Pigs don’t fly, and neither do elk. Those little facts of nature haven’t stopped Björn Frantzén from bringing his casual restaurant The Flying Elk to Hong Kong from Stockholm, though — and after the success of Frantzen’s Kitchen, his more formal Scandinavian-inspired eatery in Sheung Wan, it’s easy to see why he decided to launch this second project in the city.
In partnership with Hong Kong’s Maximal Concepts restaurant group, the Flying Elk opened in June at a space in Central formerly occupied by Fish / Meat, just above the home of the “speakeasy” bar Stockton. The Flying Elk is essentially the Swedish equivalent of a gastropub, bistro, or izakaya, dressed up in a Nordic cabin-inspired design.
I had the chance to visit the original Flying Elk in Stockholm’s old city neighborhood of Gamla Stan last month, just prior to dining at the new location in Hong Kong. To my pleasant surprise, the casual atmosphere at our outpost here is not so different from the low-key mood of the Stockholm original. The menu is also similar, though unlike in Stockholm, the Hong Kong branch doesn’t offer a fixed price course menu.
The only option is to make your own selection from among the snacks and dishes on the menu. The snack items are quite small and the dishes are generally medium-sized, meaning that a party of two probably needs at least a couple of snacks, three to five dishes, and/or a dessert or two to feel satisfied. In my two visits to the Flying Elk in Hong Kong, I have gotten to sample a fair number of the menu items — many are quite good, but there are a few misses.
There are five items on the snack menu, three of which I have tried: The gougères (HKD$40), the croquettes (HKD$55) and the deep fried pigs ears (HKD$40). The gougères, a highlight of my meal in Stockholm, is also a must-order at the Hong Kong location. These delicious little puff pastries are stuffed with a heady concoction of a decadent Swedish cheddar cheese, and flavored with fennel seeds and a touch of chestnut honey. The rich, spiced melted cheese bursts through the pastry in your mouth, and makes for a really satisfying first course.
The croquettes are also excellent. Balls of tender short rib are seasoned with thyme and a smoked chili emulsion, fried and served hot in a silver bowl. These have a delicious, meaty flavor, yet are not overly dense or heavy; another win.
The deep fried pigs ears were; however, a disappointment. Pigs ears may sound like a strange food to the unfamiliar, but it’s a beloved ingredient within many cuisines in this region — whether served diced and sizzling in Filipino sisig or sliced thinly and tossed in garlic and Sichuan chili oil in China, the ears have a notably pleasant chewy texture and a light, porky flavor.
The pigs ears at the Flying Elk, however, are deep fried in a thick batter — so thick that the batter overwhelmed the thin strips of ear cartilage which were rendered barely noticeable here. The accompanying gribiche sauce, a mayonnaise like sauce of hard-boiled egg yolks emulsified with oil and mustard, plus seasoned with lime and chervil, further served to mask the taste and texture of the pigs ears buried beneath that oily batter.
The list of mains includes 13 items in total — to date, I’ve tried about half of them. The signature roasted scallop (HKD$190) is served on a bed of scrambled eggs, topped with a mound of crispy potato strings and generously flavored with truffle, hazelnut butter, and smoked soy. If anything, the version in Hong Kong was better than the one I recall having in Stockholm. The scallop was cooked to a perfectly tender state and the truffle was intense and aromatic.
Sticking with seafood, the sourdough langos (HKD$180) and the house-smoked Norwegian salmon (HKD$145) were also very good. Langos are deep fried doughs of Hungarian origin served with toppings typically as street food and somewhat akin to an open-faced sandwich. The Langos at Flying Elk have a distinctly Nordic taste, as they’re topped with Finnish vendace roe — the vendace being a small freshwater fish related to salmon. The mild roe works great with the traditional pairing of sour cream, and is enhanced with the chopped bacon and a brilliantly red beetroot pickled onion.
On top of being delicious, the house-smoked Norwegian salmon is also a beautifully presented dish: Pink peppercorns, springy trout roe, thinly sliced cucumbers, and herbs decorate a bed of delicate smoked salmon dolloped with a lemony sour cream. It’s a sublime way to enjoy the classic taste of smoked salmon.
What didn’t work as well was the King crab and halibut tartar (HKD$215), which is one of the pricier mains. The dish sounds promising with sliced halibut and shredded crabmeat to be flavored with sour carrots, cayenne, coriander cress and lime hollandaise. Unfortunately, the overwhelming amount of their mayonnaise-like hollandaise sauce, without much noticeable citrus accent, almost completely masked the seafood itself. The proportions in this dish need some serious adjustment.
Seafood dishes are my favorites for Scandinavian cuisine, but the meatier mains at Flying Elk were also quite good. The open sandwich (HKD$185), a Scandinavian lunchtime staple, is piled high with tender slow-cooked pork cheeks, cabbage, truffle béchamel, wild mushrooms, and seasoned with black pepper. It’s a rich, delicious combination that will definitely help fill you up. The tenderloin and smoked heart of beef (HKD$240) served with horseradish and celeriac remoulade and flavored with pickled mustard seeds was also hearty and filling.
Beyond the savory food, the Flying Elk does some interesting cocktails and has quite a good dessert menu, such as the Swedish coffee and Tahiti vanilla crème brûlée with toasted Danish hazelnuts (HKD$60). Notwithstanding the few (easily remediable) misses, the Flying Elk is a great addition to the Hong Kong dining scene, and I will certainly be back to see what new dishes are in store — or just to reminisce about the long days of the Scandinavian summer.
The Flying Elk is at 2/F Wyndham Mansion, 32 Wyndham Street, Central
Reservations: +852 2565 6788
Open daily, 5pm-10:30pm
About the Hungry Lawyer: Marc Rubinstein, born in Baltimore, USA, has been in Asia for more than 20 years, with 15 of those in Hong Kong. He has split his career between banks and law firms, and is currently the general counsel of an Asia-based real estate and alternative energy investor. Marc is a co-founder and co-chair of the Hong Kong Gay & Lesbian Attorneys Network. In addition to being a hungry lawyer, he has run three marathons, eight half-marathons, completed the Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker and won the U.S. National Debate Tournament way back in 1991.
Other reviews by Coconuts’ Hungry Lawyer