In light of COVID-19, we encourage diners to take precautions when going out. You can also support your favourite restaurants by getting takeaway and delivery.
The river of history churns. Galileo discovered that man is not at the centre of the universe. Einstein showed that gravity is the curvature of time and space. The invention of the Internet made clear that puppy pictures are more effective than psychiatry. And, capping all this, Frantzén’s Kitchen now inalterably changes our views on butter. Butter! They brown half a quantity and incorporate it back into the other half with a dash of salt. It has the consistency of clotted cream yet all the hazelnutty taste and aroma of brown butter, or beurre noisette, foaming in a pan. Made daily, it is so good on their toasted bread (from Bread Elements) that you’re dumbfounded. Mere butter on toast, it surpasses many of the signature mains dished by rival hotshots. For this dish alone, it is well worth visiting.
But that is not the only surpassing item in this small, spare, elegant Nordic restaurant set on a lovely corner in raffish Sheung Wan. Their French toast is to standard French toast as booty dancing is to sixth-grade slow dancing (braces on your teeth). It is plain white bread soaked in a batter containing balsamic vinegar, sandwiching caramelised onion, sautéed to a light crisp, warm Parmesan cream on top. It is surrounded by beads of 25-five-year-old balsamic to dab it in before eating. But here’s the gaff hook that hauls you into the boat: it is extravagantly crowned with slices of French black truffle. You’ve recently eaten so many flavourless and odorless truffles at tony joints that had the gall to serve them that it’s almost shocking to once again fall within the heavenly funk of the real thing. It is probably because of these excellent truffles, which provoke amour, that at the first nibble you eye your wife, how to say, contemplatively. It is served with a truffle-infusion broth in a little teacup, which you savour. You might not commit a felony for this dish, but you’d ponder a third-degree misdemeanour. For just this dish, it is well worth visiting.
Pencil-thin asparagus or chubby guys? You’ve often weighed which is better. After having eaten Frantzén’s peeled chubby guys, chubby wins. They just bang you with more asparagus. There’s a debate about peeling or not, but this swings it – peeled is better. Of course, the asparagus are cooked al dente, thrillingly perfect. They are nested within two unlikely sauces that somehow harmonise, sharp gooseberry and mellifluous pea. There are outriggers of pistachio and morels for balance.
House-smoked Norwegian salmon with pink peppercorn, crème fraiche, trout roe and cucumber. Their cold-smoked salmon is like Zabar’s lox that has gone to finishing school. Smoked over applewood, it is improbably tender, lyrical against the crème fraiche and saline pops of trout roe. Your wife, who disdains lox (the ultimate stress test for a marriage), loves this.
Sea of Japan roasted scallop. This is an exquisite scallop (caramelised, rare, perfecto) in a puddle of celeriac sauce, deep-fried shreds of celeriac on top, scattered with nibs of chestnut, in a truffled vinaigrette. Given the flavourful truffle in the French toast, you’re astonished that the vinaigrette has no discernible truffle taste at all. The flavour of the chestnut is barely there. It is too salty. No perfectly cooked scallop is bad, but for all its vectored thrust, this dish does not make orbit. Could they not have put the scallop in a chestnut sauce? That would have clinched it.
North Atlantic cod in smoked beurre blanc with peas and hazelnuts. This dish is a sweet spring day in heaven, but even paying the closest attention, you taste no smokiness to the sauce. Could it be that the subtle elements of Frantzén’s Kitchen’s cooking need to be amped up a notch? Or, maybe your palate is dull. Still, the perfectly cooked cod is sublime with its mild oceanic taste, which the beurre blanc lets shine. Your wife adds that “she seriously loved it”.
New Zealand venison served with fermented sweet potato purée, juniper jus, quince compote, orange peel and blueberries preserved in honey. This is the crest of the meal before the downslope. Cooking venison, you take your life in your hands. Too raw, it’s like gnawing whale blubber. Too cooked, chew stick. Pow! They nail it. You particularly like the quince compote and preserved blueberries against the meat.
Impelled by some self-destructive instinct, you order their cheese course. Of course, this is much too much food, but you hope that momentum will carry you through. You’re simply enjoying yourself too much and can’t stop. It is five cheeses, each at the apogee of ripeness: La Toma (Savoie), L’abbaye de Pontigny (Champagne), Le Marcaire (Alsace), Chabichou (Poitou). They are served with a vibrant jam of mandarin orange and cloudberries. Each cheese is terroir itself and transports you to its place of origin on chunks of toast.
The stemware is delicate, elegant, lovely. The plates are charmingly irregular handcrafted ceramic. There’s a wooden butter knife you love.
The service is affable, but sometimes it’s hard to catch the servers’ attention. Though not in the least cold, you wish they were more personable. Masks are probably an impediment. And you wish they were more knowledgeable about the food (when asked questions, they often had to fetch answers). Nor do they seem deeply trained in the protocols of serving in a fine establishment. You don’t expect (or want) Bridgerton butler service by any means, but you’re a crumby eater (another marriage stressor), and it’s not too much in your view, particularly given the cost, to sweep the crumbs from your place and to remember butter when bringing bread. This may seem like small stuff (it is), but it’s the stuff of a starred restaurant, which you think this place augurs to be.
An exception is the alert sommelier who spoke knowledgably with your wife of his curated six wine-pairing option, which you two split. The Prosecco is unremarkable, but three of the five others bring such ecstasy that you plan to buy a case of each. You especially adore the lilting 2017 Cauhapé Chante des Vignes Jurançon Sec. After too many table wines from U Select that begin to taste like they’re siphoned from the same reservoir, these remind you that vastly more delicious wines do exist.
There are two desserts. The first is merely excellent – blood orange sorbet with caramelised hazelnuts, olive oil, honey and yoghurt. It is the clear expression of blood orange, which has raspy undertones of bitterness you like.
The next dessert, Spicy Red, is a pressure wave of delight that knocks you down. It is a parfait of vanilla meringue, strawberries preserved in rum and sugar, tonka bean cracker, pink peppercorn (genius), dried strawberry powder on top. You’re still reconstituting, like Wolverine, from the blast. For their Spicy Red alone, it is well worth visiting.
A revelatory Tokay, liquefied Indian summer with scents of rose and rain, accompanies dessert.
It would have been nice if they’d thrown in coffee or tea at the end. How about some iced nitro coffee as an option? Maybe lemongrass-ginger tea.
The cheese option cost HK$150. The French toast, HK$125 (with all those truffles, a steal). There was a HK$90 charge for unlimited sparkling water. The six-wine option was HK$588, a fabulous price considering the quality of the wines (in fact, it is the best wine deal you’ve seen in any fine HK restaurant). You ordered the “Sharing is Caring” menu option, which has every one of their dishes (except the cheese and French toast) for two to split at HK$1,288 (awesome deal). The total meal cost HK$2,350 including a 10% service charge. High, but value-for-dollar outstanding. Money well spent.
Coco Chanel said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” Such is this food: elegant with restraint, complex, not busy. Each dish is a piece of art, but not at the expense of flavour. Each dish is a smash hit, excepting a quibble or two. The menu doesn’t have quite as many options as you’d like, but you understand a small restaurant must husband its resources. The service is good, but it could have been sharpened. It is beautiful. It is romantic. Frantzén’s Kitchen unquestionably deserves a Michelin star. Though a reservation is required here, you and your wife wholeheartedly recommend it without reservation.
Rating (on a scale of 0 to 5)
Overall value: 5
11 Upper Station Street, Sheung Wan, 2559 8508, book online
In order to review objectively, David Greenberg does not solicit or accept comped meals and anonymously reviews restaurants.