Massimo Bottura and his restaurant in Modena, Osteria Francescana need no introduction. Holding three Michelin stars and positioned third on the San Pellegrino 50 World’s Best Restaurants list, he might just be one of today’s most influential chefs. It was safe to say I was utterly blown away watching BBC’s Masterchef 2013, I knew I had to experience eating at his restaurant. It’s bucket list stuff. By the time the program had ended we had Googled location, viewed the menu, tweeted the man himself (and he replied) and had our diaries at the ready. It was December, we booked for March – my birthday, which felt like a long, long wait!
Arriving in Modena, we had time to kill before the big night. There was a craft market on outside our penthouse and so we wondered around scooping kitchenalia we would probably never use. I did, however have plans for my little wooden keyring…
We were given a headsup by Sarah Canet at SpoonHQ about Da Panino, a petite but characteristic wine bar, a stones throw away from Osteria Francescana set up by its’ sommelier. It certainly set up the mood of this little forward thinking pocket of Modena. A small yet empathetic community where food is focus. Whilst enjoying the atmosphere of Da Panino you would be sure to bump into Massimo on his way into work or chatting to his staff before service. This spoke volumes about his dedication. Next to Da Panino was the Scuola Cucina Girasole. Where there is a full timetable of cooking courses and Massimo is a regular teacher.
We humbly explained to the staff in this extremely cute deli that we couldn’t eat too much and impair our imminent dinner. This was understood and respected by the highly approachable, interesting and finely tuned staff who explained, in detail each plate they brought to our table. Four dishes of incomparable bruschetta on warm rustic bread with toppings such as; Slightly warmed Pancetta, Parmesan shavings, Massimos own 11yr old Balsamic Vinegar, fresh Tomatoes, shavings of Bottarga, Capers, hand broken Provolina cheese, pure shoulder Mozzarella, Modena garden vegetables, 22 month old Parma ham, pickeld Artichoke and Coppa with Orange Mustard. This was accompanied by a bottle of Trebbiana red, typical of the Emilia Romagna region.
Delightful and a must-visit if you are in Modena.
Arriving at Osteria Francescana later that evening, we felt exceptional. The simple, unobtrusive restaurant design does not hinder what can only be described as a once in a lifetime tasting experience. From showing us to our table to the gliding back of our chairs and opening the electric bathroom door with a royal sweeping wave, the staff were mechanical but gentle and oh so precise. The table, spotless with expectation.
I ordered the Classics Menu. 9 courses of extremely refined fare. Each element had the wow factor. It was thought provoking, distinctive and exquisite.
Course 1 was Massimos take on fish and chips. ‘Tempura with Carpone’. A crisp, deep-fried sandwich with an Aula, fresh water fish filling served with a quenelle of Carpione ice cream, a savoury ice cream with mixed fresh herbs.
Course 2 was ‘An Eel swimming up the Po River’. Bottura explains, the journey of this curious eel retracing the footsteps of the Estensi dynasty from the lagoons of Comacchio to the canals of Modena. I am not a fan of eel but I was behind this little fellow whole heartedly. Sabba lacquered Adriatic eel baked with the mother of all balsamic vinegar, polenta cream and Campanine apple gel. I was in foodie heaven.
Course 3 was ‘Ceaser Salad in Emilia’. Hidden amongst the Salanova lettuce was 22 different ingredients used for the classic Caesar salad. slivers of toasted bread, shards of crispy parmigiano, mustard, crispy bacon,, chorizo, egg and dill…Each bite was different to the last, better than the first and for a dish so simple, it completely worked.
Course 4: ‘Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different temperatures and textures’. This stand out dish is well renowned. Made up of a demi-soufflé made from Parmigiano that has aged 24 months; a mousse containing a mature product of 30 months; a liquid cream incorporating a product aged 36 months; a crisp wafer produced from a Parmigiano aged 40 months; and to top it all a “breath of air” deriving from a broth of Parmigiano rind taken from a special product that has undergone an ageing process of no less than 50 months.
Course 5: ‘Cotechino 365 days a year’. Cotechino is a type of large sausage, or raw salame, that is made from pig meat. It is usually cooked for hours and is eaten at Christmas and New Year’s with lentils. Massimo cooks his without fat, therefore the flavour more intense.
Course 6: ‘All the tongues of the world’ oh so tender veal tongue cooked within a crust of salt, ash and coffee and aromatic herbs melted on my own was surrounded by “sauces” representing a number of different culinary cultures. The sauces included a lentil/curry, teriyaki, passion fruit with basil seeds, a salsa verde with cilantro instead of parsley, a fish-less ceviche and a traditional wild-apple mostarda.
Course 8: was a surprise. A birthday cake Massimo style. It arrived then disappeared and emerged again dressed for the mother of all birthdays. By this time in the evening, I was lost in a world of foodie submission…but I do remember chocolate, pistachios, mandarin gel and salt …delicious even for someone without a sweet tooth.
Course 9: ‘A potato waiting to become a truffle’. When Massimo filled the fairly quite room, which he did, often, he cleverly enticed conversation between the 4 tables in the room. He was clearly comfortable and keen to talk about his work and he held court like only a genuine artist could.
He ran back to the kitchen returning with a wine goblet made from heavy Murano glass and presented it on our table. He spoke of how it ‘looked like an ordinary glass’ but it was made from the best Murano glass you can buy. It is a humble practical instrument but has been given a special twist. Just like the humble potato in this dish. He continued to say he would ‘choose to be a potato than a truffle any day of the week as it has so much more depth than the extravagant truffle!’
His dish gives the humble potato value, recognition and the importance of a truffle. The potato baked in its own skin with crunchy rock salt has the pulp removed to make a souffle which is served with Creme Anglais and Fresh White Truffles. It’s extraordinary, anomalous and troppo Massimo.
With coffee we were given a stand of perfectly made truffles that once cracked open, disappeared onto the tongue. The perfect end to our meal.
It is safe to say I experienced both an eclectic rollercoaster of tastes and history, but also art, culture and Massimo’s inimitable avant garde style. As we settled the bill. Gulp. We were summoned to his kitchen to find him sitting like a cat that got the cream on an absolutely spotless pass where him and his exceptional team posed with us for photos.
He most definitely swept me off my gastronomical feet.
After his ‘performance’ I wanted to clap. Perhaps I did. I was sold and he was, in my eyes, exactly what I wanted him to be. Some argue his ‘sales techniques’ are off the scale. Me?
I believe in the magic.