Dining at the Best Restaurant in the World
Our best decisions always come after a drink or three.
This particular decision happened on a blustery winter’s evening, with sideline supporters of mulled wine, dark chocolate and duvets. We had been transported, via way of Netflix, to chef Massimo Bottura’s labour of love, Osteria Francescana. Named the second best restaurant in the world in 2015, Bottura’s childlike delight in his craft has clearly served him well. A caped renegade crusader of modern Italian cuisine, his famous concoctions include a sophisticated Foamed Bologna Sandwich, Parmesan Five Ways, and my favourite - a dish titled ‘Oops, I dropped the lemon tart’. With our tastebuds tingling and imaginations stirred, we had booked a week-long Italian sojourn, complete with a dinner reservation at Modena’s finest. All before bed. Saluti to that.
Several months later we found ourselves alighting at Stazione di Modena, fanning ourselves in the balmy August heat with our dog-eared maps. We arrived in the sleepy town early by Italian standards, eager to explore on foot and work up an appetite following a late breakfast of countless crostatas. For its small size Modena sure punches above its weight. Famous Modenesi include Luciano Pavarotti, Enzo Ferrari, Massimo Bottura and of course, balsamic vinegar. The town itself is full of UNESCO heritage sites, so grand and stunning you will wish you hadn't tried to last the visit with just carry-on.
We wove through the cobbled lanes bound for our hotel, Salloto delle Arti. If it is a night at Osteria Francescana you are in town for, this place gets my vote. Tucked around the corner from Osteria Francescana, white marble floors and hues of terracotta pink and dusky blues adorn the high-ceiling interior. We laid out our chosen outfits for the night on our wrought iron bed, and set off back across the piazza in search of the day's first Aperol Spritz.
The afternoon saw us lining up for the Museo Enzo Ferrari, behind a queue of men who had been abandoned by their wives in favour of shopping and an affogato. Neither of us are what I would describe as big on cars, but if you find yourself in Modena, you really ought to visit. We barely noticed two hours speed by as we admired the birthplace of the iconic car, feeling pleased with ourselves when we recognized a model or two.
With a yawn that says ‘feed me gelato’, we ambled back towards our hotel by way of Modena’s ornate piazza. I would like to say we skipped lunch to ensure we did not spoil our impending eight course dinner, but this is Italy, and I am me. We polished off a pizza to the soundtrack of cicadas chirping and vespas revving, and picked up a copy of Massimo Bottura’s cookbook in the hope of meeting the man himself later that evening.
Rested, suited and booted, we skipped out at sundown for an aperitif to kick the evening off before arriving at our main destination.
We spent three wonderful hours coursing through Massimo Bottura’s ode to his childhood memories of food. Each plate is full of surprises, with a level of creativity that dazzled us mere mortals. His dishes are all designed to have fun with Italian cuisine, bringing it into the 21st century - something that is supposed to be a real ‘no-no’ in Italy. Massimo’s style was initially revolted against, peers telling him that “you do not mess with Mama's recipe”. Luckily for us, he did not listen.
Each plate of food was provocative and challenged the norms of fine dining. The lasagne was specially done so that each diner received the very best bit (the crispy corner of course!) Another dish took two of the finest ingredients in the world, Foie Gras and balsamic vinegar from Modena, and turned it into a bite-sized, deliciously decadent popsicle. Each plate pays homage to the Emilia Romagna region and you keep wondering what could come through the doors next. Savour each morsel - the last thing you want to do is rush through.
Osteria Francescana means business - do not go expecting a convivial la vita e bella vibe until the final courses and several wines. The sound of hushed diners politely clinking glasses is broken only by succinct explanations of each course from the most professional waiters. The highlight of our delizioso evening was when Massimo came to greet all the diners. I would like to say we played it cool, but cool is just never a word I can use to describe myself. We felt like we were meeting the godfather of Italian cuisine, without the fedora. Grazie, Osteria Francescana, for such a bellissimo evening.
With Love, Kate
(P.S Check out the next stop ww made - in Lake Como - here)