Italy has many beautiful cities filled with rich culture, history and architecture. As with many visitors, on my first visit to Italy I covered the few notable cities like Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice etc. Our focus were on the stunning architectural masterpieces and indulging ourselves at luxury boutiques (or outlet malls). Being on a group tour meant that food was of lower priority as we were fed mediocre meals – its a pity that we didn’t get to try quality local cuisines given the country’s rich culinary culture.
While planning for our winter holiday to Europe, we got lucky and managed to secure a table at Osteria Francescana – No. 1 on World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2016 and a 3-Michelin star restaurant in the quaint town of Modena, Italy.
Being F1 (Ferrari) fan, I also took the chance to visit the Museo Casa Enzo Ferrari Museum which was also the birthplace of the prancing horse super car’s founder.
After a night of disrupted sleep (due to jet lag), we made our way to the famed restaurant by taking a stroll across the old Medieval town. At 12.25pm guests started to gather outside the restaurant waiting for the doors to be opened.
After leaving our coats at the foyer, we were led to one of the dining rooms. I read somewhere that there are a total of 12 tables for each seating. Our dining room has four tables with 2 guests at each table. There were 2 different menus to choose from, either the 10-course menu “Festina Lente” comprising of the classic dishes or the 12-course menu “Everything” comprising of a mix of iconic and new dishes.
Admittedly I didn’t do any research on what are Chef’s iconic dishes, I wanted to be in for a surprise. All I knew about the restaurant is: they serve modern Italian cuisine.
We started with a spread of small bites: “Fish & Chips” Italian-style, Macaron (with stew rabbit filling), Borlengo with lard & parmesan cheese, Pillows of salted codfish & tomato and something that was made to look like sardine but “This is not a Sardine”.
After clearing the spread of small bites, we began with the first starter of Insalata di mare (Seafood Salad). It looked like a vegetarian dish at first glance, but hidden beneath the layers of lettuce and crackers were gems from the seabed: squid, octopus etc. It was finished with a light essence spritz at our table, the spray was said to be made from a blend of tomato, olives, capers etc. Needless to say, other than being a visually stunning dish, the juxtaposition of textures was magical.
Mediterranean sole is one of the new dishes on the menu. It featured three classic Mediterranean fish preparations: sotto sale (baked under salt), alla mugnaia (sautéed in a wine and butter sauce) and al cartoccio (cooked in wrapped parchment or foil).
The “paper” was made with salt and water. It also represented the cooking method of salt crust. The meunière sauce was a display of classic flavours formed between tomatoes, olive oil, capers, herbs.
In fact I thought this dish has potential to be endorsed as dish advocating environment conservation. The “paper” reminds me of a state where plastic bags undergoing degradation become brittle and crumbly, whereas the “sole” represents the fish in the polluted ocean and were suffocated by the plastic garbages. Humans harvesting from the ocean are in fact consuming the micro-plastics that we created… How philosophical? Or perhaps I’m thinking too much…
The next dish was a stark contrast to the earlier dish in the colour spectrum. It was totally black. Burnt is a dish inspired by spending summer time at the seaside. The staff explained that Italians enjoy summer grigliata (barbecue). Sometimes after too much drinking, the food left on the grill were forgotten – that resulted in burnt food. I wondered if that was Chef’s personal experience? The chips were made with the skin of fishes while the broth was made with marination juice of the seafood (squid, cuttlefish, seabass etc.) finished with a dash of smoked extra virgin olive oil – adding a smoky flavour.
Autumn in New York basically comprised of different textures of apples along with other components made of ingredients from various countries such as Russia, East Europe, France and campanina apples from Italy. It was finished at the table with a light dashi broth made with Apples.
Here comes the Chef’s signature dish: Five ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different textures and temperatures. This was the reason why we chose the 12-course menu over the 10-course one, although this dish is available as ala carte add-on it is priced at €70 a plate. At the time of our visit, we had not watched the hit Netflix documentary “Chef’s Table“, where Chef Massimo was featured in the Season 1 Episode 1. *I have caught the show at the time of writing this post.
The documentary started with a story on how Chef saved his town’s economy with a cheese and rice recipe. Due to earthquakes in the region, warehouses where Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese were aged and stored were damaged. Chef successfully created a recipe that gone viral and spurred brisk sales of the affected cheese. This story showcased Chef’s love for his hometown and the local produce which was the pride of the region.
It is therefore apt that his signature dish seems to be paying a tribute to the cheese, which is the essential product in Italian cuisine. I love the dish for its brilliant concept, it is a dish made with only 1 key ingredient but transformed into 5 different textures at different temperatures.
- Air made from crusts of Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 40 months & 50 months)
- Galette from Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 40 months)
- Foam made Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 30 months)
- Demi-Souffle from Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 24 months)
- Sauce made from Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 36 months)
I’m not a cheese connoisseur but this dish absolutely blew me away. After tasting it, I am willing to fork out €70 for a plate!
After the classic dish, up next is a new dish In the countryside: snails, hare and aromatic herbs. It served with a classic french sauce – civet, made with stew of hare, creamed foie gras, chocolate and aromatic herbs. This new dish seems to be an evolved version of his classic dish “Camouflage – A Hare in the Woods”. So this time round instead of “in the woods”, the landscape has been changed to a lush green countryside. Hidden under the pile of greens were ravioli and snails.
Instead of the classic Rice: Green over Brown over Black, the next dish is also a new creation – Rice between Duck a l’orange and Peking duck. It is evidently a fusion dish using “rice” as the base – a staple common to both Italian and Chinese culture; with a blend of classic French roast duck dish of the West and Chinese Roast duck of the East. The end result was a sweet and sour sauce rich in “hoisin” flavour. A commendable attempt but I wasn’t too impressed with this dish…
Camouflage pigeon and partridge meatballs and Mallard, pigeon and partridge Tarte Tatin. The pigeon breast is cooked on peas with pickles, the meatball is made from partridge blended with foie gras and breadcrumbs. This is paired with the savoury Tarte Tatin with minced meat patty sandwiched in the middle.
The main dish of game birds was something rather exotic to us as other than pigeon (which is more commonly available) from the Asia region where we were from. However it was a pleasant experience as the gamey taste was well-balanced with the accompanied sauces.
Pre-dessert was Cherries come in all shapes and sizes which is yet another new dish. Three PDO cherries: ciliegia, duroni and amarene, were blended into a deep red cherry sorbet.
Finally the famous dessert – Oops! I dropped the lemon tart. It was well noted that this dish was the result of an accident when the Japanese pastry chef Taka Kondo accidentally dropped one of the last available tarts while plating. Hence it is essentially a deconstructed dessert with lemongrass ice cream, zabaione and crust with added star anise, cinnamon, juniper, black pepper and cardamom.
Rounding up our 3-hour long meal with Vignola, Croccantino of foie gras and Camouflage.
Our parting gift from the restaurant was another famous local produce – balsamic vinegar.
So does this restaurant lives up to its name of being one of the best restaurants in the World? Maybe…But I think they certainly deserves the 3-Michelin stars recognition which means “exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey“. Although my disclaimer would be – come with an open mind. And don’t make this your first Italian cuisine encounter if you hadn’t tried classic Italian cuisine, or you’ll have a misconstrued impression as they can vary region by region. I enjoyed my journey to Modena as it presents an opportunity to visit the less touristy parts of Italy.
Other Photos Taken:
Journey from Singapore to Europe typically takes about 13 hours on direct flight. This is the first time we are making a transit at Istanbul, Turkey. With the transit stop, it took us about 17 hours to touch down in Bologna, Italy. Had 1 dinner and 2 breakfasts during the journey with limited shut eye time…
Was happy with the rather new cabin hardware on Turkish Airlines. Something interesting was the appearance of an onboard Chef – in the Chef’s uniform. I was too shy to sneak a snap shot of them.
There were some misses and some hits in terms of quality of food. I enjoyed the breakfast – pancakes with strawberries, fresh bread and the desserts from the night before but not the main (that explains the absence of a photo of it).
During the transit, we stopped by the Turkish Airlines lounge – said to be the World’s Best Airline Lounge, tried some Turkish coffee and tea. The lounge was spacious and is divided into several entertainment zones. Perhaps being sleep-deprived made me lose my appetite, I didn’t find any food attractive enough for me to grab a bite…
Another chance to curb our hunger pangs onboard the second-leg of our journey. This time round it featured Turkish Specialties. The grilled flat pastry tasted better than it looks.
The other highlight of the flight was undoubtedly the luxurious branded amenities kit.
It was about 3pm local time (9pm Singapore time) by the time we checked into our hotel in Modena. Making the total travel time of close to 24 hours from Singapore to Modena, Italy point to point (including check-in time required at the airport). It was my longest journey ever without a proper bed. It was a bliss to see the comfy bed to get a power nap before we commence exploring Modena.
The museum complex includes Enzo Ferrari‘s birthplace (brick building) and a futuristic gallery.
Inside the gallery are displays of past iconic Ferrari models.