Via Stella, 22
Telephone: +39 059 210118
Overall rating: 8-8.5/10
Date of visit: September 2012
Osteria Francescana is located in a small street in the centre of Modena and was awarded three Michelin stars in 2012. For anybody who cares about that list, it was also number 5 on Restaurant Magazine’s “Top 50 best restaurants” in 2012.
The dining room was simple and modern and very lovely. One of the prettiest I saw in Italy.
They offer three different menus as well as a la carte. The menus are either traditional Italian food (Spaghetti Bolognese, etc.), the classics from this restaurant, or their newest creations. If I remember correctly, they also became more expensive the newer the food was. I chose the classics of the restaurant at €140. Water was €10.
As mentioned in another review, grissini seems to be something only Italians understand. The ones I had here were not spectacular, but they were nevertheless the best ones I had in all five restaurants in Italy. They seemed a lot more fresh and had far better texture.
Before the menu began I had a small appetizer which was a river fish inside a super crispy and absolutely perfectly cooked tempura dish. On top was a salty ice cream made with vinegar and herbs. I couldn’t taste the herbs, but it was nevertheless a really nice start to the meal (8/10).
The first proper course was eel coated in saba (a syrup made from grape most) and with onion ashes, a polenta cream and an acidic apple sauce. I believe polenta is something only Italians understand. Here, it didn’t excite me either. As a whole this dish was pleasant enough, but not a favourite of mine. What I can say, though, is that the apple sauce is by far the best apples I’ve had in Southern Europe. Everybody seems to favour the incredibly plain Golden Delicious, whereas this sauce actually had flavour. The dish was definitely thought-through and well-executed (6,5/10).
North Sea cod was served in a black bouillon made from dried tuna and on a bed of cooked, but still very crispy, vegetable strips. Again, a great idea, but there wasn’t so much diversity in the flavours here, and I found it a bit difficult to distinguish each element. After finishing the dish, I did have a slightly unpleasant taste in my mouth from the bouillon. The cod itself was well-cooked, but simply wasn’t as nice as for instance the ones I had at Cofoco and Era Ora in Copenhagen. Then again, the cod was brought all the way to Italy from the North Sea, which will undoubtedly affect the quality (6/10).
Shallots, leeks, mushrooms and truffles were served as a small creamy stew. Light, tasty and a bit refreshing although still with quite a lot of substance. Like at Al Sorriso, the truffles didn’t have much flavour (8/10).
Parmesan was served in four different textures (crisp, soup, foam and a firm cream), each of a different maturity (up to 50 months). It was a nice dish, but I simply couldn’t taste the difference between the four. A parmesan aficionado might have been able to. The crisp here was more crispy and fresh than the one at Dal Pescatore (7/10).
A cocktail glass contained rosemary foam at the top, bean purée underneath, which itself was on top of pancetta and veal cream with foie gras at the bottom. In particular one thing impressed me greatly about this dish, and that was the bean purée. Usually, beans just taste like beans, and it’s practically the same every time. This purée was really full of flavour. Nothing short of remarkable. The other elements were really nice too, and I would have given this a higher score if it hadn’t been for the foie gras. That simply ruined it for me. I simply don’t like the flavour of foie gras, but I have had really nice foie gras dishes where the combination with other ingredients worked wonders. This was unfortunately not one of them, as the foie gras mousse was just resting at the bottom on its own (overall 7/10).
The main course was a modern take on a traditional Italian dish that I don’t remember the name of: Two kinds of pork (one of them was the head) and four kinds of beef with a sauce made from orange peppers, a single sardine, a single capers, and a herb foam. What a dish! The meats had been cooked separately in vacuum for 30-48 hours and was terribly tender. The sauce was light and refreshing but had more flavour than what I usually see in dishes with peppers. This was hands down the best dish I had in all five restaurants in Italy – no competition whatsoever. Simply one of the most memorable dishes I’ve ever had (10/10).
A pre-dessert was one of the most famous dishes by this restaurant. It was a lollipop of foie gras filled with balsamic vinegar and with toasted hazelnuts on the outside. According to the waiter, people laughed at this dish when they first started doing it, but it had since been named the dish of the decade. I liked this combination with foie gras a lot better than the previous one, although there wasn’t quite enough vinegar in there. The vinegar was 50 years old, and was really, really nice. If the percentage of foie gras had been lower (more vinegar and nuts), I would have enjoyed it a bit more (7,5/10).
The dessert was called “Oops, we dropped the lemon tart”: A very crispy pastry shell on top of a lemon grass ice cream and a lemon sabayon around it, as well as a small piece of fresh lemon and a caper. It was both amusing and tasty. I really like lemon, but it’s difficult to work with, as you need so much sugar. Here, the only thing that was a tad too sour was the small piece of fresh lemon. The rest was well-balanced. It was nice to finally see a place in Southern Europe where the dessert wasn’t a step down from the rest of the meal. This was the best dessert I had in Italy (8,5/10).
The petit fours were six small delights, all well-made and thought-through. Just compare the picture of these ones with the ones from Al Sorriso:
All is well that ends well, as the saying goes, and it was nice for a change to see that some consideration were put into the petit fours. If not, why even serve them? (8-8,5/10)
This was the only place I went to in Italy with truly three star service. Only here did they walk me to the toilet and held my chair when I came back, and only here did I see them put two plates down at the table at exactly the same time. That doesn’t make the food or the experience better, but it’s always nice to see it done.
One waiter took away most of my plates, and I think he might have been a little shy or simply didn’t speak English that well. I had quite long conversations with another waiter. He seemed honestly interested in knowing my opinion about the food and he simply seemed happy to make conversations with the guests. The restaurant was elegant, and all the waiters wore black suits, but the atmosphere was light and friendly.
When I asked for a glass of white wine I asked if they had something similar to this particular Italian wine that I like. The sommelier found one, poured it and five minutes later came back and asked about my opinion. Usually, sommeliers just pour it and let you say right away if you like or not, if they even do that when you order per glass.
The amount of food was more appropriate than in all the other restaurants I went to in Italy. Here, I was full at the end, but I could still walk. At all the other places I could barely make it through the desserts, let alone walk out of the restaurant.
As in all the other restaurants in Italy there was a bit of waiting here, but if I’m not mistaken this was only before the meal started. Once it got going, the pace was very good indeed.
At €140, this was the cheapest menu in all five restaurants, but also the best one. Two things surprised me on the bill, though. The first thing was a cover charge of €5, and the other thing was that a glass white wine was €20 (€10 in the other four restaurants). Maybe I actually paid for an entire bottle, because the bottle was on ice close to my table throughout the meal. Then again, I might just have had an expensive wine. I had asked for something similar to a particular Italian wine I like, and the sommelier said that the wine I had suggested was a mix of two grapes, and therefore this was the closest thing he could find. And really, if you’re paying this much for a meal anyway, €15 more or less is not a big deal – especially not when the food was cheaper and better than anywhere else in the country.
What I liked about this restaurant was that they had ambitions. They didn’t serve a slice of beef with braising sauce because they couldn’t come up with anything (*cough* Al Sorriso). There wasn’t a single dish that wasn’t thought-through or inspired. The execution, the technique and the quality of the ingredients (except maybe the truffles) were faultless. Along with Le Calandre, only Osteria really had a perfectionistic approach to cooking of the five restaurants I went to in Italy. I didn’t like all the dishes here, but I could easily see why they have received three Michelin stars.