When Harrods reached out to Bjorn Frantzén to run its new flagship restaurant, it felt to him like coming home. Discover how he's taking on London
Harrods has long sought a flagship restaurant to accompany the undoubted flair of the operators at the iconic store. Already boasting Jason Atherton, Gordon Ramsay and Tom Kerridge among its roster, it now has Studio Frantzén literally topping off the building in a 112-cover restaurant converted from a former beauty parlour.
"I like a different, bizarre location. Out there it's a shopping mall, but you open that door and it's a new world you're stepping into," Bjorn Frantzén says, slouching in one of the booths overlooking the main restaurant and looking remarkably relaxed for a man days away from opening the doors of such a high-profile operation.
But he is entitled to trust his ability. Frantzén has two three-Michelin-starred restaurants, one in Stockholm and one in Singapore, along with two other restaurants in Sweden, a brasserie in Bangkok and sites planned for Singapore and Dubai this year.
This, though, is his first London site. And one that has been eagerly anticipated, particularly among the chef community who revere his flagship 23-cover Frantzén restaurant in Stockholm, where the chef concentrates on cooking over fire. It represents a return to the city in which the chef spent his formative years, having learned his trade at London institutions including Chez Nico and Pied à Terre.
"I spent 70% of my training in the UK. And I love London, so it's always been a dream of mine to come back," Frantzén explains. "It feels a bit like coming home, especially in a professional sense. There have been opportunities but they haven't felt right. It's so important it's the right partner for a successful restaurant. When Harrods told me about their ambitions and that the space was on the top floor with a rooftop terrace it got me excited."
For Harrods director of restaurants and kitchen Ashley Saxton it is undoubtedly exciting too: "Bjorn is one of the most influential chefs in the industry. Having one three-Michelin-star restaurant is a huge achievement and having two is almost unheard of," he says. "In my opinion, London is the most competitive food scene globally with so much quality and diversity on offer, but Bjorn's signature Neo-Nordic with Japanese approach is unique and offers something that the UK market hasn't yet seen, which in itself is a tough ask."
Shop till you drop
Separated from the main department store by a reception that performs the role of an airlock from the outside world, guests step into a light, orange-hued space of brown leather booths and a counter in front of the open kitchen. One floor up there are more secluded booths leading into a terrace with a retractable roof and views across London.
Leading the kitchen day-to-day is head chef and fellow Swede Marcus Rohlén, who has also spent much of his career in the UK, including as senior sous chef under Jason Atherton at Pollen Street Social and more recently head chef at Frenchie in London's Covent Garden.
He prepares dishes in Frantzén's "Nordic with Asian influences" style, but refined for a brasserie setting. So while the flavours will be familiar to those who have visited the Stockholm flagship, the menu is designed to suit all day parts.
"I would say this is a little sister to Frantzén, though it's 10 times bigger and in an à la carte format. Considering we're open seven days a week from midday until midnight, we have to try to fit in all guests," Frantzén confirms. "That's why the menu is big and we've included dishes like our twist on a Caesar salad for those looking for something quick."
The dish in question is Salad ‘bonito Caesar', prepared tableside with grilled guinea fowl, miso-togarashi dressing, romaine lettuce, basil, mint, toasted pine nuts, soy-braised pork belly ‘kakuni' and black garlic croutons. It's a good example of the unusual flavour combinations Franzen explores in the broad menu, along with a lightness of touch afforded by the Japanese influence.
"For me it started 10 years ago when I travelled from north to south in Japan," he explains. "I came back and felt we were stuffing the guest with too much lactose, gluten and fat. It's not nice, in particular when eating a tasting menu, so we stripped a lot of it out. There are a lot of similarities with the pickling and fermentation in Nordic cooking, so they match up."
Though the chef is bringing in some ingredients that aren't available in the UK, such as the vendace roe (used in a surf and turf tartare of tuna and red deer) and lichens (served crispy with roasted Orkney scallops, scrambled duck eggs, truffle and beurre noisette) the majority of the produce is sourced locally.
Frantzén adds: "There's no point bringing Norwegian scallops over when the Scottish ones are as good as they are. There are more amazing ingredients than I realised until opening a restaurant here. Lake District lamb is superb."
For head chef Rohlén, though he is comfortable with the cooking over fire that Frantzén is famed for, he has had to adopt some new methods to pass on in the kitchen. "It's very much a learning experience for the team, not necessarily with the equipment itself,but more to do with Bjorn Frantzén's cooking techniques," he adds.
Though there are the likes of steamed turbot ‘Jansson's temptation' with Koshihikari rice along with roasted cauliflower, yellow beetroot and black winter truffle, there is a large choice of dishes ‘from the fireplace', in this case a Clayoven's grill.
"We cook quite lot of dishes on it," Rohlén says. "One that has been more popular than expected is the whole chicken with Kyoto miso beurre blanc and burnt hay oil."
As for finding the chefs to prepare the dishes, Frantzén has been typically sanguine. "Talking to my chef friends here in London they've been saying ‘it's crazy, it's difficult'," he says. "But we've got 110 staff and we're fully staffed. So I feel privileged. There has been great interest from young chefs to join the team, but we must take care of them. Obviously Harrods has been helpful in the process too."
And for a chef with two three-Michelin-starred restaurants, he's relaxed about recognition too. "We're not aiming for anything beyond a fully booked restaurant and happy staff and then we go from there," Frantzen admits. "It's big, with 400 to 600 guests a day. We want to offer great food, value for money, and have happy guests and happy staff. That's it."
What's in store for Harrods?
One of the most recognisable retail brands, Harrods is fast becoming a mecca for diners too.
Ashley Saxton, director of restaurants and kitchen, heads up a team he says is still only "halfway through the food and beverage regeneration journey that we started a few years ago".
Last month it was announced that renowned Japanese three-Michelin-starred chef Masayoshi "Masa" Takayama is to open his first UK venture in partnership with the luxury department store. Details are still scarce but Harrods said it would mark another monumental development in Harrods' restaurant agenda and brings chef Masa's signature Japanese cuisine to the UK for the first time".
He will join Kinoya, a Bib Gourmand ramen concept from Dubai opening in late 2023, as well as Dave Pynt's Burnt Ends, based in Singapore, which also holds one Michelin star.
Saxton adds: "Our vision is to bring the world's best restaurants into our one iconic store, so we are constantly searching the globe's restaurant scene for potential editions to our collection. If anything, this is just the beginning of our culinary journey here at Harrods, and we are so excited for what's in store."
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