EAT - DRINK - BE MERRY
Osteria Francescana 26/02/13
You know the idea that it’s physically impossible for a bumble bee to fly? The laws of physics decree that the size of the bee in relation to the size of its wings and the energy required for lift off make it unfeasible for the thing to get off the ground, the trouble is that no one’s ever told the bee, so it just gets along bumbling around. Some things in nature are simply impossible but happen through sheer force of will.
In the midst of a massive global recession similar laws dictate that making a success of a top end restaurant in a beautiful but unfashionable Italian town like Modena would be improbable. If you add to that it’s a tiny place, spacious but only fifteen diners the day I went for lunch, and nearly as many front of house staff the odds shorten considerably. But that is just what Massimo Bottura has done.
Top end? I should say so, number five in the San Pelegrino World Top 50. A cool, elegant dining room, beautiful local food cooked with pride, imagination and heaps of talent. But how do you make a living doing this? There were honestly only fifteen of us sat at four tables, so they must bump the prices right up then, yeah? Well, no, not really, is €150 a lot for a good meal in a three Michellin Star Restaurant? I’ve paid a lot more for a lot less, but don’t get me started about the Berkley. The extras weren’t overpriced with the total bill for two, including a bottle of wine, water and coffee came to€405 (about £350). In fairness the wine was a Dolcetto D’Alba and at €30 was about the cheapest on the menu (I was once told by David Berry Green of Berry Bros. and Rudd no less that dolcetto is the perfect lunchtime wine, I live my life by that rule).
And the food was outstanding, balance, elegance, depth, imagination, complexity. A true expression of pride in local ingredients and cuisine, the dishes came with history and a sense of place. There were stories about Massimo’s journey from Modena to Monte Carlo (Louis XV), Catalonia (El Bulli) and back to Modena, these influences ran strong in the food.
Modena was the star, a dish of five ages of Parmesan came as a cream, mousse, soufflé, crisp and foam showed off the local cheese. Modena’s most famous product, balsamic vinegar, featured in a number of dishes, as a reduction with delicately cooked snails, as the liquid centre of a foie gras lollipop and in the form of saba, a sort of balsamic precursor on smoked Adriatic eel.
The service was bright, attentive and knowledgeable, successive servings of home made bread and breadsticks were brought and Massimo spent time with us asking how we liked the dishes. (Yes, a top chef who’s actually there in the building!)
There were many highlights for me but by far the stand out was Think Green, a really simple but elegant dish including black truffle, radish, mushroom, pumpkin puree and spicy flowers, it brought to mind pastures and summer meadows of childhood. As well as this light touch there were glimpses of the very modern, a dish called Guinea Fowl - Not Roasted expressed all the beauty of the bird and on presentation the waiter sprayed a mist of ‘roasting essence’ across the plates.
There is a great deal to like in this restaurant, similar in many respects to Noma and El Celler de Can Rocca it takes great pride in its sense of place and the heritage of the food while at the same time pushing the boundaries, but this isn’t modern for the sake of novelty, this is all embracing, celebratory story telling, this is evocative and warm, and just as importantly it’s faultless cooking and perfect service.
The improbablity of this restaurant is a joy, like the bumble bee it succeeds through sheer force of will, the will of Massimo Bottura.
Classics Menu 150Euro
Tempura of freshwater aula with carpione icecream
Baccala Mare Nostrum
A journey to Modena: Adriatic eel, polenta, Campanine apple jelly and saba
Snails in the vineyard
Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different textures and temperatures
Glass of three inspirations
A compression of pasta and beans
Guinea fowl not roasted
Foie gras crunch with traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena
Oops and broken lemon tart
1 bottle of Dolcetto D’Alba
Water and coffee