To front the line..
(Very) luckily, I was among the first few to brave the newly erected kitchen table at two-Michelin-starred + World’s 50 Best‘s ‘One To Watch’ Frantzén/Lindeberg in Stockholm, Sweden. Background talking, this is a mind-blowingly innovative restaurant – New Nordic if you’d like to generalize but a great commendable departure from such New Nordic purveyor giant as Noma – led by talented chefs Björn Frantzén (savoury) and Daniel Lindeberg (sweet). Menu, there was none. The cooking at F/L adheres to a free form menu based on availability of produce. The number of courses may vary (I had around 21) but the price is fixed at 1900 sek (approx £180). The restaurant prides itself in dialogue with farmers and suppliers for the best gastronomic effects. The approach is rooted (yet not too firmly) in French techniques but with a great Japanese sensitivity and stubbornness for purity. The Japanese twist has also materialised into the kitchen table – a bar of three seats located at what used to be the pass – where patrons dine face-to-face with chefs.
An challengingly exciting experience
In front of me stood Björn (head), Kim (sous) and Joe (an Englishman). The meal kicked off with a ball made of noodle shaped, deep fried potato. Crispy but nearly weightless, the ball burst into this delectably salty taste from bleak roe, dill and chive filling. Oven baked Jerusalem Artichoke was also an explosion of flavours and texture – sweet, nutty crunch from hazelnuts, acidity from pickled chanterelles and savoury, crispy chicken skin flakes. Gillardeau Oyster (from a family business in France and it’s like the ‘Rolls-Royce of oysters) was the freshest and purest with a seaweed-enhanced coastal dimension. It came alive with the sour apple frost and the cream with a juniper note. Halibut ‘Sashimi’ was prepared from a 12-day-old halibut (after its demise as believed to have the most distinguished taste) and served, like a sushi nigiri, on ‘rice’ of king crab and egg yolk cream (taken from the first egg the hen laid). Big flavour. The egg cream rendered weight to sweet and light king crab; the raw slice of halibut was lightly torched with brown butter. Together, the elements did not jar; I tasted the interplay between the crab and the halibut clearly. The minute seasoning of horseradish and the lemon allowed an uplifting touch. The following dish of Langoustine – shown as alive and flipping – was one of the highlights of the meal. Björn also noted that ‘live’ did not mean the freshest (there is a limited period in which the natural sweetness does not escape the shellfish) and explained how he separated one langoustine from another to prevent the loss of their natural sweetness. Back to the dish, the langoustine was chopped up, bound and seasoned with apple oil (made from apple seed). The serving was done minimally but thoughtfully – a thin layer of salted pork fat, crushed almond and rosemary with a finishing touch of green apple foam. The apple dimension (acidity for foam and nutty note from oil) was subtle but boast depth; the pork fat provided a sinister touch of greasy texture leaving the dish with a comforting meat touch (which is usually void in a raw seafood dish); the sweetness and bites from almond and incredible rosemary aroma that enveloped the wonderful langoustine. (That said, this was a killer dish as ever since I have been put off by never-as-fresh langoustines from elsewhere).
The meal continued with Björn’s torching a dainty piece of mountain reindeer – tataki-style – through a fume-less piece of charcoal to be chopped up for a ‘tartar’. Before that, I was given ‘boudin noir’ made from reindeer blood. Very moreish, the blood cake/sausage was toppled with salted bleak roe, duck heart and reindeer tallow powder. Bold and game-y. The tallow added a light but robust dimension to the dish, while the disc of apple retrieved juicy freshness to my palate. It was an offal-y execution that was spot on. The highly anticipated ‘tartar’ arrived with milk cow tallow emulsion, onion rings and caviar. AND some powder which was later revealed as grated dehydrated reindeer penis… musty. It purposefully maximised the game-y scent of such a delicate reindeer tartar, and the dish would be less virile without. The next dish was cockscomb which I did not think as highly of. It was a MASSIVE piece slow cooked in brown butter and finished with sherry vinegar. To me, a cockscomb itself in any context did not have a taste; it was just gelatinous but absorbed the taste of whatever. Therefore, the dish showcased how this fat-like gelatin worked to mediate in the ensemble of umami mushroom puree, beurre noisette and a vinegar-y note.
More cutting-edge was ‘Satio Tempestas’ or a dish of 39 ingredients. It was, bluntly speaking, a salad which mainly featured root vegetables. Some were raw, others cooked; some served warm, others at room temperature. Every spoonful was an introduction of new taste. Interestingly, as a result of thoughtful plating, not a single element seemed disconnected from one another. It was a clever metaphor of a Swedish garden and I felt as if, through my tongue, I was threading the wintery ground. I also thought the crackling fish scales on top were ace.
The meal continued with the freshly baked baguette (that had been resting next to my cutlery) and the immediately churned butter. A bowl of slow roasted Vidalia onion followed. The onion itself had turned unctuous; its mellow sweetness countered by a minimal seasoning of old vinegar; the truffle grating provided a sumptuously earthy touch. Scallops were served three ways. A teapot made an appearance first but I was distracted by the plump scallop grilled in its own shell and served with essence that had been squeezed out of the unappealing scallop muscle. The flavour got bigger with the quenelle of scallop tartar (prepared at the minute I was finishing the first serving). Fresh springy cubes of scallop were tossed in orange mayonnaise and truffle. Very bold. I loved the citric kick expertly combined with yolk-y mayo; the orange zest was also given dimension from the truffle. I was, then, advised to pour the scallop bouillon (in the teapot) into the shell. The broth had a good depth of sea flavours as it had been infused with seaweed and girolles. In a shell, thanks to the remaining truffle-y bits and the scallop juice, the bouillon became more complex – the boldest in taste but the lightest in substance.
A scoop of rowanberries, apple and black tea sorbet shocked and cleansed my palate. (At this point, Björn asked if I found it disgusting. I said yes). The dish was meant to invigorate the palate, not to appease. On the bright side, it helped me (after so many big-flavoured dishes) taste my ‘Black & Grey’ cod more clearly. Served mi-cuit and torched for a charred exterior, the fish was tenderly flaked and arrived on spinach leaves, but I was not convinced by the smoked cod roe with lemon sauce. I found the acidity to be at odd with the smoke-y salty roe. Monkfish, baked for four hours, was more lovable. The chicken and soy cream was a perfect match to the fluffy fish; the interplay between sea (seaweed + fish) and land (chicken + mushrooms) found a superb balance. The last of the savoury was veal – marinated in whey with thyme, honey and walnut oil – which retained its denseness after being slowly grilled. Orange vinaigrette and red endive brought about fruity lightness and bitterness that were not traditional for a meat course.
The desserts were also relentlessly unique. Chocolate ice cream was paired with pig’s blood puree – the other way round of having meat with chocolate-infused sauce. It worked; the strength of the blood enriched the mild bitter sweetness from the chocolate. The layering of soft and softer texture was also wonderful. Cauliflower mousse and hazelnut ice cream would have impressed me more if the ratio of cauliflower versus hazelnut were slightly adjusted. At present, it tasted too much of cauliflower and brought to mind that it was more savoury than sweet. Beer, yeast and egg yolk was memorable. Sweet, egg-y depth (as egg taken from ‘the first the hen warps’) was doused in mild bitterness. The bitter theme was carried forth to Oolong tea with seaweed and sea buckthorn. My palate was stirred by the frozen acidic sharpness (sea buckthorn), the perfuming tea, and the salty aroma from the seaweed. The emulsion minimised the aggression of those elements and acted a brilliant mediator. The meal ended with some comforting macaroons. (I loved the cardamom flavoured one).
The experience at F/L was one of the most unrivalled of my life. Exciting, really top-notch ingredients(!!). Highly skilled cooking. Innovative, yet unbridled minds. The vision of cuisine at F/L was materialised into provenance of ingredients and flavour combinations that I had never tasted elsewhere. My only criticism would be that the menu featured a lot of big, bombastic (at times challenging) flavours and towards the end of the meal I felt that heaviness and wished there were one (or two) dish less.
But, which one to take out?
I can’t really tell. (Maybe, just keep one dish aside for the morning after?)
(The rest of the photos are on my Facebook page here).
GO FOR: Risk-taking innovation. Sublime ingredients. Stunner cuisine.
Lilla Nygatan 21
111 28 Stockholm
Tel: +46 8 20 85 80