12 Aug 2019. Friday.
This was the dinner Flo and I had been looking for since we managed to score reservations back in June. It was a crazy fight to get a table because their online booking system meant that queueing was virtually inevitable. What was frustrating though was that it kept jumping us back even when we hadn’t refreshed the page. Flo and I were both on multiple computers over at least two days trying to reach the reservation page, which had, by the time we were successful, turned into a waiting list.
I was so annoyed by their buggy system that I wrote an email to Osteria Francescana – very nicely of course, informing them that they might want to have a look at their online booking system so that others might be able to have a better experience than us. I also mentioned that if reservations were only open from 10am (Italy time) onwards, it wasn’t fair that the queue started way before then. I explained that Flo and I were in Italy for our honeymoon and that we had anticipated getting a table at Osteria but we understood the situation, and perhaps we would be luckier the next time around.
I honestly never expected to hear a reply from them, seeing that they were the World’s Top Restaurant 2 years in a row, now in the ‘All Stars’ list, and had thousands of people each month trying to get a table in their restaurant 3 months in advance.
But they did.
And they were warm and wonderful, extending an invitation to Flo and I to dine at Osteria. We were obviously over the moon and couldn’t believe our luck. We informed them of when we would be in Italy and they offered a dinner date for us which we made sure to weave into our itinerary.
So here we were, on our honeymoon, and kind of a baby moon, dining at one of the best restaurants, if not THE best restaurants in the world, helmed by a man incredibly respected not only for his culinary prowess, but also all that he gives back to the community of Modena – Massimo Bottura.
Flo and I arrived slightly earlier than 8pm, and when the long hand reached the ’12’, the doors were promptly opened for us to enter. Flo and I were seated in a room of about 6 tables, and while the interior was rather on the sombre side, it had some quirky little features such as the very old school wire lighting.
Staff were very polite, although a little stiff. I was quite overwhelmed initially by their attentiveness, even being escorted right to the ladies’ from our table. Their accents were a not so easy to understand, but we managed to get a gist of what all the dishes were composed of which suited us fine.
Flo and I zeroed in straight for the tasting menu, and as we settled down for our amuse bouches to arrive, we were presented with some beautiful, warm, crusty, seeded bread. Let me just say that Italy isn’t known for their breads as such, and most restaurants and eateries usually gave grissini (which I enjoyed), and plain, whiter than white, chewy bread. The breads at Osteria Francescana were heads and shoulders above anything we had had prior, and we wouldn’t have expected anything less.
The heady aroma of bread, all fresh and warm was enough to make us both happy muppets.
Our snack arrived shortly after.
We began with ‘Fish and Chips‘. I loved the lightness of the crisp cracker below the slightly tart fish mousse on top.
We were also treated to Foie Gras Lollipops with 35 Year-old Balsamic Vinegar coated in crunchy Sicilian almond nibs. We’re not big fans of foie gras but these were pretty good. Wouldn’t have them again though but that’s more a personal thing.
We also had a kind of a fish cracker that wasn’t really made of fish? This one wasn’t so memorable and I remember we weren’t particularly impressed by it.
The Mini Macarons were decent, though I did enjoy the parmesan crisp on the side.
Bread was taken away and in-house freshly baked grissini were offered. These were quite addictive.
First course arrived: Grilled Hamachi with Frozen Shaved Parmesan.
The raw fish below was Florian’s…
Mine came fully cooked. And while it was nice, it wasn’t anything mind-blowing for me because well, I guess the slippery moistness of fresh raw fish trumps the texture of flaky slices of cooked fish.
Second course: Autumn in New York as a fresh water fish salad.
This was crazy good!! Tart slithers of green apple atop fresh water eel. This was refreshing and so moreish.
Third course: Spaghettini from the gulf of Naples to Hokkaido.
Beautiful, fresh strands of perfectly cooked pasta noodles, topped with a luxurious, creamy seafood sauce and uni. I, however, had mine sans uni, but with prawns instead. It was delicious.
Fourth Course: We are still deciding which fish to serve.
They finally decided on turbot. With a Squid ink sauce – caviar for Flo. This fish was lovingly fried with its batter kept so light. There was a generous dusting of seaweed powder atop that balanced nicely with the cleanness of the fish. I enjoyed it even without the sauce.
Fifth Course: Pasta al Pesto in Abstract.
So this was created to resemble a kind of chawanmushi. The custard below however, was not quite as light and fluffy as a well-executed chawanmushi but I thoroughly dug the beautiful crunch of fresh vegetables that were laden on top – asparagus, peas, basil.. The ‘pesto soup’ poured on top was infused with pasta water, hence ‘pasta… in abstract’.
Sixth Course: Wagyu non Wagyu.
Mine, as you can see, was entirely not wagyu. I was served sliced avocado topped with a robust orange and sesame ponzu sauce.
The original dish features pork belly that was supposed to resemble wagyu in its rich, melty glory. Florian’s not a big fan of pork belly so I think this dish was ok for him. As for me, avocados were nice enough but not so much so that it made much impact on my tastebuds.
Seventh Course: Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, in different textures and temperatures.
The piece de resistance. I can totally understand why this dish is Osteria Francescana’s signature. It was a symphony in itself from start to end being able to taste the mildness of young Parmigiano and moving up to the more mature, punchy notes of the aged cheese. I loved the play on textures and temperatures that made this dish such fun to eat, gathering different harmonies of flavour with every bite. I would fly back to Modena right now just for this dish… if I had the money to spare.
Eighth Course: Ravioli of Roasted Potatoes in Roasted Guinea Hen Sauce.
These were very Japanese-inspired in that the ravioli were presented gyoza-style. This meant that there was a sheet of crispy dumpling skin sealing the tops of the dumplings and holding them together. That made for a nice contrast against the yielding, thin skins of the ravioli that held the ample, smooth roast potato filling.
I wasn’t as a big a fan of the guinea hen sauce compared to Flo, finding it a bit too robust and rich. A little more restraint in the extraction of flavour would have gone further with me but for those who have a taste for bolder sauces, this one would sit well with them.
Ninth Course: La Vie en Rose
Mine was slightly more done than Flo’s, whose piece of veal was cooked to medium rare. Still, cutting into my portion of meat was like knife cutting through room-temperature butter. It slid right through the tender veal and eating it together with the cherry rose sauce, was insight to the perfect marriage… And that’s coming from someone who’s not much of a red meat eater.
The cut of meat was succulent and flavoursome, with the savouriness of it being balanced by the slightly sweet, slightly tart reduction. The pickled endive was filled within with creamy foie gras and it went well with the veal. Truth be told, the meat alone would have worked perfectly for me already.
Pre-dessert: In Defence of Nature
I enjoyed this even though I was pretty stuffed at this point. The strawberry tuile was fruity and crunchy, the biscuit soil below added more texture and the gelato was creamy and refreshing.
Dessert: Tribute to Amalfi
This Lemon-soaked Baba was filled with Ricotta cream, topped with fresh cherry tomatoes, candied lemon and slithers of fresh basil, finished with a drizzle of strawberry sauce. This was a little too heavy for me although dear husband polished his up, and a bit more of mine.
Petit Fours: Yuzu Madeleines. Trio of Chocolates.
So I was beyond stuffed by the time we finished our dessert, but somehow, I managed to nudge some space clear for the petit-fours. I’m glad I did because every single one were mind-blowing.
The yuzu madeleines were zesty and light. They were served warm and I made sure to have my share of two pieces.
We then hopped over to the plate of chocolates. We were treated to Tiramisu truffles, and Cherry Bon bons. Both had such thin chocolate shells that the second we placed them into our mouths, the shells shattered, giving way to molten, liquid centres. I was beyond impressed!
The chocolates in the middle were called “Camouflage“. They tasted a little of seaweed but they were in fact made with civet, reduced in hare’s bones and blood. Who would have thunk?! And I ate it all with a sigh of appreciation and an ignorant bliss in not knowing what I had just consumed.
Sure, there were some misses, but thankfully, there were more hits than misses. The start to dinner began a little shaky but built up to end in fireworks. The icing on top was being gifted a bottle of Massimo’s Balsamic Vinegar upon bidding goodbye. Unfortunately, the big man himself wasn’t there that evening but we felt fortunate to have been able to dine there even.
Also, I was so touched by their accommodating us in the first place, that I gifted them back a bottle of kaya (local Singapore coconut jam). I felt rather bashful about it and even wondered whether I should give it at all. But when they handed us the bottle of vinegar, I was so touched I just pulled the kaya bottle and thank you letter out of my bag and handed it over, all red-faced and shy.
Flo and I spent a lot of time talking about how lucky our trios were to have been able to dine at one of the world’s top restaurants, albeit through umbilical cord feeding, and even thought of how wonderful it would be to take them all back one day when they’re old enough to appreciate the finer side of life – or when they were old enough to treat us to another round at Osteria Francescana. Sadly, that won’t happen, but the memory of this wonderful evening, all five of us, will be firmly clamped in my heart the rest of my life.