Lunch Tuesday July 22 2014
Osteria Francescana: So incredible, the very heart of Modena beats inside every mouthful.
Via Stella, 22, 41121 Modena MO, Italy
+39 059 223912
Worlds best 50 restaurants no 3 in 2015 , no 2 in 2015.
Michelin stars ***
Elite travellers top 100, no 10
CookBook: “Never trust a skinny Italian Cook” Phaidon 2014
If the silent generation’s teal blue walls and boys bedroom brown carpet put you off your food then don’t bother. There are no expansive views to distract you from the incredible, culinary journey through Emilia Bologna that awaits you. Osteria Francescana is all about the food. Twelve tables over 2 elegant rooms adorned with the chef’s other passion, modern art. Even in the afternoon light, the room is dimly lit, making food photography limited but a gift to women past their prime, it is a serious environment for real foodies.
My expedition to Osteria Francescana, the restaurant of chef Massiomo Bottura, ranked no 3 on The San Pellegrino World’s Best 50 Restaurants and holder of three Michelin stars, had been five years in the making. After all Modena is not on the usual Aussie tourist trail, I am not crazy about Ferraris and I can listen to Pavarottites sing anywhere. Little did I know that the magic of being in one of the Italy’s most authentic cities was the secret ingredient to this incredible visit?
The melange of chefs milling in the lane assured me as I arrived at the discreet entrance, marked by a simple brass plate.
I was greeted by what seemed the entire front of house, aptly lead by Denis Bretta, all clones of my favourite Italian real tennis professional. All similar, five foot seven and a bit more, polished and as lean and sleek as greyhounds.
The tasteful menu was a beautifully illustrated, three A3 pages divided into Al la Carte or a choice of three tasting menus: Tradition in Evolution, Classics or Sensations. Such diversity makes you long for a booking for dinner the next day, just so you can just do it all over again and make sure you haven’t missed out on anything. The menu reflects the terroir, flavoured with the chefs sense of humour, respect for history and an ample portion of genius.
My choice: Classics with wine pairing
Any restaurant worth it weight seems to start the journey with produce from heaven, bread served warm, snuggled in a basket and true to its roots it sat alongside the iconic Italian grissini, so beautiful and elegant it resembled kindling collected from the forest floor. Glistening green olive oil from Tuscany, and I was already singing before the real action began.
Tempura with Carpione
Nestled inside the delicious, sweet, crunch of the deep fried tempura was a tiny, local freshwater fish, Aula, topped with a quenelle of savoury ice cream from marinated carp a freshwater fish, mixed with finely chopped herbs. Contrasting flavours of sour, salty and sweet contrasted with temperature and texture of the tempura sandwich.
Paired with Ca” D’Gal Limine Moscaro D’Asti
An eel swimming up the Po River
First sous vide an eel, then lacquer it over and over again with saba, bake in the oven and serve with a creamy polenta sauce, an apple sauce made from small sour green apples and dust with burnt onion powder. If that’s not a stairway to heaven then wash it down with a velvety, soft beer with a iridescent, snow white head you are there. The saba, made from a reduction of grape must, added a sweet but sticky texture similar to balsamic, the apple a sharpness that cut through the richness of the eel. A stand out dish.
Paired with Beltaine Cervogia Birra Doppio Malto alle Castgne affumicate e Ginepro: double malt beer smoked in Juniper
Caesar salad in Emilia
To cleanse the palate, first drink the Slovenian Akvavit in one mouthful. Then the 22 ingredients concealed in the Caesar salad, were recited. Maybe the Akavit had gone to my head but I could only recall the usual suspects, romaine lettuce, egg cured in salt, dill, the very best Modena balsamic vinegar, white mustard seeds, black mustard seeds, maybe 2 ages of parmesan crisps, and pancetta. So simple yet a surprise with each mouthful. Add to the list possibly micro leaves of rocket, anchovy extract, lemon and the green sauce must have been made with a herb infused olive oil, pepper and salt, that makes sixteen,? the other six.
I enquired by email to the restaurant, the ingredients are not a secret, and change every day. Maybe I need to pay attention and get the list written down before the Akatvit, or who cares, just still just sit back and enjoy.
Paired with Genziana Giovanni Boroni, a grappa aperitif made from a 150 year old tradition by distilling gentian roots. It originates from the mountainous areas of Spiazzo in Northern Italy.
Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different temperatures and textures
This signature dish is so iconic, so incredible, I have dedicated a post to it alone, take a look, One ingredient, just add time. I was so overwhelmed by finally being able sit in front of a dish that I had travelled to eat, I completely forgot to photograph it, the lovely Hong Kong couple on the next table were a course behind me, with their gracious permission, I hovered over their shoulders to capture the moment. A stand out dish.
Paired with Damijan Podversic, Ribolla Gialla, from Gorizia, Italy, close to the Slovenian border. Very dry, somewhat fruity intensely orange traditional skin contact wine whose skins have had extended masceration for 60 days.
Cotechino 365 days a year
Eaten at Christmas and New Year, Cotechino is a traditional Bologna sausage made from lentils and pork. It by its very nature it is fatty and can’t be eaten every day, the fat has been rendered out to produce a silky texture that melts in the mouth in one delectable bite.
Paired with Glocal “Farewell” 2011, a Northern Italian red from Piedmonte Italy
Snails under the earth
Maybe the diversion from the previous more intensely flavoured dishes, made me less appreciative of the transition to the more delicate snails under the earth dish. It somehow just didn’t do it for me, a bit wishy washy and out of place, globules of chlorophyll floating in a potato and garlic soup over the earth beneath of coffee and snails. Who knows on another day or earlier in the menu I may have loved it.
All the Tongues of the world
Veal tongue has a long heritage in Italy, admittedly not one of my favourites and I am still not converted. A tongue cooked in black salt, coffee in charcoal dough and served with sauces of the world. The sauces included the classic accompaniment salsa verde, made with coriander rather than parsley, apple chutney from Modena, tropical passionfruit, Sri Lankan dahl and a South American ceviche sauce. Each mouthful was talking in its mother tongue.
Paired with Occhipinti :IlFrappato” Sicilia 2012, a medium red, perfect with the broad flavours of the world, from organic wine maker Arianna Occhipinti, Vittoria, Sicily.
Dessert rolls on
Foie gras crunch with Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Modena
The foie gras lollipop was originally created as a “something to eat on the go: for an office crowd”, with aged foie gras, it’s centre injected with the best Modena balsamic vinegar, coated in hazelnuts and an ice cream stick and there you have it. A perfect mouthful with the surprise gush of sweet balsamic celebrates the birth of many dishes where art meets cooking.
Paired with a sweet wine Glocal Verduzzo
A potato wanting to become a truffle
A baked potato for dessert, what next? This dish was inspired by his mother’s story about the Mantuan countryside where farmers found truffles and thought they were potatoes and boiled them. Created for the Alba truffle celebration in November 2010, small, round, mineral and sweet potatoes are rolled in chocolate and hazelnut powder, baked in salt, the pulp scooped out and blended with sugar and eggs. The filling is refilled into the potato skins and baked to form a warm sweet souffle. Served with a sweet creme anglaise and fresh truffles, eh ahahah. A stand out dish.
Paired with smooth and soft Desert wine from organic wine producer Sara Marco from the north eastern edge of the Italian peninsula, from small plots located in the hills of Povoletto.
Inspired by a nearby town Vignola, the home of premium cherry varieties we were treated to a thin-crusted, chocolate cherry, filled with cherry liqueur sitting on a bed of chocolate soil, a marriage made in heaven.
We finished with a plate of petit fours and a very welcome cup of black Italian coffee.
I had hoped to see Massimo in person, sadly he was missing from action, instead I met his very talented sous chef, Takaiko Kondo, who I am told will be famous one day. Having worked with such a culinary wizard how could he not be?
A recent published interview in a London newspaper reported that Massimo will a make a slow withdrawal from Modena to live in London. Such is the pity, as I strongly believe what makes this restaurant so incredible is its terroir, the very heart of Modena seems to be beating inside every mouthful.
“Remember the burnt corner from my grandmothers lasagne, everyone is fighting for it ” that is what defines the best Italian cuisine ” live your life as a dream, if you can dream it you can make it”. Masterchef Australia, 2015, up close and personal with the Massimo Bottura.*
Impossible to believe, difficult to believe: extraordinary, enough to make you cry tears of joy.