We all know that Italian food is invariably delicious, its pretty much a given that if you eat in Italy, or in any Italian restaurant, you’re going to get a decent meal. However what I experienced this afternoon in the city of Modena, took this idea and blew it up to the vastest proportions you can possibly imagine. Quite simply, I ate the best meal I have experienced in my, albeit brief, life. The venue for such culinary delight was the Osteria Francescana, a small unassuming looking place run by chef Massimo Bottura and his English wife Lara. It was last year voted by Restaurant Magazine as the 5th Best in the World, and holds three, much coveted stars in the Michelin Guide.
Before I get going, I want to assure you that this blog entry is in no way a review, as I would feel wholly inadequate reviewing such a magnificent restaurant. Instead, I’m aiming to use my lunch at the Osteria as a springboard to talking about the aesthetic element of food, something that has interested me for a while. Everybody eats with his or her eyes to a certain extent, for instance it is clear that if you’re presented with a nice, neat plate of food, it will look more appealing than a big heap slopped in front of you. In Modena, this idea was taken to the extreme. In fact some of dishes presented to me were so beautiful (and I really do mean, BEAUTIFUL) that I felt aggrieved to have to eat them, and would much rather have just studied them all afternoon, much as one would do with a Titian or a Bellini.
Me and my dining companion, my mother, who also happened to pay (Thanks Mummy!), both decided to have the Chef’s Sensations menu, which claimed to be the ‘expressions of the experimental kitchen’. All very exciting. What followed were 11 of the most scrumptious and equally handsome plates of food I have ever eaten. I’ve got nowhere near enough words available to me to describe each course individually, but I’ll talk about some of the highlights briefly.
The first course was a delightfully light almond granita, with capers, bergamot, and coffee cream, which served as a perfect ‘amuse bouche’ for the forthcoming meal. What followed were a series of delectable seafood courses, including a seriously tasty Sea bass dish, with three different sauces, before we moved on to the final savoury dish of the day, the most spectacularly moist pigeon, with what the restaurant described as ‘sour and mineral salad and Balsamic juice’. Next were two pre-desserts, and finally, what was for me the piece de resistance of the meal, a dessert called ‘Oops! A broken fruit pie’, which was essentially a lemon tart, deconstructed to it’s elements, and delightfully presented as though it had been dropped.
In a meal full of delicious dishes, this was to the chef what David was to Michelangelo, absolutely unparalleled. Everything put in front of me today was not only delicious, but also entertaining, and spectacularly pretty, and I could not have had a better first meal, from which to talk about the visual art of food. In my opinion, art should not only delight the eyes, but also the soul, and I could not help but smile whenever a new dish was brought out to me. Whether or not food can be art is debateable, however on today’s evidence, I think it definitely can.
Osteria Francescana is run by Massimo Bottura in the Italian city of Modena. For more info visit: www.osteriafrancescana.it