The Flying Elk, Stockholm
Frantzén in Stockholm ranks among the top restaurants in the world; the establishment has made The World’s Best 50 Restaurants list (from 2011-2015) and recently earned a third Michelin star, the first restaurant in Sweden to do so. Its casual offshoot, The Flying Elk, is a “gastropub” situated in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan or “Old Town” neighbourhood.
The Flying Elk consists of a large space, slickly designed and branded. A cutesy, woodsy, wordsy theme covers everything: the walls, the menus, the paper table covers, the wax paper on which certain items are served, and so on. The brand is everywhere, in fact, inside and out: If, in the time it takes to look away from the menu to glance across the room, you forget which restaurant you are sitting in, you need only look to the bar, or at the wall or the tabletop to be reminded. This restaurant is “The Flying Elk”, and would like you to know that. The sum effect: the place feels almost sterile, staid—more corporate chain than corner pub. Comfortable, yes, but bordering on boring.
Food-wise, the menu reads very much like what you’d expect of a “gastropub” in Stockholm: a nod to English pub food with a Swedish influence. Examples include fish and chips, a gargantuan veal schnitzel and a burger. In total, the menu lists half a dozen starters (SEK 155 – 210), an equal amount of mains (SEK 280 – 415), and there is a separate “snacks” menu with small items ranging from SEK 65 to 80.
A fourth option: a six-course tasting menu for SEK 695, with optional wine and beer pairings at SEK 590 and 385, respectively. Tasting menus can prove tricky, and I think they are in many cases best avoided when you can go à la carte. In this case, however, I had only one opportunity to eat here, and given the fact that the tasting menu included many of the courses I wanted to try (not to mention the restaurant’s pedigree) I felt it might make for a safe bet. This was not the case.
The meal began on a high note—its highest, in fact: an apple macaroon with whipped foie gras, 100-year-old balsamic vinegar and marigold leaf. This, or some version of it, is a speciality of Frantzén, and for good reason. The light texture of the macaroon dissolves immediately upon eating; the bright, acidic apple flavour provides a perfect counter to the smooth, rich liver. Exceptional, and a tough act to follow.
Sashimi-grade, cured Aurora salmon followed, served with potato blini, apple, Arenkha caviar, herbs and crème fraîche. Caviar, “creem freesh” and blini: about as classic as it gets, conceptually, the local twist being the salmon. Here, the fish proved delicate to the point of being tasteless; the green apple brunoise did add some highlights, but ultimately, this dish flopped. Unremarkable.
Pan Seared Scallop “Signature”—so reads the menu description for the next course. Truffle scrambled eggs, “pommes paille” (thin, fried potatoes), and smoked brown butter accompanied the shellfish. This plate was heavy with strong, deep flavours (truffle, brown butter); the chive in the scrambled eggs contributed some contrast. A good dish, if somewhat muddled; some balance (acid, additional fresh elements) might have elevated it to great.
The menu slumped at the next dish, a deer tartare served with hazelnut mayonnaise, a roasted parsnip puree, blackcurrant jelly, crispy red cabbage and spicy cress. Messy, cloying, overly sweet was this course. Unpleasant. (Think of raw meat in your dessert course and you get the idea.)
Next came a duck breast, the final savoury course, with almonds, sage, a pumpkin puree and yellow beet crudité. The “crudité”: cubes of beetroot that had been pan-seared, but left raw inside—undercooked, basically. An odd decision, to serve hard-to-cut chunks of root vegetable in this context, cutting into tender, perfectly-prepared—if a little one-note—duck breast and then snapping your knife through a tough piece of beet. What might have been an OK dish was not so.
Eton Mess ended the courses, a classic English dessert, in this case with the addition of cherries soaked in rum and chocolate sorbet. This I did not like, neither the stick-to-your-teeth meringue nor the berries drowned in hard liquor—kind of gross, taking a bite of a booze-bloated cherry.
Two small and well-prepared confections concluded a meal which, with the exception of that stellar start, fell into the category of forgettable. Were it not for my notes, I don’t think I’d remember the majority of those courses. Disappointing, and not to recommend, obviously—or at least, avoid the tasting menu. Caveat emptor.