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Image 1: Modena is well known in the culinary circle for its balsamic vinegar, but there is actually something more famous in this town.
Image 2: This is it -- our destination of the trip! We came all the way for the most cutting-edge of today's Italian cuisine and nothing is better than experiencing the magic coming out of Chef Massimo Bottura's kitchen.
Image 3: www.osteriafrancescana.it Chef: Massimo Bottura
Tasting Menu: €150
Closed for Saturday lunch and Sunday, and a few weeks in the summer and Christmas period.
Image 4: This warm entrance with the bright green wall made us feel like we are entering Massimo's home.
Image 5: The Best Restaurant in Italy!
Image 6: Passing through his book collection...
Image 7: and the reading area...
Image 8: and into this spacious dining room.
Image 9: Both Massimo and his wife Lara are into contemporary art, so they wanted us to treat this place as an art gallery!
Image 10: The menu is in Italian only but I could still tell they have a few tasting menus: Traditional, Classic, and Sensational. For fussy people like us, we insisted we didn't want just one particular tasting menu, but preferred dishes selected by Massimo which best illustrate his cooking style!
Image 11: A good selection of bread to taste the olive oil.
Image 12: First item - Sea Rock. Wow, the look was beyond contemporary! A sponge cake saturated with savoury flavour of the sea to start off the meal ! Taste of clam at the bottom, prawn in the middle with squid ink on top. Unusual amuse-bouche but it set the tone for an adventurous meal.
Image 13: It's just the first course but Oh My God, it's like someone already scored a goal in the first 5 minutes of the World Cup final! This first course, Fish Market with Abstract Grill, is already enough to justify our trip to Modena!
Image 14: A miniature Fish Market with fresh raw seafood on ice - oyster, prawn, lobster, and sea bream from Adriatic Sea with a flick of sea water emulsion. The surprising part was actually underneath the ice!
Image 15: We broke open the ice before eating and found ourselves surrounded by an intense charcoal smokiness from this "abstract grill"! SEE VIDEO HERE! I've never expected the first course to be that impressive on both conceptual and practical levels! This is the only place you could have "grilled sashimi"!
Image 16: Next, a Mackerel and smoked fennel terrine with grated frozen ginger.
Image 17: Our server then finished it off with citric juice of orange, grapefruit and lemon. The terrine had a nice hint of smokiness; the frozen ginger gave the fish an extra boost in flavour; and the sharp fruity juice brightened the dish even further. A superb course!
Image 18: Risotto Grey... and Black
Don't let this simple name foul you. This course had a powerful concentrated oyster flavour with a nice mouthfeel that you could feel each grain of rice separately. Also, it was not the usual short-grain risotto rice, hence it was less starchy but more al dente.
Image 19: Eel swimming up stream in the Po river
Using eel from the main river in northern Italy, this is Massimo's version of Japanese barbeque eel but using Saba sauce instead! Served with an acidity distilled green apple on the left and a polenta cream on the right.
Image 20: We like this sauce very much so they gave us a bit to taste by itself. Saba is the reduced grape juice before making balsamic vinegar. It is less sweet than unagi sauce with a delicate concentrated grape flavour. Another outstanding dish by Chef Bottura!
Image 21: Black Monochrome
Black-White-Black resembles a piano key as this dish pays tribute to the jazz pianist Thelonious Monk!
Image 22: Juvenile vegetables soaked in an ink broth with black cod resting on top whose skin was carbon crusted. The vegetables contained an "oyster leaf", a unique leaf that has a strong oyster flavour!
Image 23: First seared then poached for 20 minutes at low heat in order to maintain its firm texture. Beautifully timed! They paired this dish with a glass of beer Birra Beltane Black Label to create a more casual mood just like listening to jazz.
Image 24: Conceptual Caesar Salad
A mixture of herbs, mayo, anchovy juice, crouton, thin bacon, shaved egg yolk, and balsamic vinegar.
Image 25: Another highlight of the meal: Five Textures of five different ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano! Underneath was parmesan cream and parmesan soufflé with a runny parmesan sauce topped with parmesan foam and a parmesan crisp, each at a different age!
Image 26: This course was all about Parmesan! Not only did it allow us to feel a range of different textures, but also the strength of the cheese from different ages. Brilliant idea and perfect execution! Paired with a glass of Lambrusco which had a very sharp cigarette-like smokiness on the nose.
Image 27: Cotechino and Lentils in May
The menu was well thought out that each course had its point! Here, Massimo reinvented a traditional Modena dish, Cotechino, a sausage dish commonly eaten at New Year, but he wrapped it in a ravioli with lentil purée on the side.
Image 28: Simply a delicious course of thin pasta with pork sausage stuffing!
Image 29: Massimo also showcased his drawing skill - a violent scene of Pigeon Hunt with bullets and blood exploded all over. This artwork was a bit unpleasant at first, but not after we had the first bite of the tender juicy breast meat with the concentrated essence of balsamic reduction!
Image 30: On the side was a crunchy sphere of deep fried drumstick made with thigh meat.
Image 31: Moving away from the savoury world, instead of sorbet, they served The Garden as a refresher before the sweets. It was a collection of vegetables and fruits - fresh strawberry, asparagus, avocado, beetroot crisp, frozen carrot ice, pea sorbet, etc. It was a complex transitional course with an excellent texture and flavour contrast!
Image 32: After that many impressive dishes, we definitely needed a break before our desserts. So we had a visit to their wine cellar.
Image 33: A set of interesting water decoration. They then warned us to be very open-minded with the desserts!
Image 34: Back to our table we found a cute mini-Magnum!
Image 35: Alright, just a Magnum ice cream on a stick as pre-dessert? But NOOOOO....
Image 36: It was actually foie gras with 40-year old balsamic vinegar spilling out, coated with crushed hazelnut and almond! The richness of the creamy foie, the deep flavour from the aged balsamic, the crunchiness from the roasted nuts, and the delicate sweetness from the Moscato di Pantelleria Serragghia 2007...
Image 37: Exceptional, truly exceptional! Chef Bottura really has guts to serve foie gras as a pre-dessert, but the manager said they usually serve it much earlier as it could be too shocking for many diners. Regardless when you have it, this is a spectacular snack anytime of the day!
Image 38: Seven types of wine/beer paired along with our meal! The meal had so far surpassed our high expectation.
Image 39: Now, the most outrageous but amazing dessert of all time - A potato that is waiting to become a truffle! This was simply beyond my imagination! Yes, potato and truffle as dessert!!!!!
Image 40: Oh my god! The warm baked aroma coming out of this sweet potato was appealing...
Image 41: The seductive fragrance from the white truffle was arousing...
Image 42: ... and without a doubt, the crème anglaise did a brilliant job of marrying them together. They first scooped out the baked sweet potato and then made a soufflé out of it. Even with the crème anglaise, this airy soufflé wasn't overwhelming at all and it did a good job of satisfying our sweet cravings. It was indeed a damn good dessert!
Image 43: The most unforgettable dessert in my life! Not only was it impressive on the palate, but in my mind too. First the foie gras, now potato - how could things that sounded so wrong for dessert be so right?! Massimo’s magic somehow managed to make it work! A work of true genius!
Image 44: While my mind was still thinking about the desserts, it was time for petits-fours and tea.
Image 45: Grilled marshmallow
Image 46: We were completely full but we still managed to try them. Surrounding the strands of candied orange peels were profiterole, caramel tart, raspberry jelly, ganache with sparkling candy inside, and a coffee cake.
Image 47: Not only did we visit their kitchen, we were lucky enough to get a private invitation to Massimo's testing lab.
Image 48: A collection of aromas for Massimo to examine different combinations of flavours!
Image 49: Massimo's S.Pellegrino souvenir for 2010.
Image 50: Chef Bottura has been continuously pushing the boundary of his savoury course into dessert. I thought I was open-minded when it comes to eating, but he has opened my mind even further! What an astonishing journey created by Chef Bottura!