Thursday, 3 January 2019

Dining at Osteria Francescana: The Best Restaurant in the World 2018.

Recently I flew to Italy to dine at the Best Restaurant in the World; Osteria Francescana. Massimo Bottura's restaurant holds three Michelin stars and has been named Best Restaurant in the World by the World's 50 Best Restaurants committee not once, but twice; in 2016 and 2018. It was also the second best in 2015, and third best in 2013 and 2014.

Needless to say our expectations were high, and we were intrigued as to how our twelve-course meal would pan-out. As with everything on Lux Life London, I always tell the complete truth and am 100% honest, so let me explain why we weren't overly impressed with our experience at Osteria Francescana...

Osteria Francescana Review

Our Trip To The Best Restaurant In The World

We managed to get a lunch booking on a Saturday in early December for 10 people a few months back. Many of us had tried over the past year, and many of us had failed. Sid (who you may remember from my epic Australian Open Tennis Finals trip) miraculously managed to get a booking for our big group, and so we all excitedly booked our flights to Bologna. We decided to turn lunch into a weekend trip, with two nights in Bologna. Osteria Francescana is actually located in Modena, a 20-minute train journey or 45-minute taxi ride from Bologna, but we all chose to have Bologna as our base as there's more to see and do there, and more hotel options.

A few days in advance the restaurant contacted Sid to confirm our booking and ask whether we would be dining A La Carte or on one of the tasting menus. We all chose to go for the twelve-course tasting menu (270 Euros per person) which actually turned into fifteen-courses with the amuse bouches and extras, and Sid also made a couple of requests. It was Amber's birthday the day of our dining experience, and so Sid made a request that it would be acknowledged in some way. The restaurant confirmed they would do something, and also said we would be able to have a tour of the kitchens.

We all landed Friday night, had an early night, and Saturday morning we jumped in taxis to the Ferrari museum, and then on to the restaurant. Although a few of our group were twenty-minutes late for our reservation due to the region's ridiculous taxi system (you can't hail a taxi, you have to book one over the phone and then they take forever to arrive), we all finally arrived, anticipating one of the greatest foodie experiences of our lives.

Sadly, from the moment we stepped through the door, the attitude of the staff made it apparent that we were not welcome. There was a distinct lack of smiles as we were led into a private dining room with a huge rectangular table for ten, and we were handed menus without so much as an explanation into the dining process and how the meal would progress.

I just want to say before I go into the full review of the meal, that all ten of us who dined are foodies. We have all travelled the world to experience certain restaurants, with some of the group having dined at five out of the top ten of 'World's 50 Best'. We do not go to restaurants just to 'tick' them off a list, we go because we adore food and love the unique experiences these types of restaurants provide. So the fact that all ten of us were disappointed with our experience at Osteria Francescana really says something, and isn't just one or two of us complaining.

The Beginning Of The Meal - Bread & Drinks Orders

Our meal began with three different types of homemade bread (including the most incredible handmade breadsticks) with olive oil for dunking, and drinks orders.

Osteria Francescana Review Tasting Menu
Osteria Francescana Bread
Osteria Francescana Review Bread
Osteria Francescana Review Breadsticks

Three diners do not drink alcohol so had a few mocktails, two members of our group chose the wine pairing (an extra 180 euros), and the rest of us ordered glasses and bottles as we figured there was no way we could drink 11 glasses of alcohol each and still enjoy the food (heck, I'm on the floor after three or four). Unfortunately, although we're guessing the wine pairing was chosen by a sommelier, there wasn't a dedicated sommelier to help us with the wine we were ordering by the glass and bottle, so we relied on our waiter's knowledge.

Osteria Francescana Review Non Alcoholic Cocktail

Two of my friends ordered a bottle of Pinot Noir to share with the meat dishes, but I don't particularly like Pinot Noir so after tasting a little of it and confirming that no I really don't like it, I asked the waiter for a different type of red wine. He made a comment that 'of course I don't like the wine if I like a smooth red, that's a Pinot Noir you've ordered!' well, no. I didn't order it, my friends did. That's why I'm asking you to recommend one that I will like. I found his comment rude and patronising, and felt he could have suggested a different wine in a much nicer way. You know, considering I was about to drop £400 on lunch. I did however, order a really exceptionally good bottle of Fritz Haag 2016 Brauneberger Riesling for the fish courses.

The Main Event - Experiencing the 270 Euro Tasting Menu

We were then served an Amuse Bouche; an alternative take on the classic Fish and Chips. The main part of the amuse bouche was a cracker with a creamy mousse, with parmesan 'chip' sticks. This fish dish was incredibly overpowering and strong, so definitely isn't one for those who are not huge fans of fish. The parmesan chips were my favourite part.

Osteria Francescana Review Amuse Bouche
Osteria Francescana Amuse Bouche

Next was our first 'official' course; Autumn in New York as a Journey of the Eel. I'm not a fan of Eel as I find it far too 'fishy' tasting and very overpowering, but I managed to gulp it all down and necked a large mouthful of wine to take the taste away. By this point I was really rather worried - we'd had two VERY fishy dishes, and the next dish was also reasonably fishy. I absolutely adore fish, but I'm not good with that overpowering fish taste and feel it was far too much to serve THREE courses like this at the very beginning of the meal.

Autumn in New York as a Journey of the Eel at Osteria Francescana

Alas, the most interesting dish for me was actually the next one; 'Burnt', served on a black dish was two black crackers sandwiching a black mousse made from squid ink. A deep grey liquid was then poured into the dish, and you had to take a bite of the cracker and then take a spoonful of the liquid. We were instructed to *not* dip the cracker into the liquid. I really love squid ink, but the crackers still had that very 'fishy' taste to it and I was desperate to get away from the fish courses.

Osteria Francescana Burnt

Thankfully the third official course - Mediterranean Sole - was actually one of my favourite dishes of the meal. I am a huge lover of white fish cooked well, and this was one of the best I have ever eaten. It was a beautiful dish which looked like a work of art, and the fish itself melted in the mouth. At last, a dish I could enjoy.

Mediterranean Sole Osteria Francescana

Sadly the next course none of us really enjoyed. It was 'Wagyu no Wagyu' and was pork belly doused in a very salty jus. The flavour and saltiness of the jus was far too strong for the meat and completely overpowered the flavour of the pork.

Wagyu no Wagyu Osteria Francescana
Wagyu no Wagyu Osteria Francescana

When my mom met Bocuse was another interesting one. A wafer of parmesan sat atop a cylindrical pot that was filled with a broth of mushrooms and snails. It was delicious, comforting, and the flavours worked incredibly well together!

When my mom met Bocuse Osteria Francescana

The next dish is Massimo Bottura's most famous and something I was unsure about before tasting it, but it ended up being one of my favourite dishes from the entire meal; Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different temperatures and textures.

As soon as the combinations of aged parmigiano reggiano hit my tongue my tastebuds exploded and I knew the amount on my plate wouldn't be enough to satiate. I wanted more. It was just incredible. The aged cheese in different temperatures and textures of foam, sauce, ice-cream, baked crisp, and fluffy cream was just sensational and pure genius, and I'm not quite sure I have ever tasted anything like it in my life. The entire meal was worth it for this one dish.

Osteria Francescana Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano in different temperatures and textures

Guinea Hen in Three Courses was another dish I really enjoyed. It came in three parts, starting with the ravioli of roasted potatoes in Guinea hen roasted sauce. The ravioli had a beautiful crunchy topping with a soft cushion beneath, and when I thought they couldn't do anything more wonderful with Guinea Hen, we were presented with the second part; Guinea hen a la Crete...tribute to the Cantarellis. This was a cold dish with truffle on top, and it was mouthwateringly good.

Osteria Francescana Guinea Hen in Three Courses Ravioli
Osteria Francescana Guinea hen a la Crete...tribute to the Cantarellis

Finally we finished the Guinea hen courses with Guinea hen crunchy skin, savor livers and truffle.

Osteria Francescana Guinea hen crunchy skin, savor livers and truffle

Our last savoury course was the Pumpkin risotto. I adore pumpkin, and I adore risotto, so this was a dish I was looking forward to. Unfortunately I was really disappointed, and found it was nowhere near as good as the mushroom risotto I had at Raymond Blanc's two-Michelin starred Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons just over a year ago. Massimo's risotto was a little unusual in that it was a sweet/savoury risotto, and it actually tasted like a very bitter chocolate orange (chocolate was shaved onto the top of the risotto). For me the flavours just didn't work and I didn't enjoy it at all.

Osteria Francescana Pumpkin Risotto

However, dessert arrived and once again I was in awe of the artistry of the food. Oops! I dropped the lemon tart not only looks impressive, but the flavours were mind-blowing. I have never tasted anything so lemon-y and joyous in my life. It was just complete and utter perfection.

Osteria Francescana Oops! I dropped the lemon tart

Accompanying the dessert was a second-dessert - a rum baba - which I wasn't overly fond of, however a few people on our table loved it. It seemed to be very much one of those 'love or hate' dishes. As well as the secondary dessert we were also served beautiful petit fours (including the most delectable Madeleines), bringing the total number of courses we had to fifteen.

Osteria Francescana Rum Baba
Osteria Francescana Petit Fours
Osteria Francescana Madeleines

Terrible Service & Unacknowledged Birthdays

Unfortunately, despite Sid emailing the restaurant a week prior to our lunch to ask them to do something to mark the two birthdays in our group, the staff couldn't be bothered to stick a candle in either of the desserts. It was Sid's birthday the week before the trip, and it was Amber's birthday actually on the day we dined at Osteria Francescana. It really doesn't take much just to put a candle in a dessert or present a plate with happy birthday written in icing, but it makes such a big difference to the people celebrating their birthdays - especially when you're paying 400 Euros each for a meal, and especially when the staff responded to his email and promised to do something special.

By the time we'd finished the petit fours the staff were getting visibly agitated by our presence and we very much got the impression they wanted us to leave, made even more so when they decided to stand at the door holding up our coats. Throughout the meal the service had been dire and we were made to feel so unwelcome, and the ending was no better. Yes, the other diners had left about an hour before us, but when you're a table of ten you're obviously going to take longer to eat a 15-course meal than a table of two or four.

The thing is, when you're paying so much for a dining experience, the service is part of that experience and you expect the very best. Although Osteria Francescana are the current best restaurant in the world, there are plenty of other incredible world-class restaurants to dine at, and personally I've experienced far better service at all the other Michelin-starred restaurants I've eaten at and was sorely disappointed by our experience.

Sid did email the restaurant after our experience with our thoughts and disappointment, and the restaurant manager did absolutely nothing but say he will pass on the feedback. We obviously weren't expecting a refund or anything, but surely they could do something other than respond with a standard 'thank you for the feedback' message.

Service aside, overall the imagination behind each dish was incredible, Massimo is an artist and so much more than just a chef. But, food is incredibly subjective, and for me a few of the dishes just weren't to my taste. For some the flavours just didn't work, or the sauce overpowered the star of the show. There were also only three really stand-out unforgettable dishes; the Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano, the Guinea Hen, and the Oops! I Dropped The Lemon Tart. Even though I really enjoyed a couple of the other dishes (such as the Mediterranean sole), they're forgettable and not dishes I'll be remembering and salivating over this time next year.

Better Service in Bologna

That evening we enjoyed drinks at the Baglioni hotel in Bologna, and when they heard we were celebrating birthdays they gave us a selection of complimentary canapes, a birthday cake, and even a private tour of the hotel's historic private rooms that aren't usually shown to visitors. We were made to feel SO welcome despite only having a few drinks there and spending about 300 Euros all-in instead of the 4000 Euros we'd spent earlier in the day at Osteria Francescana. All of us were shocked at the difference in service and hospitality we'd experienced.

The incredible hospitality in Bologna continued when the next day we had lunch at Trattoria Leonida, a tiny little family-run restaurant serving fresh pasta to hungry locals. A three course meal with an excellent bottle of red cost us 40 Euros each. A tenth of the cost of Osteria Francescana, but far more enjoyable and with much better service.

My tip? Skip the best restaurant in the world, and just book a table at Leonida and go for fancy drinks at the Baglioni afterwards. Although you won't get a meal that resembles a work of art, you'll get a far better feel for authentic food from the region, a more interesting atmosphere, and much better service, and at the end of the day, I think that's what really matters when it comes to a foodie experience.

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