Enigma Dubai reopens with Björn Frantzén in residence

The Journey of a Nordic Chef is a 12-course gastronomic feast befitting of the Palazzo Versace Dubai.

Neil Churchill April 21, 2016

Since its launch at the start of the year, Dubai’s Enigma restaurant at the Palazzo Versace Dubai has stayed true to its name.

After the mysterious and daring menu of Quique Dacosta, head chef at Alicante’s three Michelin-starred Vanguard, comes The Journey of a Nordic Chef, under the watchful eye of Sweden’s Björn Frantzén.

In case you forgot, Enigma is hosting four guest chefs per year, all taken from the prestigious San Pellegrino list of the world’s best 50 restaurants.

Restaurant Frantzén in Stockholm, ranked 31, took just two years to earn its two Michelin stars, cementing Björn’s reputation as one of Scandinavia’s most accomplished chefs. And as of yesterday, Frantzén and his team of talented cooks began their residence at Enigma. 

The Journey of a Nordic Chef is laid out like a book, literally. The menu is a 36-page manuscript with a prologue, various ‘chapters’ and a penciled sketch (below) of each of the 12 courses, several taken from the famed Stockholm restaurant. It detailed the various unusual ingredients, with imagery of Scandinavian frost, the aurora borealis and alpine forests punctuating the pages, matching the table centerpieces of twigs, moss and cinnamon bark.

After a hello from Frantzén himself, service got underway. 

Apple & lingonberry macaron with foie gras & chervil

A Swedish national treasure known by many names, the lingonberry is as Nordic as fruit gets and a fitting way to kick things off. Served on an apple macaron with foie gras parfait splitting the three-tiered structure, it was a pleasant and relatively simple way to begin the meal, the crunchiness of the macaron complimenting the soft liver. 

Tomato water “Golden Tea” served with carrot sphere, lemon verbena & grain mustard

Placed at the table in a small cup, the carrot sphere, pickled grain mustard and herbs looked rather dry. As the waiter applied the tomato ‘water’ from a teapot, the tasty mini soup came to life. Frantzén showed the first sign he understood his clientele, with gold leaf floating in the liquid.

Oyster “63.3c” with granita of sea buckthorn, juniper cream & sprouted walnut

We can’t be sure whether it was the juniper cream, sprouted walnuts, sea buckthorn or if it was the oyster served perfectly at 63.3 degrees, but it was without doubt the tastiest oyster EDGAR's ever had, which is no small statement.

White moss sushi with deer, frozen bird’s liver, burnt hay & chantarelles

Now we were really underway. Deer is a Nordic staple (reindeer if you’re being truly authentic) so no surprise it was on the menu. What was a surprise is that it was served sushi style. On a bed of deep fried white moss – yes that’s a thing – with frozen bird’s liver and burnt hay on top. If the local sushi shop put these on its menu, we’d order them until deer became endangered.

Poached king crab served with wild trout roe & emulsion of brown crab meat

A dish that could easily have been overpowering with two strong ingredients in crab and dill, course number five was delicate and refined. The wild trout roe distracted the palate enough from the dominant flavours.

Scallop in its own shell served with dried roe, fir tree, finger lime & “dashi”

Scallops are always a dish to look forward to when served by the best chefs. Yes they’re not necessarily difficult to get right, but to master them requires a greater knowledge than simply panfrying. Hidden inside its own shell, the reveal showed three perfectly cooked mollusks served with fir tree, dried roe and finger lime. 

The adjectives ‘succulent’ and ‘moreish’ do not get close to doing each one of them justice. A dish that hasn’t changed at Restaurant Frantzén since it was first served in 2009, this was arguably the most upvoted meal of the evening.

Swedish ‘knäckebröd’ served with homemade butter

A chance for standard cuisine familiarity in what was essentially a bread and butter course? Absolutely not. The butter had more salts than most herb racks and the knäckebröd, meaning crispbread, had its own anise kick.

Slow-baked cod “38c” served with Swedish vendace roe from Kalix, beurre blanc flavoured with preserved anchovy juice, dill & young onions

In any other instance the gorgeously soft cod and beurre blanc would have competed to win over your palate. But everything else fell into place behind the vendace roe, a Swedish delicacy better known as Kalix Caviar. A rare export of Sweden, it’s one to tick off the bucket list for fine-dining foodies. 

No. 9
“Hot-pot” lamb served with cabbage, roasted cauliflower bouillon & truffles

If you’ve been to northern England and have images in your mind of a Lancashire hotpot, forget them right now. As dainty and delicate as a lamb dish can be, the meat was hidden from view beneath dried cabbage, wild mushroom and the subtlest-tasting truffle. Sitting in a bouillon of cabbage oil, this dish came straight from the Nordic winters, and yet went down perfectly in Dubai.

No. 10
Sticky beetroot served with blackberries, frozen lingonberries, 100-year-old vinegar & liquorice mousse

Demonstrating its versatility the lingonberry returned in a healthy sweet treat. But it was the whipped liquorice and 100-year old vinegar that we loved this time. The chunky, sticky beetroot toed the line at overpowering the dish. 

No. 11
Smoked ice cream, roasted nuts, tar syrup & salted fudge with cloves

The evening’s pièce de résistance as far as the eyes were concerned (main image) a chocolate-looking dome was placed in front of us, before a waiter poured hot salted fudge on top. As the dome cracked, fell and melted apart, ice cream and tar syrup were revealed. 

The one dish of the night that split the table's opinion, the smoked flavours were incredibly strong and will be a shock to all but the most Nordic-accustomed palates. 

No. 12
Cloudberry & thyme macaron with wild berries

Ending the meal as we started with a macaron was a nice touch to complete the gastronomic circle. This one chewy instead of crunchy, the wild berries inside were complimented by the rare and very Scandinavian cloudberry. 

And that was it. A visually stunning and mouth-wateringly exceptional experience. 

The service was without flaw. The waiters knew the dishes inside out, introducing them with fervour while the eyes of Björn Frantzén, the brains behind it all, watched on from the side. 

Frantzen said in a statement: “I am very excited and at the same time humbled to bring my cuisine to Dubai and see this as an opportunity to show and introduce the flavours of the Nordic countries to Dubai's cosmopolitan residents and travellers.” 

He has certainly achieved that. This a Nordic journey you rarely get to experience in the Middle East, and one not to be missed. Remember, he won't be there forever; Enigma will change again. 

Enigma, Palazzo Versace Hotel. Open six days a week, Monday-Saturday. Full story (12 dishes) AED 750 weekday, 850 weekend. Half story (8 dishes) AED 550 weekday, AED 650 weekend. Complimentary pick up and drop off in Bentley and Maserati cars.

Go to enigmadxb.com to make a booking.