Image 1: Modena, the city also known as the home of the world's best balsamic vinegar. It has strict regulations imposed on the production process from the source of grapes to the type of barrels used for aging. It was 4 years ago that Chef Massimo enlightened me with one of the most memorable meals of my life - "Fish market", "Black monochrome", "five textures of parmesan", "magnum", and a grand finale of "a potato that is waiting to become a truffle".

Image 2: If you have read my other revisits like Alinea or EMP, you probably know I always hesitate to revisit after a great meal worrying that it will spoil the great memory I had of the restaurant. However, Alan the Cumbria Foodie prompted me to return after he sent me a link to the Masterchef UK 2013 semi-final which was shot in this restaurant where Massimo provided a 2-day masterclass to the finalists.

Image 3: So three months later, I was back to experience again what many considered to be the most creative Italian cuisine in the world. Passionate, energetic, artistic, or maybe a bit crazy, would be my description of Massimo! Before I even took my seat, he already came out for a long welcoming chat. We then discussed the menu choice when Alan insisted of trying out the classics but Massimo tempted us by elaborating on his recent creations.

Image 4: We finally decided to ordered the Sensation, an experimental menu, but substituted in a few Classic dishes since I couldn't let Alan leave here without experiencing a few signature courses of Massimo. Realising the bread on the table has gone cold after our long menu discussion, the manager quickly replaced a fresh one for us accompanied with olive oil.

Image 5: First up, a small canapé to go with our champagne - Tomato macaron with mozzarella cheese.

Image 6: Massimo's interpretation of Lemoncello – Lemoncello granita topped with a hot lemon foam. A play of temperature contrast.

Image 7: "Fish & Chip" - Local river fish (Aula) sandwiched inside a bed of airy but crispy potato wafer with a quenelle of savoury Carpione ice cream. The Carpione has a little twist in the name, referring to the fish "Carp" and "Soused" (pickled in a spiced vinegar), a traditional way to preserve fish with vinaigrette and herbs.

Image 8: Another basket of warm bread: sour dough, rye bread, and multigrain croissant.

Image 9: First course, the "Oyster in the wood" which was an idea that came from a myth of oysters in Adriatic Sea which in fact do not exist; similar in saying "oyster in the wood"! So, a raw oyster blanketed in a light broth of oysters and herbs with horseradish. Amazing balance of sea saltiness from the oyster and freshness from the herb broth!

Image 10: "Eel swimming up the Po River", the most important river in Italy passing through many regions. On the plate was polenta and green apple extraction representing the produce of two of the regions where the eel passes through during its journey from the Sargasso sea.

Image 11: It was first cooked 'sous vide' before being grilled and lacquered with repeated layers of saba (residues of balsamic vinegar) sauce and sprinkled with the "powder of the canal" (burnt Onion powder). The eel itself was very delicate and had just enough fat giving it a nice richness. The saba coating offered a nice deep fruity sweetness finish to this fish. Definitely on par with some of the best grilled eel I had in Japan!

Image 12: East meets West, a dish inspired by Massimo's frequent visit to his new restaurant in Istanbul. Pasta with a filling of sausage, lemon peel and shrimp, accompanied by lentils and a spiced meat sauce on both sides.

Image 13: Then Giuseppe Palmieri, the manager and sommelier, did a demonstration of how to make the most wonderfully refreshing drink using literally "2 drops" of ginseng liquor. First of all the glass was filled with ice.

Image 14: Then pristine quality aromatic herbs were added to the empty glasses followed by two drops of ginseng liquor before topping it up with "Gazzosa", a refreshing mineral water, with Amalfi lemon. What an amazing drink!

Image 15: "A Red mullet hiding in the Rockpool". The fish was camouflaged using a powder of tomato, green olive and black olive on the crispy skin. The sauce, inspired by a traditional Toscana Fish Soup, was as good as the fish with packed flavours of intense tomato, fish and crustacean. Fabulous course!

Image 16: As a tribute to Thelonious Monk, this "Black monochrome" dish resembled a piano key. This cod was poached for 20min at a low heat to get a firm texture without overcooking it. The skin was crispy and completly dusted in sea urchin ash. The squid ink broth was made with Katsuobushi (Japanese dried Bonito flake based stock) which had a good umami along with vegetable spaghetti (celery, carrot, daikon) at the bottom. Another delicious course!

Image 17: This was Massimo's Caesar salad! A simple lettuce?!

Image 18: Not quite! Hidden inside were twenty two ingredients! Parmesan, crouton, pumpkin seeds, mustard seeds, sesame, bacon, egg, dill, balsamic and more.

Image 19: Remember as a child , everyone wanted the "Burnt part of the Lasagne"? So Massimo created a course for this! Fried thin pasta sheets with parmigiano, bechamel and ragu but without any tomato. Though the last two courses, the salad and lasagne, were not anything substantial but it was fun to have a few conceptual courses in a long tasting menu.

Image 20: Frogs in the pond didn't appear to be too complex. Just toasted frog legs in bread and herb crumbs.

Image 21: However, once I flipped over the thin pasta, there were a bunch of goodies underneath! Pine nut, hazelnut, diced vegetable and mushroom including black truffle with a touch of coffee sauce. Loved the fun mix of textures!

Image 22: Deer hunting was Massimo's recreation on the plate a brutal hunting scene surrounded by colourful roses.

Image 23: Drizzled on top was a sauce of venison and blueberry. The meat was tender, the sauce had enough concentrate of fruitiness to go with this gamey meat, and the few drops of olive oil really gave a smooth finish to this lean cut of meat. Excellent!

Image 24: This must be the most unusual pre-dessert ever! Massimo explained he was in the process of reinvesting how risotto is cooked. He extracted juice from olive and tomato then roast the rice before adding the juice; no cream, no garlic, just a touch of olive oil at the end to form an emulsion! Wow, the rice was al dente with a wonderful balance of savoury and acidity. We both closed our eyes and it tasted like a green tomato salad.

Image 25: Before Massimo ran back to the kitchen, he said, "Remember guys, this is the flavours of Italy!" And as a surprised, there was a slice of pig's head underneath which simply melted in my mouth! The sweetness of green tomato in the emulsion resembled a sweet fruity and citrusy sauce. So spectacular that I let the flavour lingered in my mouth as long as I could. A great transition course between savoury and sweet!

Image 26: Massimo's classic Magnum. Foie gras on a stick coated with crushed hazelnut and almond. On the side was a drop of 50-year old balsamic which was very intense with a slightly burning back of the tongue sensation. Not sure if foie gras was really that great an idea for dessert, but oh well, I wouldn't mind having this Magnum any time of the day.

Image 27: A new dessert "Think Green" consisted of milk ice cream, green pea mousse and meringue over a scoop of strawberry sorbet. We both were not sure about the pea and strawberry combination!

Image 28: And the grand finale this time had to be his world's famous dessert - "Oops, I dropped my lemon tart!" Inspired by his staff who accidentally dropped a lemon tart, Massimo even customised a special plate mimicking that shattered dish! This dessert immediately became a hit when it first appeared on the menu and there were many chefs who replicated this idea.

Image 29: Covered by a broken tart base was a light and foamy lemon and limoncello mascarpone sabayon splashed over a lemongrass sorbet. Along the side were small cubes of candied lemon, bergamot jelly, spiced apple, a few drops of chilli and lemon oil, salted and honeyed capers. Creative, beautiful, delectable, another memorable finish to my meal here!

Image 30: We were so concentrated with the food before we realised we were the last table in the dining room. Massimo then came out for a final chat with a tray of petits-fours to accompany our tea.

Image 31: I left here with a big smile on my face! Not only was the meal as impressive as last time, not sure how he did it, but also just like all his classics, every single one of his new creations was memorable. I could list out all the dishes the next morning! No doubt this restaurant will continue to inspire young chefs around the world and it will remain one of my best restaurants in the world for a long time!

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  • Alan Spedding (cumbriafoodie)

    Just came back to have yet another read and a look at the photos …..AGAIN.
    Wow , im very excited and blessed to be going here next week…..An awful long way to go just for a meal….But boy will it be worth it. Amazing place and an amazing chef.

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