Italy=Food (and much more of course, but the FOOD!!! Mamma mia!).
We all know that and like anyone who’s ever been to Eataly, sorry I meant Italy, I’ve had memorable food there countless times. In consequence, our expectations for the Osteria Francescana – voted “the best restaurant in Italy” and 3rd best in world – were proportionally high. On our way to the famous three-starred Osteria, we felt more like on our way to a super important job interview, than “just” to a lunch, sweating and walking in circles around Modena and be sure not to show up late, and even less too early like some morti di fame.
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–“Full degustation menu, please. Yes. For both.”, we discretely said (what else?!).
With a crisp, fruity, and well-balanced glass of Malvasia in hand to warm up, we browsed through their phenomenal wine list, before settling on a superb, robust and earthy Redinoce 2009 (Sangiovese from Emilia Romagna – let’s keep it local!) to accompany us through our lunch (although it didn’t really last that long…)
The bread basket & olive oil intro was very good, with a home made sourdough bread, excellent and warm, yummi! And grisini. OMFG! The best grisini in the universe, full of deep and earthy taste. They were so good and flavourful we thought they were cooked in pork fat, but no, only olive oil! Buns & croissants were ok, nothing more.
“Almond granita with capers, coffee cream and bergamot confit“. Along with a macaroon with anchovies & raw beef and another with oysters. This refreshing starter set the tone with an intense almond taste and chewy bits of candied bergamot, and some nice capers at its heart. Cold, delicate, and definitely original.
“Baccalà Mare Nostrum“. A delicate piece of cod covered with crumbs with thyme, was floating in a sauce made with tomatoes and green olives and a red pesto made with anchovies, tomatoes, and almonds. The fish was pretty good, very fibrous as we like it, and the pesto very tasty with subtle nutty flavours. The broth was refreshing with an elegant acidity and complex flavours. Very good!
“How to burn sardines in three days“. Red mullets with shrimp and strong flavours, black sauce with squid ink, lemon skin and aromatic herbs, and seaweed. Dramatic and beautiful plating, with very fresh sea flavours. Excellent!
“Risotto where the river meets the sea“. An interesting and intellectual dish, this risotto was impeccable and had a perfect crunchy texture. Three sauces on it, first was carpione (a preservation technique) with a lemony flavour & nice acidity with balsamic vinegar, the second was his famous chlorophyll sauce, and the third was clam juice. Finally a few tiny fish balls with cat fish and carp I recall, with a strong earthy taste. Elegant, equilibrated, good.
“An eel swimming up the Po river“. An eel with vanilla salt, lemon skin ash (that reminds of the canals of Modena), veneto polenta, and a green sauce made with apples from Mantova. The eel was super caramelised – almost like a tarte Tatin – and cooked in saba (grape juice before it becomes vinegar) and reminded strongly of Japanese grilled unagi, but this one was so much better! I’ve had seriously good unagi in specialty restaurants when I used to live in Japan, but honestly this was the best eel I’ve ever had. Ever. Exceptional taste, sweet but not too much, just a hint of acidity, and a superb texture, so soft!!! The polenta was very silky and excellent, more of a cream . The apple syrup was very tasty, sweet, and pleasantly sour. An extraordinary dish!
“Tribute to Normandy“. A fake oyster filled with a mayonnaise made with oyster water, sea weed, and some aromatic herbs, it contained a bite of raw contrefilet lamb. The lamb was good and fresh, but the rest was very… meh… This was the only flop of our lunch. Promising idea but not really good in taste as it felt more like a blob of industrial mayonnaise than a Michelin-starred dish.
“Think Green“. A walk in the pastures with a selection of barely harvested green veggies, peas, asparagus, truffles, green peas ice cream, all covered with a hot splash of fresh parmigiano curd and loads of secret chlorophyll sauce with discreet basil flavour, mint, and parsley. The veggies were cooked perfectly, snapping with a solid bite and crunch, and fantastic mouthfeel with intense aromas of grass and earth. Literally a whole ecosystem, a layer of plants and flowers in a field that were eaten by a cow who in turn produces milk that is transformed into cheese – all of that into a single dish. A symphony of flavours and temperatures (cold ice and warm curd sauce) that only a great masters can compose. Wow, we could eat this every day!
“Snails under the grapevine“. Snails cooked lightly in the oven, shaved porcini & truffles, aromatic herbs, chlorophylle green sauce, and a red sauce with coffee, red wine, and balsamico. A very complex dish, with many layers of tastes that went well together, and the hints of coffee were further enhancing the earthiness of the whole thing. The chef managed to recreate in this dish a patch of one’s garden as it felt like biting into the ground and sorting bucally through all the goodness one could find there: plants, insects, minerals, just without the yuck and sandy mouthfeel of earth. Maybe my preferred dish – it took me much longer to digest the intellectual contents than the actual food.
“Ravioli with Leeks, foie gras, and truffles“. Superb ravioli with a very intense and rich taste and loaded with umami! A dark veal sauce with Barolo and boney taste, and a lighter riesling sauce. The al dente surprise balls exploded in the mouth to release their full potential: intense and rich excesses of fat and taste. Extraordinary Italian pasta – the real deal!
“Hunting the Pigeon“. A nice pigeon breast laying on a sauce made with its own juices and red beetroots, and leaves carved in celeriac, turnip and red beets. Covered with freshly grated horseradish, the meat was tender and pink, but the skin not as crispy as I like it (the pigeon I had at Gresca was better according to my tastes). Nevertheless a dramatic and stunning plating.
“A thousand layer of leaves“. Caramelised leaves (basil, cabbage, etc.) and various sweet pastes, mandarine jam, chestnuts cream, and fresh porcini and truffles. I really loved the idea of raw mushrooms in a desert – who says those should be eaten in salty dishes? Their strong flavour added extra depth to the sweet pastes and gave a very woody/autumnal tone to this pre-desert. Also the crunchy leaves contrasted nicely with the smooth creams. A successful combination.
“Birthday Chokki Cake“. Chocolate. Loads and loads of it. Yummi! Fresh, melty chocolate without feeling the “omg, this is too sweet, I can’t anymore”. We licked our plates clean after a pound of pure cocoa marvel and could have eaten another one (or so we thought…), it was that good!!
At the end of our (4h long…) lunch, while they were basically waiting for us to finally leave, we had the chance to get a glimpse in the kitchen and catch up with the friendly chef, Massimo Bottura. He told us about his philosophy, his love for the Italian terroir, the honesty that goes into his creations, and where he found the inspiration for his playful creations. A very nice and passionate fella!
All in all, it was an excellent experience with some truly extraordinary dishes. From our table, we have been taken through a culinary tour of Italy’s flavours, ingredients, and traditions. Never bordering on the molecular fusion craze with alien shapes, inappropriate textures, or Asian “inspirations”, his cuisine was fresh, honest, and real. Modern and refined Italian cuisine at its best! We particularly liked how he played around with uncommon ingredients in different forms, such as the Parmigiano milk, and with various textures and temperatures. An exceptional place packed with culinary talent and smiling people – warmly recommended!