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Gastronomy with a Nordic touch

“You have to be unique and stand out from the crowd,” says Jim Löfdahl, executive head chef at Frantzén’s Kitchen and The Flying Elk in Hong Kong.

TEXT: Jan Hökerberg
PHOTO: Frantzén’s Kitchen
21 JUNE, 2019

Hong Kong is one of the most competitive cities in the world when it comes to running a restaurant business. With an estimated 15,000 or more eateries, the city’s culinary scene is arguably overcrowded and many struggle to survive due to the notoriously high rents.

Nevertheless, in less than three years, the award-winning Swedish chef and restaurateur Björn Frantzén has managed to open two restaurants in Hong Kong, as well as one in Singapore, serving Nordic-influenced cuisine with a multicultural flair.

“You have to cook good food and offer great service, but it is also important to be unique and to stand out from the crowd,” says Jim Löfdahl, executive head chef at both Frantzén’s Kitchen and The Flying Elk.

In his youth, Jim Löfdahl was an elite badminton player but then he found his way into the kitchens of some good restaurants.

Frantzén and Löfdahl met in 2008 when Löfdahl became Frantzén’s first chef hire after opening a restaurant in Stockholm’s Old Town with his then partner, Daniel Lindeberg.

Frantzén and Lindeberg weren’t sure whether Stockholm was ready for another fine-dining restaurant but, to their good fortune, their doubts were soon dispelled. As early as 2009, Restaurant Frantzén/Lindeberg got its first star in the prestigious Michelin Guide, which rates restaurants worldwide. One year later, the restaurant got a two-star rating and in February 2018, it was awarded three Michelin stars – the only restaurant in Sweden to have achieved the accolade.

Löfdahl, who is 35 years old, chose to study at an upper secondary school in Stockholm that had a restaurant programme when he was just a teenager. At the same time, he was an elite badminton player and had qualified to play for the Swedish junior national team.

But his interest in cooking slowly overtook his badminton ambitions, he says. He launched his culinary career by serving at well-known Stockholm hotels and restaurants, such as Ulla Winbladh and Pontus in the Green House. Then, at just 20, he started to work as a chef at other classic eateries in the Swedish capital, including Ulriksdals Värdshus, Bistro Boheme, Pelikan and Kvarnen.

He spent eight years – most of them as head chef – at Restaurant Frantzén as it came to be called after Daniel Lindeberg left the partnership. In 2015, the restaurant was ranked the 12th best in the world. “Not bad,” says Löfdahl wryly, “considering we only had 22 seats”.

2008

The year Jim Löfdahl became the first chef to be hired after Björn Frantzén opened a restaurant in Stockholm, which was later rewarded with one, two and then three stars in the Michelin Guide.

In 2016, Löfdahl felt he wanted to do something new and different and he was rewarded with the opportunity to move to Dubai as chef at a three-month pop-up restaurant in Palazzo Versace. That made it time for him to move to Hong Kong, a city he had never visited.

“Björn had wanted to expand abroad for some time and I’d also thought of working abroad. So, when we found good partners in Hong Kong [entrepreneurs Arne and Helen Lindman] who had invested in a property in Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island, we set up Frantzén’s Kitchen there in November 2016,” says Löfdahl, who – as executive head chef – runs the daily operations.

“We had three months to prepare for the opening, including finding suppliers, hiring and training staff and agreeing on the design of the premises. After the opening, the first six months were also extremely busy since we were fully booked every day. We were very happy about that, but we really hadn’t expected such a surge of interest,” he says.

In 2019, Frantzén decided to expand and opened The Flying Elk close to the entertainment neighbourhood of Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong’s Central district.

Frantzén’s Kitchen in Hong Kong opened in 2016 and got an immediate recognition.

While Löfdahl describes Frantzén’s Kitchen as “casual fine dining”, he says that The Flying Elk has a broader casual concept – nevertheless, still with a strong Nordic influence.

As executive chef for both restaurants, Löfdahl is, among other things, responsible for sourcing and finding the right ingredients. “It’s sometimes a bit of a puzzle,” he says, “but we’ve built a good network. Hong Kong is a great hub for food and you can get many ingredients here, but we continue to import a lot from the Nordic region.”

His inspiration in the kitchen derives from various cuisines. He says: “For me, the Japanese kitchen is the world leader in gastronomy, but the French kitchen is also a major influence when it comes to food preparation. On a private note, I’m very fond of Italian food. I just love pasta, their charcuterie and cheeses and so on,” says Löfdahl.

We hadn’t really expected such a surge of interest in the restaurant.”

While his mentor Björn Frantzén has his base in Sweden, Löfdahl lives in Hong Kong with his wife Petronella and daughter Embla, who will turn two in September. They have settled in a flat in Kennedy Town, not far from work. He met Petronella in Stockholm seven years ago and they were married in Hong Kong. In September, they are expecting a baby boy.

When he cooks at home, he often chooses dishes that don’t take long to prepare such as pasta, chili con carne with cabbage or carrot pudding.

He likes almost all types of food – with one exception: “I’m not a big fan of exotic fruits,” he says. “I would never put a slice of pineapple into my mouth. The same goes for bananas, kiwis and durian as well. Avocado is ok, though …”