Ever since I watched the first episode of Netflix’s Chefs Table, I wanted to visit Osteria Francescana in Modena. Chef Massimo Bottura seemed so talented and personable. So, I decided to book my whole trip around eating at this three star Michelin restaurant, and at the time of booking, the number one restaurant in the world. It has since slid to number two. Bottura is considered a genius who has brought Italian cuisine to another level. Italians are generally very traditional and it took Chef Massimo on a long and winding road to fame. But he never gave up his dream of challenging the traditions of Italian cuisine, without taking himself too seriously. And now he has been in the top five since 2011, which is no easy feat. And he is rated the best in Europe and number two on the planet. Not bad for someone who opened in 1995. He received his first star in 2002, his second in 2006 and his third in 2012.
Walk down a colourful winding cobblestone trimmed side street in the charming Romanesque town of Modena, and you will come upon a glass door of a terra-cotta coloured building, with a placque outside with the name, and two others, one from Michelin and the other from Les Grandes Tables du Monde.
You know you entered somewhere special from the moment you walk in the door. There are formally dressed and intuitive staff, stand at attention to care for your every need. The place is small – three rooms with a total of 12 tables, with more than 50 staff. The decor is minimalist, with brown carpets, grey/blue walls, modern art, and black and white photos adorning them. Perfectly selected music plays softly in the background. The tables are large and generously spread apart, offering privacy. The tablecloths are ironed, the silver is polished, the glassware matches selections from the massive book of 1,200 wines spanning the globe.
The menu offered two tasting menus, one 7-course menu at 170 Euroes called, “Tradition in Evolution”, traditional foods of Emilia Romagna, with some of his most renowned dishes, and a wine pairing at $130 Euros that will match nicely with the dishes or a 9 or 10-course menu, called, “Sensations”, which has more experimental dishes at 220 EUR plus a larger wine pairing. These are the prices for lunch. I believe the menu and prices increase slightly at dinner.
Massimo trained at three star Michelin restaurants in the past, Louis XV, and El Bulli. He had a great background in classical and experimental cooking, and you can see both influences reflected in his work and style.
We had the pleasure of meeting Chef Massimo three times on our trip and I can tell you he is modest, humble, passionate and his enthusiasm is infectious. He is articulate and speaks a perfect English, as I am sure he has gotten much help over the years from his equally charming American wife, Laura.
We went with the smaller menu but were able to add two extra dishes, at a supplemental charge, one from the Sensation’s menu and one from the a la carte menu. The restaurant was very flexible and accommodating to our requests. We also chose a wine pairing and got to taste some generous pours from wineries that we have never had the pleasure of trying before.
We felt privileged for the experience of tasting the artfully plated food. Not every course wowed me but there were many that joyfully humbled me.
The Eel Swimming up the Po River, is probably one of the tastiest eel dishes I have ever had. The standout dish for me is Bottura’s Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different textures and temperatures. This dish is a triumph – complex and satisfying. Our serving of tortellini with cream of Parmigiano Reggiano was surprisingly on the salty side, and we preferred this dish more at his more casual restaurant. The cod dish is light and flavourful and the suckling pig has a tender meat with a crunchy skin that is rich and stellar. I also loved the Caesar in Bloom. It’s so colourful and the dressing is delectable.
Our dessert called, “Yellow Bellow” was a little disappointing but thankfully we also ordered the chef’s iconic, “Oops I Dropped the Lemon Tart, which is not only a creative abstract expressionist parody, it is unbelievably delicious. Everyone who ordered this dessert was scraping every last drop off their plates.
The meal lasted three hours, and was absolutely the highlight of my trip to Italy. Although, I must say, I still prefer Alinea, Arzak, and Tickets – they were three of the most perfect meals ever for me.
Osteria Francescana serves a modern, contemporary, Italian cuisine in a fine dining, sophisticated setting –
creating the ultimate stage for his supreme talent.
Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday, except no lunch on Saturday. Not easy to secure a reservation.