Nordic

Where:
Frantzén’s Kitchen
11 Upper Station St
Tai Ping Shan, Sheung Wan
Hong Kong

Phone:
+852 2559 8508 or email info@frantzenskitchen.com.  There’s an online booking system but it might be more useful to punch yourself repeatedly in the balls so you can achieve the same levels of frustration without actually using their godawful booking system.  FRANTZEN’S KITCHEN USER INTERFACE DESIGNERS, Y U no let us see WHAT time slots are available or make suggestions as to what is free rather than making us stab randomly in the dark until a slot magically reveals itself as available???

Price:
HKD1,200ish per person before alcohol and not that much food.  We got out at HKD1,600ish per person after wine / drinks.

The deal:
Frantzén’s Kitchen bills itself as “a modern Nordic restaurant serving medium-sized dishes with Asian influences, all set in a casual and relaxed environment”, and it’s appeared as the first overseas offshoot of Björn Frantzén’s Swedish restaurant empire at the former site where Nosh used to be.  That is before Nosh, the casual brunch / lunch eatery, closed down and transformed itself into a “Let us deliver healthy low carb shit to your desk so you hate yourself a little less at work even though the very light is subsiding in your eyes” service.  Frantzén’s Kitchen’s á la carte menu has been created by Björn Frantzén and Jim Löfdahl (who is the executive chef of Frantzén’s Kitchen in Hong Kong and previously held down the same role at the two Michelin starred Restaurant Frantzén in Stockholm), the restaurant created in collaboration with the property developers, Arne and Helen Lindman.  I understand that the Lindmans were behind Nosh and actually own this Sheung Wan property which means props to them because their Nordic gastronomic adventure will not be at the mercy of the cruel and unnatural HK Landlords who are eating this town alive, one over priced square foot at a time.  From the get go, Frantzen’s Kitchen is an ambitious concept, stating that it is going to fill the gap in the Hong Kong market for modern Nordic cuisine (RIP forever Nur, Y U so fucking great but so commercially unviable?), their website stating that the restaurant will represent the “best of Swedish gastronomy”.

The restaurant itself embodies this Swedish sensibility, all clean lines, dark wood and grey marble tops with heavy stoneware, gorgeous as fuck cutlery which hasn’t happened by accident and a pair of chopsticks at each setting (cause hey fuckers, we are in Asia, amirite?).  Each menu is a series of black and white line drawn doodles by the chef which sketch out the ingredients and as I’m getting acquainted with the menu, the utterly charming Jean-Benoit Isselé, Frantzén’s Kitchen’s restaurant manager and head sommelier, swoops in with his dashing as fuck moustache and infinite amounts of charisma rolling off him in every direction. He’s warm, sincere and engaging, explaining carefully the menu and making sure everything’s perfect for his guests.  I react to this gorgeous act of kindness and off the charts service the only way I know how, by eating these feelings welling up inside of me, my fat little fingers shovelling as much of Frantzen’s Kitchen’s delicious as fuck browned butter and wafer thin bread crisps into my face with a heaping side of a futile attempt to not appear too gauche.

Frantzen’s Kitchen has a compact menu split into three categories, with only a choice of four “Snacks”, nine “Dishes” (with the recommendation for each person to have three to four each) and three “Desserts”. The one thing that every single server will make very clear is that they DO NOT recommend sharing.  Of course, this throws me into a tailspin because the prices per dish are not inconsequential and everything looks fucking delicious which means I want to comprehensively smash through the menu and somehow still make rent when it’s due.

nosharing

Reluctantly putting down the browned butter covered bread wafers, we get started on our “Snacks”.  It’s clear when the “Snacks” arrive why the Frantzén’s Kitchen homies are most def NOT about sharing because this is bona fide food for ants territory.  Maybe even micro, baby ants territory.  I get started with the Poached Oyster (HKD70 + 10% service charge) – a poached oyster prepared at 63.4c, topped with frozen sea buckthorns, seaweed powder and a walnut and juniper cream. It’s interesting as fuck, a contrast of temperature with the poached, just warm oyster playing against the tart, icy frozen sea buckthorns as the metallic hint of the briny oyster and seaweed powder is thrown against the warmth of the walnut and the hint of the resinous, coniferous juniper berry. This is rounded off in a cream sauce, which ties it all back to the creaminess of the oyster which hits you at the back end.  Despite this dish kicking serious goals, I guess I’m just an oyster purist though because whenever I have a fancy as fuck oyster I just always think, why mess with something that’s already so perfect just as it is?

Despite the repeated NO SHARING warning, I judiciously extract a tiny bite of the French Toast from Sir Crunch-a-Lot, served with winter truffles, balsamico vinegar & aged cheese (HKD125 + 10% service charge).  When I say a bite, this is actually half of the entire fucking dish.  It’s a predictably delicious given the ingredients involved but truffle smothered delicious items can just feel so played out by this stage.

However, what really moves the fuck yeah needle on Frantzén’s tiny Swedish snack time is the “Swedish sushi” (HKD75 + 10% service charge), where crispy white moss is used as a shari / rice substitute and it’s topped with hay ash, fallow deer, ceps (a type of mushroom) mayonnaise and a thin slice of frozen foie gras.  It’s a dish like this which makes you feel something because it’s not like anything you’ve ever had before (unless one of you assholes is on the reg, foraging about the Arctic Circle, hunting reindeer, making cep mayonnaise and then fashioning white moss snacks in your log cabin while wearing some sort of knitted woollen hat at a jaunty angle and drinking cups of sun dried lichen tea).  It’s distinctly taking something from the ingredients of Scandinavia while referencing a Japanese dish we all know, bringing it all together by using texture, taste and ingredients you can place but presenting it in a way that makes you think about what’s going on and feels so representative of what you’d imagine this Nordic world could taste like.  It’s thought provoking and a major fuck yeah and I do my best to eat this tiny portion of “Swedish sushi” as slowly as possible so I can piece it all together in my head and then revisit it to see if everything it made me think was correct.  However, before I can comprehensively reach a point where I’m ready to say goodbye, it’s already disappeared from my life and there’s no more Swedish sushi left on my plate.  CUE THE COMMENCEMENT OF MY SAD, BEREFT AND CRISPY MOSS-LESS TIMES.

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Given the open nature of the kitchen, you get to see all of the  dishes are all prepared right in front of you with deft hands and amiable smiles. It’s time for “Dishes” and there’s a reason why these bad boys aren’t called Mains because they’re still delicately tiny as fuck.  The Roasted Hokkaido scallop in ”Nordic” dashi (HKD205 + 10% service charge) is first up and it’s four pieces of gently roasted scallops topped with spruce shoots and fingerlime caviar, which the chef then pours a “Nordic” inspired dashi over it, made from smoked, dried scallops and also infused with ginger oil and truffles. It’s an elegant and forthright fuck yeah, with every element there for a definitive purpose – the sweetness of the scallops set against the greenness of the spruce shoots, with the bright edge of the citrus from the fingerlime. The dashi and the touch of oil in it creates a fullness to the dish and in this dish’s embrace, I find love that should be eternal because it’s not like anything I’d ever had before, but like a fleeting Summer romance slipping through my fingers, this scallop filled dream is over before I know it.

The North Atlantic cod “Janssons” (HKD230 + 10% service charge) is also a stand out, a piece of sweet ass cod served in beurre blanc and preserved anchovy juice, topped with vendace roe from Kalix  and crispy caramelised onions.  Kalix roe is some rare ass fish egg, harvested from a small salmonid fish species which chills out in the Bothnian Bay archipelago of the Baltic Sea in northern Sweden and predictably, is a hard to get asshole which only spawns a couple of months a year.  Hipster Swedish salmonid fish facts aside, the beurre blanc sauce here is major and the salty, fishiness of the anchovy juice and when you bite into the Kalix roe it just brings the fuck yeah fyahhhhh and depth to this dish.

However it’s not all modern Nordic dishes which are designed to turn your whole world upside down.  There’s some very well executed dishes which are all fucking great but just not that revolutionary.  But that’s part of the ebb and flow of a meal as well, because it’s not like you necessarily want to have your conceptions about Nordic food challenged at every turn.  The Grilled chicken (HKD215 +10% service charge) is excellent, the tender ass piece of chicken poached slowly and topped with blond miso, lemon thyme, hazelnut and girolles (chanterelles) and served with a quenelle of Jerusalem artichoke puree.  But it’s the Swedish pork belly (HKD195 +10% service charge) which crystallises the realisation that I’m just well and truly done with ordering pork belly at restaurants.  I just can’t get excited about it anymore and that was when I was facing down a perfectly executed, faultless piece of roast pork with accompaniments that all belonged together such as the earthy pumpkin puree, dots of apple based ”hot- sauce”, dried kale crisps and black roasted garlic.  Which raises a more existential question for me, that is, what kind of a privileged douchebag First World Life are you living when you just can’t get a stiff for roast pork belly which is giving all it can?

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However, for every ho hum another pork belly moment, there’s also some fuck yeah moments which sound innocuously straight forward, such as the Velouté (HKD120 + 10% service charge).  Simply billed as “yellow onion, liquorice & roasted almonds”, Frantzén’s Kitchen has obviously forgotten to list the other ingredients like “voodoo magic”, because this is such a fucking knock out.  Onion puree, almond oil, almond milk, almonds and onion soup with a whisper of liquorice cream to give it a subtle herbal, aniseed edge which creates this foamy thimbleful of fuck yeah times that I wanted to have so much more of.

The Lamb tartare (HKD175 +10% service charge) sounds like it’s going to be my granny perfumed fuck no nightmare with the promises of a lavender yoghurt.  However, despite my best efforts to taste my floral, soapy nemesis there’s no real trace of it, with this dish instead betting on Middle Eastern vibes with the cumin, feta cheese and smoked eggplant. But it’s the Swedish dairy cow (HKD295 +10% service charge) which leaves a far stronger fuck yeah impression, and not only because it clocks in at a very grand price for a very measured serving of 100 day, dry aged beef, all gussied up with petals from miniature viola flowers, beurre noisette, truffle salt, thinly sliced raw mushrooms and truffle ponzu sauce on the side. The minerality of the dry aged beef pairs off with the earthy mushrooms and truffles, the ponzu sauce giving it that citrus edge and acidity to the dish which is accentuated by the flecks of salt that catch the beef. It’s a fuck yeah triumph except for the persistent nagging thought about how this HKD295+ dish could really fit onto one heaped tablespoon.

Despite feeling like I’ve had only less than ten bites of food (and maybe half a kilo of browned butter with bread wafer crisps), I’m ready to fall into dessert.  Out of the three options, I’m most excited for the Smoked ice cream (HKD105 +10% service charge), a scoop of smoked ice-cream is covered in a glossy, golden, dark brown tar syrup and topped with bitter cacao nibs and nuts.  Hot fudge is poured over and it and the ice-cream dome gives up its perfect form, buckling under the heat, which is no doubt some beautiful as fuck statement on the transience of life and more importantly, a fuck yeah end to the meal.  The hot fudge is laced with cloves and combined with the smokey ice-cream and the deep, bottom notes from the tar syrup and the bitter cacao nibs, it’s an entirely satisfying and well thought out final, dark and bitter-sweet cadence to a purposeful meal.  It’s at this point that the Frantzén’s Kitchen’s playlist aptly plays the Swedish love pop classic “Dancing On My Own” by Robyn to close out the night as she sings bitter-sweet synth filled missives about watching former lovers kissing current girlfriends from the corner and I jealously scrape out the bottom of my bowl while watching other people receive their brand new desserts, before the lights turn on, the music dies and I take myself home.  Fuck yeahhhhh, desserts which aren’t a sloppy after thought which the chef has been forced to do because customers expect a sweet ending to their meal.

So the enormous price point of Frantzén’s Kitchen has to be talked about properly.  While all the other reviews might make a cursory mention that shit ain’t cheap and wrap it up with the glib platitudes of how it’s “something to save for special occasions!“,  I think it’s a broader, emblematic issue that with each year, we are careening towards some sort of crazy, does this even make sense price point for restaurants in Hong Kong, where we just make glib statements of “I don’t mind paying for good food, because there’s so much expensive average food in Hong Kong” before we willingly open our wallets and release our monopoly HK play money like flippant, worthless angels into the foggy, pollution filled Hong Kong skies.

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HOWEVER, I’m not a Russian oligarch or an African warlord who just dips into my iron clad treasure chest to rummage around my glittering rubies and gold ingots before I pull out massive fuck off bricks of hard currency to casually fund my Friday night dinners in Hong Kong. Regardless of where shit is from or how delicately it’s prepared, I don’t think any of us common folk can deny that when you’re laying down over HKD300 for two to three bites of beef, $hit is getting fucking major now.  But we somehow justify it because we’re used to laying down HKD200+/USD25+ for some piece of shit burger at some pedestrian as fuck restaurant on Wyndham Street or a HKD700+/USD100+ whole chicken in Soho because that’s just what things cost in HK. I just don’t know anymore, IS THIS REAL LIFE? IS THIS NORMAL BEHAVIOUR?  DO WE EVEN FEEL FISCAL RELATED PAIN ANYMORE?

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However, Frantzén’s Kitchen is really one of the best meals I’ve had in recent memory in HK and it’s a potent knock out punch when you think of the exemplary fuck yeah service and the very fact that this was food that actually presented new things to you and made you think about what you were actually eating and why. Also, no doubt it probably costs all the money in the world to be flying in bits of moss and fish eggs in from Sweden just so I can get my snacks on in HK.  Which is why it’s so easy to then justify “Oh sure, it wasn’t cheap but why would I want to have three average meals when I could have one stand out meal“.  Or perhaps more accurately, a series of countable, though wildly satisfying fuck yeah bites.  But as I roll down towards Hollywood Road with my senses vibrating on what is right, wrong and fair from a HK price point perspective, I can’t help but shake the feeling that perhaps in this city the reasonable amount of cash to pay for food is always an unreasonable amount.  So you might as well buckle your shit up tight and ride that unreasonable price point head first into some innovative and thought provoking fuck yeah Nordic noms which hits you in your heart and makes you pause for a moment.  Before resuming your normal program with overpriced, bland as fuck burgers on Wyndham Street once more.

Verdict:
Fuck yeahhhhh to some of the most thoughtful and fucking delicious food I’ve had in a long time but fuck me, this has gotta be at least fuck yeah on pay day.  Ok, I’ll be real – fuck yeah after two pay days.

 

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