Swedish 3-Michelin star chef Björn Frantzén opens Restaurant Zén in Singapore, in place of the now-defunct Restaurant André
Redefining fine dining
It has been a couple of months since chef Andre Chiang decided to shut down his 2-Michelin starred restaurant, André; leaving the restored heritage three-storey shophouse unoccupied.
Back to the present day, I'm standing at the exact address in front of the pristine building, ringing a door bell — to get a sneak peek at Restaurant Zén, a new sister restaurant of 3-Michelin starred Frantzén in Stockholm, Sweden. Post-André, this space had big shoes to fill — and boy have they made sure of that.
Man of the hour: chef-owner of Frantzén Group, Bjorn Frantzén joins us in the first floor as we take in the long, narrow yet inviting Scandinavian space. Stylish sofas embellished with the right textural prints; or one might argue that it looks like a dreamy pictorial set-up from an Ikea coffee table book. The walls are not neglected —strategically displaying a mix of photo frames, books and other befitting embellishments. Once you're done ogling at the view, you'll catch sight of the open kitchen. This is where head chef Tristin Farmer and his stellar team (including a few of Frantzén's longtime chefs) are stationed at.
In partnership with Unlisted Collections, Restaurant Zén shares a similar ethos as the acclaimed Frantzén, which occupies a townhouse in Stockholm. Each floor of the restaurant will be designated for a specific purpose. The ground level at Zén is where the experience begins — pre-dinner nosh, amuse-bouche, aperitifs etc. Which explains the cosy sofas and lower-than-usual tables. The second is where small plates and mains are enjoyed — i.e. you get to sit at the normal tables and chairs, complete with your own table service of course. The third and final floor titled the living room (which also happens to be our favourite spot) is where diners can chill out for as long as you want — while indulging in sweets like petit fours and post-dinner drinks. Featuring stylish throws and powder pink loveseats, it's easy to see why diners would be seduced to linger a little while longer in this intimate space.
I see you have a lot of art scattered everywhere. Do you like collecting pieces?
Bjorn Frantzen: Unfortunately according to my wife, I care so much about the restaurant but not our house because it doesn't look like this. I mean I like everything that is beautiful and that includes cars, art or food. The first thing you 'eat' when you're at a restaurant is with your eyes, then you smell it and finally you eat it. So in that sense, presentation is important. You create a lot of feelings with that.
How different do you envision Zén to be from Frantzén?
It is difficult to say how different, but we want it to be different in the sense that it is a restaurant that stands on its own legs, has its own identity but encompasses the DNA and elements from France and Stockholm. Whether it be the food, service style, playlist, that sort of things.
Tell us more about the playlist.
Well, I do the playlist myself. You can create so many things with music, you can set the tone of things. Depending if you are playing jazz music or Guns N' Roses, it sets expectations and pushes people into different states and that's what is interesting about it.
Your cuisine merges French, Japanese and a little bit of Nordic. How did that concept happen?
For France, its due to the fact that my background and my training comes from kitchens that are pretty classic or that they are very much based in French cuisine, which is what most European kitchens actually are. The Japanese or influence comes from the keiseke menu — they were the first to do menus that had multiple courses. The nordic part being, I am from the Nordic region and that's where most ingredients come from.
How different is the menu in Zén as compared to the restaurant in Stockholm?
All of the dishes on the tasting menu are different except the French toast and liqorice and onion soup, which are the two signature dishes. The rest are created for this restaurant and for this part of the world. You get hold of very good ingredients here — whether it be Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Thailand. In fact, it's easier here than in Sweden.
What are your thoughts on Singapore's dining scene?
I think it's great. I think you have everything from great street food to fantastic Japanese restaurants and French restaurants. You are good in different parts. Singapore feels like a mixture of a lot of the best things from this part of the world.
What do you hope for diners to experience when they come to Restaurant Zén?
I hope they come here and have fun. Sometimes, fine dining restaurants can take themselves too seriously and it's a stiff environment with people whispering to each other. I f***king hate that. Even though fine dining should not be pretentious, it is sometimes.
And with your restaurants, you aim to challenge that standard?
We hope so. But that also comes with confidence, where people can relax in that sense. We have a motto that was created in 2007 — 'relaxed elegance'. So anything from the plating to the service, should follow that. Luxury is changing. People who love fine dining are the new younger generation. They don't want to dress up in suits, but instead they don't mind spending 600 euros on a pair of Valentino sneakers or 500 euros on a Saint Laurent T-shirt. That's how they want to dress when they visit fine dining restaurants. So yes, it's going to be interesting to see how people react here.
Restaurant Zén officially opens tomorrow, 21 November. Reservations for the upcoming month can now be made here.
41 Bukit Pasoh Road, Tel: 9236 6368