Shortly after our visit to the new Restaurant Frantzén the establishment received the first Swedish Michelin three-star rating that´s been in the pipeline for so long. Very well deserved and not entirely unsurprising. Nordic gourmet dining doesn´t really get better than this. While very happy for the chef and his team it´s still slightly disturbing. How will an ordinary guy like me ever get a reservation at this exceptional place again?
Maverick singer and songwriter of late 70´s early 80´s band “The Only Ones” Peter Perrett had his moment of relative fame before retreating into substance abuse and squalor. If you haven´t already done so, go check out their three officially released albums, and also the one of a kind compilation of their BBC performances called “Darkness & light”. Exceptional stuff not receiving the accolades deserved at the time. While sometimes considered a part of the nascent punk scene this was a band firmly rooted in old time rock `n`roll. Personally I think of Peter Perrett as Johnny Thunder´s intelligent big brother. Be that as it may.
The recurrence of Peter Perrett in a piece of music that´s actually really good is very surprising, since most fans had him down for the count long ago. After a few lacklustre albums through the years, the new one is the first actually rekindling his old fire in a way making things interesting.
That an old junkie semi-rockstar genius from the 70´s and 80´s would even live to old age is pretty unlikely. That he would record an album of really good songs together with his kids (not because they´re his kids, but because they´re actually good musicians) is very rare. However, this is what we have here. “How the west was won” by Peter Perrett. Go check it out.
For some time now Stockholm has had it´s superstars when it comes to Michelin-style dining. One and two stars has been awarded but still no three-star establishment. Surprisingly Oslo and Copenhagen has beat us to that honour. That doesn´t mean that Stockholm hasn´t had (and still has) a series of genuinely outstanding restaurants.
One of the chefs fighting for the ultimate approval has been Björn Frantzén, with his small but extremely high-end restaurant in Stockholms Old Town. Going forward for this maverick chef included a prolonged closure of operations, while planning and designing a new centre for culinary excellence in the middle of town. Much more space on several floors, but still with a severely limited number of served clients per day.
Getting a table at this establishment literally means waiting online for the exact moment of the release of tables for the next month. A few minutes and it´s all booked. How I managed to get a reservation on a Friday night in January is actually beyond me. It might have had something to do with the chronically post-christmas empty wallets of the Swedes, and the fact that the place doesn´t seem to have been widely registered by gastronomically interested tourists yet. This is undoubtedly about to change and securing a reservation will probably only get harder.
The restaurant is situated in an old estate on the Klara Norra Kyrkogata in central Stockholm. A part of town previously known as a bohemian stronghold, as well as a sanctuary for artists. The actual property has been developed with the help of a considerable cash infusion from a domestic investor, and is worthy of it´s own story.
Our night at the new establishment began by ringing the doorbell of the stylish but deceptively simple street-level entrance. The door was immediately opened by an affable member of the staff, doing something I´ve never experienced in a Michelin restaurant before, namely shaking our hands and introducing himself by his first name. This was something that was continued all through the evening, as a stream of new faces appeared to guide us through the sensory rush of having dinner at the new Restaurant Frantzén.
After having our coats taken care of we were shown the way through a dimly lit corridor to an elevator, the overall impression of entering the restaurant in some respects reminiscent of our earlier visit to the fantastic Alinea in Chicago. A slightly disorienting experience that raised expectations of what was to come.
The first stop was the living room, with small groups of armchairs and sofas, as well as a cozy fireplace. Here small groups of guests were served wonderful amuse-bouches at a leasurely pace, before being treated to a display of the ingredients of the dinner to follow. After that we were led to the main dining room, where most of the magic was performed. A large L-shaped table facing the open kitchen where all the final preparations were done. Never a dull moment while watching the peerless dishes getting their last adjustments, often not finished until right before you at your table.
What followed was an incredible meal where every course was special and different from the others. Top notch produce, modern techniques never getting in the way of classical cooking, and a combination of aesthetics and taste not surpassed by any of the great restaurants we´ve previously visited in Sweden or abroad. For this particular evening we had decided to go totally alcohol-free, and got to try a series of in-house produced beverages characterized by lots of thought and innovation. Definitely recommended even if you´re like us not non-drinkers.
After this wonderful dinner we were again led to the living room for a seemingly endless row of desserts, pralines, sweets, fruit and a finish of coffee with a freshly baked cardamom bun. Absolutely stuffed to the gills, all we could do was relaxing by the fireplace and enjoying the end of a perfect evening.
While always being great and with ambitions way higher than most, the later incarnations of Restaurant Frantzén in the Old Town sometimes felt like a machine a little too well honed. Extreme gourmet dining perfectly choreographed to last for 2½ hours before the next batch of customers arrived made a certain bitter aftertaste taint the experience.
Nowadays it´s just an all on assault of all your senses. A whole night´s worth of perfection with extra everything. Regardless of the amounts of stars eventually awarded to this wonderful place it´s unique in every way. Things doesn´t get better than this. I can´t wait to go back and do it all again.
Here´s the menu in Swedish, please use Google translate or something similar to bring you up to speed.
I still remember the publication of Stephen King´s novel “It” in 1986. The book was rich with many of his recurring themes – the special types of friendships between prepubescent teens, young persons doing their best to survive abuse from those they are dependent on and the strange change from adolescence to being a grown-up.
What I remember most is how the reading of this book managed to scare me out of my wits even at an age of 20+. This was really creepy stuff and I don´t think King has ever written anything as good as this.
The material was of course ripe for movie adaptation, and the first attempt came with the two episode mini TV-series broadcasted in 1990, not leaving any lasting impressions. The feature film released in 2017 attempted to take the story further, with a follow-up planned for 2019. While given mostly positive reviews I still find this production to be a disappointment.
The acting is pretty formulaic and not even the much publicized performance of Bill Skarskård as Pennywise the clown actually adds that much drama. It´s of course possible that the second installment of the story will lift it above it´s current pedestrian status. Somehow I´m not so sure about that.
Some time ago my big brother tipped me off about a group from Finland called ”Vasas Flora och Fauna” who had released an album he considered worth checking out. The core of the band consisted of only two persons, Mattias Björkas and Iiris Viljanen, both from Vasa in the Swedish-speaking part of Finland. Björkas has a past in Finnish indiepop band ”Cats on fire”, where he sang in English to the tune of pretty British-sounding guitar pop. Viljanen is a pianist, singer and songwriter, also with a history of being in the same band.
If we go back in time to 2012, ”Cats on fire” made their last album to date, called ”All blackshirts to me”. A record filled with well-produced and very competent guitar-based indiepop. Good songs, expertly played, sometimes great melodies, but somehow still not really clicking. As guitar pop goes this is about as good as it gets, and has sonic echoes of my all time Swedish heroes ”The Bear Quartet”. A very enjoyable album in a style that´s in many ways part of the cultural air I breathe. Yet something essential was missing.
Fastforward to 2015. Björkas and Viljanen had been trying out songs in different ways and shapes, but nothing worked to their satisfaction. That is, until they came up with the idea of singing the songs in the Finnish Österbotten regional dialect of Swedish. Now everything fell into place, and the first original album by ”Vasas Flora och Fauna”, called ”Släkt med Lotta Svärd”, came into being.
Although a pretty low-profile recording it contains a set of songs unique in every aspect – the music, the lyrics, the delivery and the strangely melodic properties of the words sung. From the first note to the last this is an album that absolutely floored me. Not by inventing a new musical style, but by using the traditional trappings of pop music to create a deeply personal sonic and poetic landscape. A few of the songs on the album are actually re-works of songs from “Cats on fire”-albums , adding crucial inspiration to both music and words. Putting together parts that´s been used a million times before into something shiny and new and bold is a mark of true creativity.
Piano-fuelled opener ”Gudförälder” sets the tone with it´s minor key lament of the friend-of-the-mother-become-lost-and-confused-godparent-with-the-will-to-make-a-difference-lyric.
”Om jag nånsin far till Jakobstad igen” is a delicately flowing Monkees cover with sublimely melodic acoustic guitar rekindling your belief in the power of pop.
”Prisma” goes into piano ballad territory, and is the new group´s version of the ”Cats on fire” song ”Our old centre back”. Moving from a guitar-based sound to a much starker piano backing, as well as changing the lyrics from the original athletes and alcohol romp, to an intensely personal tale of the woes of young love made all the difference. Great works of art are not born complete but instead fine-tuned by hard work.
”Leevi & the Leavings” combines an homage to a legendary Finnish band with a coming of age history told against the backdrop of the most bittersweet pop you could ever imagine. A song which will make everyone with a melodic bone in their body dance around and sing along in a rush of euphoria. I´m afraid that the special character of the lyrics sung in their Swedish/Finnish dialect will be lost on almost everyone. However, for those of us who can appreciate it it´s absolutely sublime. I´ll leave it to you to find the earlier song it´s modelled on.
”Nog var han en vän” is another re-work of the album. The original by ”Cats on fire” was called ”1914 and beyond” and was a song about European politics through the years, even incorporating verses about the Greek sovereing default and the Icelandic Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption in 2010. You decide which you think is best, I know what I think.
Of the closing 5 songs ”Stängningsdax” glows the brightest, while a few of the others lose tempo both musically and lyrically. In no way does this marr an extrordinary album of both musical and poetic freshness. This is a record that I will never ever tire of and that has combined qualities that goes way beyond it´s integral parts. And mind you, this is original music made by real musicians. Not something sampled and recombined by someone that knows computers.
Shortly after this album was released, Iiris Viljanen announced that she was quitting the group for undisclosed reasons. First making a record of piano work, she then released what could be called her proper solo debut, ”Mercedes”. A collection of idiosyncratic piano-based songs with lyrics even more personal. Chronicles of lost and mistaken love, somatic and mental health issues, intellect and emotion, nature and the urbane. Songs at the edge of the personal and emotional, while still being art instead of art mimicking life. A gift of an album that will continue to grow, made by an artist just beginning to find her feet.
Although I´m not prone to analysis geared by gender, I still think that these three records shows qualities dependent on the persons that made them. The ”Cats on fire” album is a prime example of what is considered contemporary indie pop, in most respects a male group endeavour. On the other side of the spectrum you have Iiris Viljanen´s very personal and emotional stories of modern life in our time, refracted through a singular and perceptive female mind. ”Vasas flora och fauna” is music made somewhere in between, keeping both the craft and the personal emotions. Smart as well as sincere words. Capitalizing on the long history of pop music as the vehicle of ideas. Which of these records do you believe is my favourite? Yeah, I thought so.
I haven´t yet heard the new album by “Vasas flora and fauna”, but I´m sure it´s going to be something completely different.
Singer, guitarist and songwriter of immensely influential band Popsicle, which started and finished the Swedish indie pop era between 1991 and 1999. With melodic sensibilites way above your average guitar rock band these guys carved out a special place for themselves during the 90´s, with a series of four albums that are timeless classics in the Swedish rock pantheon. My remembrances of seeing them live several times during these years are amongst my most precious concert memories ever. Intense, sweaty gigs, bobbing up and down in a tighly packed crowd filling small venues.
After the demise of Popsicle, Andreas Mattsson continued as a songwriter and recorded an album with Swedish musician Niclas Frisk under the name “Sweet Chariots” in 2000. Their effort called “Beat based, song centered, spirit led” was an album of refined soulful pop, getting far less attention than warranted. So good and without a doubt worthy of a post of it´s own sometime. This is an album that I still frequently play when I´m in a good mood, marveling at the level of the songwriting and performances. “Sweet Chariots” was not intended to be however, and Andreas Mattsson turned to releasing solo material in 2006 and 2011, again sung in English and in a vein recognizable to the fans of Popsicle. Very well-crafted and melodic songs with lyrics chronicling day-to-day life and heartbreak. Again showing off his songwriting skills, these were albums containing some of the best tunes from an artist maturing like a good wine. A rare treat for those in the know.
Having had a career characterized by music and lyrics based on English and American templates, the decision to record an album with exclusively Swedish words seemed like an adventurous deviation from form. The tunes delivered were much smoother than what had been previously offered, as well as both emotionally stronger and closer to the bone, at least partly due to the use of his native tongue. Great songs, great sound and an air of maturity that´s very attractive. We all have these cherished artists that we´ve grown up with and whose parallell life and career trajectories we can identify with.
Be sure to press the subtitles button on this video and you will get an at least acceptable translation of the beautiful Swedish lyrics. For me personally, so much to relate to.
Christmas of 2016 was spent together with my parents and siblings in the northern part of Sweden where I grew up. Wanting to spend the New Years Eve with my wife in Iceland I flew from Luleå Airport to catch a connecting plane to Reykjavik. When the returning flight from Stockholm arrived, Andreas Mattson was one of the passengers, walking past me while I was waiting to board. I don´t think anyone but me recognized him. I would have liked to walk up and tell him how much I appreciate the music he has created over the years, but I didn´t. I would have liked to tell him that I consider him being the best Swedish songwriter of our generation, but I didn´t. I also would have liked to tell him how much I like his guitar-playing and singing, but I didn´t. Feeling a bit too much respect to bother the guy. Maybe just stupid, but so it goes.Ever since, the album has been on regular rotation, and you should check it out. It doesn´t get much better than this.
Although it´s been around for some time, we haven´t so far managed to try this chef´s table little-sister of the fabulous Esperanto restaurant in Stockholm. Since Esperanto has been such a source of extraordinary culinary experiences through the years, the expectations were obviously very high. And I can tell you that they didn´t disappoint.
Arriving early we were quickly ushered up the stairs to the lounge for a glass of wonderful champagne. Then after a few sips swiftly invited to the secluded table with seats for 9 people, at the far corner of the Esperanto dining room. What followed was a seamless show of peerless presentations of seafood originating in the Nordic countries.
A wonderful selection of Otsumami was followed by a wide variety of nigiri, expertly prepared by the two Japanese chefs right in front of our eyes. Thinly slicing the fish, grating the wasabi, rolling the rice and combining it into one delicious bite was a treat to watch, and an even greater treat to taste. Everything was so fresh and delicious, creating oohs and aahs all around the table. After so many years of high-end restaurants, I don´t think I´ve ever tasted anything better than their langoustine. Just fantastic.
Delicious desserts followed, with the exclamation mark being the apple tarte. So good, and made even better by my wife getting an extra piece.
All this gorgeous food was accompanied by a selection of sake proposed by our very friendly head waiter. For me, a look into an enterily different universe of tastes, with just as much complexity and variety as the world of wine made from grapes. Definitely something to look into further.
I´m already longing to go back and do it all over again. Below is a scan of the menu for the evening in Swedish. If you want to read it in English that can be done here: Menu Imouto 2nd of December 2017