It is difficult to put a meal at the world’s best restaurant into words. Of course that accolade has only been awarded by one set of expert-eaters, and I thought to myself throughout lunch there, is this the best meal I’ve ever eaten? It was without a doubt one of the finest, with each tiny course was more memorable than the last, so imaginative and delicious, I almost found myself closing my eyes in appreciation.
I won’t write much about Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana, it is really a restaurant that should be tasted rather than written about, but here are a few photos from inside Modena’s most exclusive eatery…
The town of Modena in central Italy is quiet and sleepy. I immediately noticed the strong food traditions, large vocal markets and tiny patisserie shops with piles of frappe (fried pastry) dusted in icing sugar. Bottura’s renowned restaurant has put Modena on the tourist map, and has shone a light on the rich produce which comes from this part of the country.
There are just 22 covers per mealtime, and bookings are made 3 months in advance at 10am (Italy time) on the 1st day of the month. When the doors opened at 12pm we were greeted by a crowd of suited staff, each trying to help you with your coat. I was impressed to see the lack of dress code here, an indication that Massimo really wants you to feel comfortable, despite the 3 star label.
Aula in carpione (re-imagined fish and chips)
Several tasting menus are available, or a la carte. I looked around and everyone was ordering the tasting option… why pay the same for 3 courses when you could try 9! The menus change with the seasons but I spotted a few favourites which I recognised from watching Bottura on the Chef’s Table programme.
The first course was a simple but complex rendition of fish and chips… a crunchy salty base topped with Carpione fish ice-cream!
Memories of a mortadella sandwich
Mortadella is the cured meat of Bologna and tastes supremely better than the stuff we get here in England. Using the amazing flavour and the beautiful dusty pink colour Bottura reimagines the mortadella sandwich (an standard snack in Modena) into a thick and sumptuous mousse, spiked with powdered pistachio.
Croccantino di foie gras in crosta di mandorle di Noto e nocciole del Piemonte, ripieno di Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena (foie gras lollipop with hazulnuts and a balsamic vinegar centre)
The food continued to arrive, the most immaculate plates of food each presented in it’s own way, with crockery designed to showcase the dish. An indulgent lollipop of foie gras was paired with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, a thick and syrupy gel more intense than any vinegar I had ever tried before.
Un’anguilla che risale il fiume Po (An eel swimming up the Po River)
Beautifully stark on the plate the eel was wonderfully cooked in a sticky glaze and served with two ingredients the eel encounters as it swims up the river… Campanine apple, cream of polenta and burned onion powder.
Merluzzo Mare Nostrum (Cod and tomato)
This dish was perhaps the most ‘normal’ of the meal. A simple, perfect piece of cod with a bright and vibrant green tomato dressing.
Ravioli di porri, foie gras e tartufi (leek ravioli with foie gras and truffles)
I was most excited about the pasta at Osteria Francescana, and it didn’t disappoint. This creamy dish combined some of my favourite ingredients, and wasn’t as clever as some of the other courses, but it tasted so wonderfully comforting and delicious.
Cinque stagionature del Parmigiano Reggiano in diverse consistenze e temperature (Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano)
The waiter delivered this pristine white bowl proclaiming that only the only two ingredients for this famous recipe are parmesan and time. Bottura’s love of parmesan is evident in every mouthful, how one cheese can be made into so many different textures and tastes is amazing.
Riso grigio e nero (rice, grey and black)
This startling black plate of food concealed many ingredients; oysters, shallots, tomatoes, sparkling wine and topped with a dot of luxurious caviar.
Autumn in New York
Bottura’s wife is from New York, and I imagined she helped inspire this delicate and pretty dish of berries. Presented in the shape of an apple as an ode to the ‘Big Apple’.
Tortellino in crema di Parmigiano Reggiano (tortellini in parmesan cream)
My favourite dish was perhaps the simplest. Perfectly made little tortellini filled with meat and dressed in a aromatic parmesan cream. I could have eaten it over and over again.
Maialino da latte morbido e croccante (Pork belly with pickled vegetables)
This pork course was smallest meat course I have ever had in a restaurant. Placed on a plate with a variety of pickled vegetables (humorously in the shape of pigs), with drizzles of the finest sauce.
Caesar salad in bloom
The prettiest palate cleanser I’ve ever seen. This ‘caesar salad’ is intended to be eaten in one of two mouthfuls, a floral salad of edible flowers and fruity powders, all perched on a lettuce leaf.
Yellow is bello
We weren’t entirely sure what flavours were in this dessert, the soft and light mousse was heavenly to eat… blissfully light at the end of a big meal. I detected hints of saffron, perhaps pineapple and ginger. By this point in the meal I had learnt not to analyse too much and just enjoy tasting Bottura’s elaborate and artistic dreams.
Oops! I dropped the lemon tart
The famous lemon tart dessert wasn’t on the menu we’d ordered but the waiter kindly swapped my set dessert for it when I said how much I had wanted to try it. Each minute ingredient on the right of the plate matched and contrasted carefully with the bright citrus flavour to make each mouthful different. A seemingly brilliant dish that is, in reality, painstakingly thoughtful.
More information about Osteria Francescana here.