong Kong’s well do to, a mix of young money and business people. Expensive perfumes mingle with the aromas from the kitchen as we notice the clean Art Deco touches and impressive copper ceiling above the bar.
Next comes our first starter, ‘seven gardens’, which embodies the ethos of the restaurant. The aim is to use the best possible ingredients from as local a source as possible. In reality, chef explains, this means importing some of the best ingredients from Sweden, like the apple juice and lingonberries, seafood from Japan and some meat and vegetables from Australia and New Zealand, but if they can find produce good enough in Hong Kong they will use it, as they do in this salad.
The vegetables come from seven farms in the New Territories, the area of farmland and country parks that makes up the Northern part of the Special Administrative Region. The varying textures of the numerous different veg – okra, beetroot, carrot, charred sweet corn and many more besides – keep the bowl interesting, and there’s the added bonus of deep-fried sea bass scales. The whole thing is dribbled with Sancho butter. Infused with Japanese Sancho pepper, it produces a numbing sensation without a spicy heat. The dish is not as standout in flavour as the others but is very original and surprising with the contrasting elements and it’s apparently very popular with the locals.
Two further starters follow. ‘Toast’: toasted brioche covered with a slice of cured and air dried Swedish dairy cow and topped with a deep fried quail egg with a delightfully soft yolk. Then ‘tartar of te mana lamb’, made with New Zealand lamb that is only sold to restaurants in Hong Kong, and served with pickled cucumber and a mint and coriander emulsion that is reminiscent of an Indian yogurt sauce. These are paired cleverly in turn with a 2002 Chateau de Villars Fontaine, which combines with the toast dish to produce vanilla notes on the tongue and a 2013 rosé made with Grenache grapes which is almost brandy-like but tamed by the freshness of the tartare.
We arrive at the mains feeling we have already had a feast, but such is the quality, we’re eager for more. A 2008 Nuits Saint Georges is paired with delicate cod cooked to the very low-sounding 37 degrees. As its set down the aroma is enticing. The cod is succulent and flakes away with the lightest of touches. Different textures of onion add interest to the dish and the juniper, butter sauce spiked with pear in orange vinegar lifts it to another level.
We weren’t sure about this wine pairing with the cod, but the Nuits Saint Georges did pair very well with the next dish of roasted pork belly. With dark fruits on the nose, good acidity and light tannins, it complemented the richness of the slow-cooked pork with sweet and sticky aged black garlic, decadent pumpkin puree and fermented carrot hot sauce. A wonderfully inventive take on a classic.
Dessert is another surprising and fun dish. A perfect sphere of shimmering baked, smoked ice cream is destroyed in front of our eyes as molten clove flavoured fudge is poured on top of it. The smoke and clove combination and nutty pecan foam lift the more familiar flavours of fudge and vanilla ice cream to new heights and the accompanying sparkling pear cider cuts through the sweetness to leave us fully satisfied.
Enquiries: Frantzen’s Kitchen, 11 Upper Station Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong / +852 2559 8508 / www.frantzenskitchen.com/