21 Feb Travel Tuesdays – Review of Osteria Francescana
And so we arrive at Osteria Francescana, the flamboyant peak to this month of foodie indulgence.
Via Stella, 22, 41121 Modena MO, Italy
Approaching my final week of travel, Osteria Francescana was set to be the crescendo of the trip. Having re-arranged my whole visit to Italy, not to mention keeping a tight check on my student loan during my first year of university (not as to avoid going into overdraft so much, but to pay for this one meal), I was expectant. Nervously excited; nervous because I feared expectations would not be met, excited because, well that’s obvious; three Michelin stars and at the time of dining, the third best restaurant in the world (according to the San Pellegrino awards), now number two in the world. I like to think me dining there was a key reason as to why the restaurant moved up that one place to number two in the world!
Having browsed the a la carte and various tasting menus, we (my dad is still with me) ultimately plumped for the one with the most courses (in for a penny and all that), the twelve course sensations menu it was then.
Dish 1: Fish and chips
But guess what, this wasn’t fish and chips as you know it (to my disappointment!). A 3D disc of the crispest batter going, inside of which a mixture of anchovies presided, topped with a quenelle of carpione (some sort of fish) ice cream. The three mouthfuls that followed contained all the vinegar, salt and crunch that you’ll find with a good old fashioned meal at a chippy, (a good chippy mind!). Of course, the end product was a far more refined, not to mention less greasy version of our much beloved British counterpart. A most solid start.
Dish 2: Bread, butter, anchovies
This dish shared quite a lot in common with the first course, but with this course being a more luxurious step up. A crisp shell, a vinegar hit and of course the use of anchovies were their similarities. These first two dishes then were like identical twins who had been separated at birth, sharing the same genetic make-up, but differing in their upbringing. Where dish 1, Fish and Chips (let’s call it Julian) was brought up in a modest household, with luxuries at an essence, Bread, Butter, anchovies, dish 2, (Alex, purely for the gender neutrality of the name, I’m not (just) egotistical), was fostered by a couple of successful entrepreneurs, who had a holiday home in Australia and experienced a far more opulent childhood. Alex then was a far more rich, creamy, luxurious version than Julian. This not to criticise Julian too much, but he simply couldn’t live up to the success of his brother Alex! Having broken into the shell, the interior turned into the best fish soup ever and was a wonderfully indulgent course. Why don’t all food critics use these analogies more!? … That’s rhetorical, it’s quite clear why!
Dish 3: East meets west
A dish striking for its restraint, though perhaps not quite memorable for it. A broth and toasted lentils lay respectively either side of a ravioli type pasta. I’m struggling to recall what this tasted like if I’m honest. I remember enjoying it, but for a three star restaurant, in Italy, I wasn’t overly amazed by the quality of the pasta or its accompaniments. One to think about rather than indulge in perhaps.
Dish 4: Eel swimming up the Po river
One thing that struck me at Osteria Francescana was the confidence that the menu showed in their cooking. The elaborate title of the dish was translated/personified on the plate as a fillet of eel either side of a different sauce. So simple, yet all was perfect and wonderful. One sauce, a tart apple, the other, a richer, creamier polenta (I believe). The eel itself was lacquered with something or other giving it an amazing caramel like quality, which was topped with a burnt onion powder, the slight bitterness of which offsetting both the tartness of apple and sweetness of the ‘something or other’ lacquer. My dad and I were blown away by the delicious gloriousness of this dish.
Dish 5: Caesar salad
As a small cabbage, seemingly raw and untouched was served to us, we were suitably amused. The waiters went on to explain how there were something like twenty different elements all contained within the untouched looking cabbage. The elements of which were classic Caesar salad fare; bacon, parmesan, chlorophyll extract, ok maybe not. Despite what the waiters told us, I struggled to find all that was meant to be within, within; quite a few mouthfuls were just raw cabbage, which even for someone on a raw vegan diet would find hard to rave over. It was my least favourite of the twelve.
Dish 6: Red mullet
Another piece of art. A real striking lip stick red broth surrounded a fillet of red mullet. The skin was designed and flavoured with olive and something else tasty (it’s times like this where I feel a little guilty charging for this book). Another dish I’m struggling to recall in enough depth to describe to you the dishes’ beauty (another one of those moments). I do recall enjoying it however and marvelling at it’s beauty! Such an elaborate and beautiful tasting menu is a foodie’s dream but also an amateur food critic’s nightmare! I have clearly failed on the jobs post eating and for that I apologise, please give me another chance, please, let me go back to Osteria and try again!
Dish 7: Five ages of parmesan in five different textures
Wow, wow, wow. One main ingredient, yet every element giving a differing taste, texture and temperature, all of which complemented each other superbly and amalgamated into the most gorgeous bite. Genius.
Dish 8: Frogs in the pond
A most interesting and complex dish. Many a flavour combination, with each mouthful challenging the palate. So interesting and complex that once again I’m not able to describe the intricacies of the dish sufficiently. Breaded frogs legs were paired with hazelnuts, cherry and if I remember correctly, coffee. Like dish three, here was a dish to admire and think about, but perhaps not the most indulgent or fulfilling taste bud wise for it. Still, pretty darn good.
Dish 9: Veal presented like Jackson Pollock
Sweet Lord Jesus. To any Christians reading, let me reassure you, I am not using Christ’s name in vein, this dish was heavenly. The most delectably tender fillet of veal, complemented by an array of differing sauces and purees. Each puree offering a wonderful contrast and combination to the next. From memory the purees were an apple, cherry and a richer celeriac like puree. Silence only broken by the occasional ‘mmm’ or ‘wow’ or ‘bloody hell this is good’, so entranced were we by the culinary masterclass that was unfolding on our palate’s.
Dish 10: Foie gras feast
Another classic Francescana dish and one that holds a special place in my memory, not just for its playfulness and taste, but it was at the time of serving of this dish that I met Massimo Bottura. As he made his way around the room, my heart began thumping like that of a teenage boy about to ask his long term crush out on a date, (perhaps a little misleading this analogy, though there’s no denying that Massimo is a good looking fella!). Anyway, what a thoroughly lovely chap Mr. Bottura is. He explained to us how the dish was a slight play at the French; with a French ingredient, the Foie Gras, encased in Italian hazelnuts with a centre of aged balsamic vinegar (Italian of course). We made the very English comment that being English there’s nothing better than getting one over the French, even in this the most bizarre and pompous of ways.
The dish itself brought a smile to our faces; the judges from BBC’s Great British Menu would have said ‘oh what fun’. If you like foie gras, hazelnuts and balsamic vinegar you’ll like this dish! The combination just worked. The vinegar offsetting the richness of the Foie Gras, the slight bitterness of hazelnut offsetting the vinegar, the crunch of the hazelnuts offsetting the creaminess of the Foie Gras.
Dish 11: Pea, tomato dessert
This was a tasting menu with some serious thought behind it. There was a gradual shift from savoury to sweet throughout, with this dish the pinnacle of such. Ingredients of course usually more appreciated for what they bring to savoury courses, yet treated in such a way as to bring out their natural sweetness in this gorgeously light and fresh dessert.
Dish 12: Oops, I dropped the lemon tart
As the name suggests, you are served a perfectly broken lemon tart on a quite amazing textured plate (which was a little hard to eat off, but cool nonetheless). Attention to detail of this amazing restaurant was plain to see in this dish. I say plain to see, but it was the addition of tiny specks on the plate which added whole new dimensions to the dish. Tiny cubes of salted and pickled things (capers and apples), amongst drops of chili and basil (maybe), that added an ingenious contrast to the lemon.
So, there we go. There were a few dud courses and when I say dud, I mean not quite what I would consider three star worthy, which isn’t exactly a great criticism. It’s like saying to Cristiano Ronaldo that he isn’t quite as good as Lionel Messi, or George Clooney is quite as handsome as, umm, I don’t know… Massimo Bottura. Come on, he’s a good looking boy is Massimo!
I couldn’t possibly comment if it deserves it’s number two ranking, by accounts of not having tried any of its ‘competition’, though I’m not really sure if you can quantify things in such a way anyway. But hey, man loves a list. And that’s man as in mankind, that wasn’t some highly specific sexist slur, suggesting women don’t like lists as much as men!
Osteria Francescana though most definitely worthy of a place on every foodie’s wish-list (well every male foodie’s wish list) it most certainly should be.
And petit fours to finish it all off.
Overall food score: 95/120
Must go rating: 9/10
I’m sure such high ratings will mean as much to Massimo as his three Michelin stars. Mass, feel free to post the review on your own website, I’m sure it will help business!