Aneta and I had the privilege of celebrating our wedding anniversary with lunch at Frantzén, Sweden’s first (and at the time of writing only) restaurant that has been awarded three Michelin stars. I will not go into the classification system here, as this is a complex subject on its own, but according to Michelin, a star denotes “a very good restaurant in its category”, two stars mean “excellent cooking, worth a detour”, while three stars are awarded only to restaurants with “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey” (btw. I borrowed this sentence from my review of Croatia’s first Michelin star restaurant, which you can read here). This arguably gives the restaurant the unofficial title of the best restaurant in Sweden. According to another popular restaurant classification, namely The World’s Best 50 Restaurants, in 2019 Frantzén was the 21st best restaurant in the world. Since our prior fine dining experience topped out at “only” one Michelin star, we were very eager to see what awaits us in the most prestigious restaurant category.
Thanks to a combination of luck, quick fingers and help from our friends Marina and Tobbe who took care of our daughter during the restaurant visit, we managed to get a booking exactly on the day of our fifth wedding anniversary. Tables are released once per month and they typically get booked within three to five minutes. There are two sittings per day, one for lunch and one for dinner. The setup is the same during both lunch and dinner – you get a fixed tasting menu of roughly 10 courses and a choose if you want to have a wine or an alcohol-free pairing with the food. Aneta and me chose one of each, both in order to get to try more options and because in our opinion a wine pairing usually amounts to too much alcohol. There is also a hybrid pairing available, which I thought would mean that some courses would be accompanied by wine while others would come with an alcohol-free alternative, but it actually turned out that you get half a glass of each with every course. So in essence, for the two of us, our wine pairing and alcohol-free pairing equated to two hybrid pairings.
Roughly one week before our visit, I started to read reviews of other people’s experience at Frantzén, and they were full of praise, which contributed to raising our already very high expectations. So, how did the restaurant fare? In short, I was (ever so slightly) disappointed. For the long version, please read on.
I will first go through the positive aspects of the experience.
The laid back atmosphere
It seems that a lot of people still associate fine dining with a very formal atmosphere where your every move is judged by the polite but strict staff and where you are never allowed to fully relax. While this might have been true for some restaurants in the past, at Frantzén it cannot be further from the truth. The staff is relaxed and comes across genuinely interested in their guests without any false politeness. This gives a laid back feel to the whole dining experience. I cannot say that I am much surprised by this, as I would not expect anything else in a country where you are on a first name basis with your boss. But my feeling is that a lot of the positive compliments that Frantzén has been receiving come from international guests that at first expect formalities, and then become overwhelmingly thrilled when they realize how friendly and informal the restaurant is.
Another aspect where the atmosphere shows is the attire of the guests. I have seen a person in a suit and a person wearing leather pants (interestingly enough, in the same company). So you are welcome as you are, there is no particular dress code.
The chemistry between the staff
The staff is not only good with the guests, but there is an obvious chemistry among the employees – they love what they do and they love each other’s company. They are also knowledgeable in all aspects of the business. Traditionally, the roles of manager, chef, server and sommelier have been relatively isolated, but at Frantzén you will see the manager passionately discussing the intricacies of a particular wine, the chefs serving the food, the sommeliers presenting a dish… An interesting fact is that the number of staff in one shift is higher than the number of the guests.
The restaurant is magical and the meal is thought out as a journey through its various parts. After ringing the door-bell, you are greeted at the reception. Each company arrives at their own dedicated time slot to make the experience more personal. After this you take the elevator up to what is called the living room. Btw. forget about traditional elevator music, in our case it was Metallica blasting from the speakers :-).
At the living room you enjoy drinks and amuse-bouches. Then you are invited for a presentation of the menu, in the form of the individual ingredients (as shown in the title image). What is the common theme here is the highest quality and freshness. The langoustine was in fact so fresh that it was still alive, which I have to say freaked me out a bit.
Before being shown to your seats in the main dining room, you are given a tour that includes the wine cellar, the prep kitchen and the terrace. The main dining room is set up as two tables for four persons, in addition to fourteen seats at a large L shaped table that surrounds the main kitchen. This means that you can watch the chefs at work all the time, which in itself is an interesting show. And it removes the feeling of being detached from the food preparation that you often get in “normal” restaurants.
After your meal and the first dessert course you move back up to the living room for more desserts, drinks and coffee. We also took the advantage of the nice weather and ended our visit at the terrace. But we had to wait a bit until we could be seated there as it can only accompany roughly ten people.
All in all, from entering to exiting we were there for roughly six hours. That is quite a long lunch. But it went so fast, I felt that I could have stayed even longer, but the dinner guests started arriving…
Of course you expect even the tiniest details in such an establishment to be well thought out, but that does not mean they should not be acknowledged. Here is a small list of some of the nice touches that I noticed.
Roughly one week before our lunch, we received an e-mail from the restaurant asking us if we were celebrating any special occasion (which as mentioned in the beginning of the text, we were, our wedding anniversary). I was a bit perplexed when I got no answer, but they made up for it when they surprised us during the dessert session in the living room with our own anniversary cake. Very nice! Btw. the cake story continues further, but since it has a tragic ending, I will pause here for now and get back to it later.
As mentioned above, Aneta and me picked one wine pairing and one alcohol-free pairing so we could test more drinks. This was noted by the staff and for one dish Aneta would get the wine, while I would get the alcohol-free drink. For the next dish it would be vice-versa. Not that it matters much as we shared our drinks anyway, but it was a classy move.
Another small but nice courtesy is that when you get up from your chair, the staff immediately replaces your napkin with a fresh one, even if your napkin was unused. And there is always somebody from the staff ready when you are back at your place to help you get seated.
The final nice touch does not come from my own experience but from my friend Erik. As he is a wine enthusiast (check out his wine-devoted blog here), when he had dinner at Frantzén, his company did not opt for a wine pairing but were picking the wines themselves from the extensive wine list. When the staff thought that their pick would not work out as intended, they let Erik and friends have their wine of choice but they also offered a drink that they considered a better match, at no additional cost. That is world-class customer service!
Not everything was stellar during our visit. Normally I don’t expect a restaurant to be perfect in all aspects, but at this level the mistakes should be kept to a minimum. Here is a list of the ones I noticed, in no particular order. Some are subjective, and as such might not be classified as problematic by everybody, while others are just plain blunders however you look at them. In my opinion, the list is too long for a restaurant of this calibre. On the other hand, the three Michelin stars are based purely on the food, while the service quality, interior decor, table setting and related aspects are indicated by the number of Michelin covers (depicted by the fork and spoon symbol) and Frantzén has three out of five of those.
The food is not the main star
The food was amazing – the ingredients are of the highest quality, the cooking techniques innovative, the presentation stunning, the taste combinations daring… But, I got the impression that the food is just a scene laid out for the real star of the show – the wines. For every wine we got a detailed presentation covering even the history and geographical conditions of the winery in question, while the food was typically only presented as a list of ingredients. Nothing about the chef’s idea behind the dish. For me this left a bizarre impression that in one of the best restaurants in the world the food is not the headliner.
Btw. the same applied for the non-alcoholic drinks – they are prepared on site, but you only get an account of the ingredients, while most of them were ingenious and I would have liked to hear more about how they were maid. Even when I asked about this explicitly, at best I got an additional two sentences.
Not equally welcome during the whole stay
We felt pampered by the staff during almost all the time. They are aware that the dining experience at Frantzén costs a premium and realize that their hospitality plays a crucial role in how the guests perceive their visit. And as said before, they are great in making you feel welcome without any acting. However, after the meal, when we were back at the living room enjoying coffee and desserts we felt that the staff was not particularly happy that we did not order any more alcohol. Also when I asked if we could go to the terrace we got a scanty and cold reply stating that it was full. Of course, I don’t expect that they make room for me where there physically is no room, but I expected a much more diplomatic answer. If I worked there, I would have said something along these lines: “Unfortunately, it is completely full at the moment, but let me keep an eye on it for you. I will let you know when a table becomes available. Until then, just enjoy your coffee and desserts. Is there anything more I can get for you? No? Ok. And don’t worry, the sun will keep shining on the terrace for a few more hours, so you will get your share.”
What happened to Aneta’s coffee?
When I got my espresso, Aneta got an empty coffee cup. We thought that the pot with her filter coffee will come in a few seconds, but nothing happened for roughly five minutes, when a member of staff came and asked her if she wanted a refill. Is it a refill if there was never a first fill :-)?
What happened to our anniversary cake?
As mentioned above, baking a cake for our anniversary was a touch of class. So was stating that we don’t have to eat all of it now, which I interpreted as “We will pack the leftovers for you to take home.” But after we finished a piece each, there was no sign of the cake anymore. Of course, I could have asked, but I felt that I should not need to in a restaurant of this level. A double pity, because it was made with plums, which I never saw in a cake in Sweden but have very fond memories of Croatian plum-based sweets.
Aneta pointed to the wrong seat
Coming back to her seat on one occasion, Aneta was pointed to a seat which was not hers.
I am not exactly sure how one could make the process of paying feel more classy, but I thought that if somewhere they would find a way, it would be at Frantzén. Not only was it not elegant, but it was quite cumbersome and done standing in the hallway. It could partly be our own fault, because after sitting for a long time at the terrace, the frequency of the staff visiting us dropped significantly, so we went in and asked for the bill there. It could be another sign of us over-staying our welcome slightly :-).
In conclusion – yes, it was great. Yes, I would go again. Despite the mistakes that happened. Or maybe exactly because of them, to see if they would be repeated. But I cannot help escape the “Is this all?” feeling – according to several classifications this is one of the best restaurants in the world so I can only accept being utterly blown away by the experience, and I cannot claim that I was. And I am still wondering what happened to our anniversary cake…