Food News

Osteria Francescana is the world’s number one restaurant: here’s the deal

A 101 on Italian chef Massimo Bottura's Modena restaurant, which was awarded top spot in the World's 50 Best Restaurants list for 2018.
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The annual list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants was announced in Bilbao overnight, which means fine-dining lovers everywhere are rapidly making plans to secure tables at the world’s top restaurants, including new number one Osteria Francescana. What makes a restaurant the best in the world, you ask? And is it worth the kilometres, hours crawling reservation websites and, of course, money you’ll spend? That’s not for us to say, but what we can give you are facts.

Here’s everything you might want to know about Osteria Francescana as you decide whether the world’s top restaurant is right for you.

Osteria Francescana in a nutshell

Groundbreaking Italian fine-diner by chef Massimo Bottura, where caution is thrown to the wind in high-concept tasting menus inspired by art, memory, personal experiences and music.

Where did Osteria Francescana come from?

This isn’t Francescana’s first rodeo; the Italian restaurant took home the top award at the World’s 50 Best Restaurants ceremony in 2016 and has held three Michelin stars since 2012.

The 12-table restaurant on a quiet street in Modena in Italy’s north opened in 1995, but it’s been a rocky path to the top for Bottura, particularly in his home country where his reinterpretation of Italian cuisine was initially regarded as something akin to blasphemy. After years of tough reviews at home (some as late as 2009), he was named Italy’s top chef in 2014 by Italian food media publication Gambero Rosso.

Oops! I dropped the lemon tart. Photography: Callo Albanese & Sueo

Who is Massimo Bottura?

Bottura, a chef with more than 30 years experience, is known for his boundless creativity. You might have seen him on season 1 of the Netflix series Chef’s Table, where he discusses the various influences on his food from music and contemporary art to memorable meals from his childhood. His partner Lara Gilmore has been instrumental to the development of Bottura’s ideas and Osteria Francescana.

Having grown up in Modena, Bottura appreciates the surrounding region’s agricultural riches – but that doesn’t mean he’s content with the time-honoured recipes.

Lara Gilmore and Massimo Bottura at Osteria Francescana. Photography: Paolo Terzi.

Tell me about the menu

Bottura’s food is not the stuff of Italian tourism campaigns. If you’re looking for traditional pastas, overflowing bread baskets and simply prepared seafood and vegetables, keep moving. Not that you won’t find lovingly prepared pasta and plenty of parmesan at Francescana. But Bottura is more interested in asking the question of why we love the food we do. To answer that, he pulls classic dishes apart, mines his memories and presents the familiar in unfamiliar ways. You’ll see hallmarks of Italian cuisine – tortellini, lasagne, risotto – but in completely new forms.

Humourously-titled dishes such as ‘Oops! I dropped the lemon tart’ and ‘The crunchy part of the lasagne’ belie the hours of thought and technical preparation that have evidently been invested in their creation. On the plate, they sometimes look like the canvasses of abstract expressionist painters. His most famous dishes include ‘Five ages of Parmigiano-Reggiano in different temperatures and textures’, a notably restrained serving of six tortellini titled ‘Tortellini walking into broth’ and foie gras disguised as an icy-pole under a cloak of Noto almonds and hazelnuts from Piedmont.

Multi-course tasting menus cost between €250-€270.

Beautiful, psychedelic, spin-painted veal, not flame grilled. Photography: Callo Albanese & Sueo

Why is the food so controversial?

To understand Bottura’s food it’s worth remembering that food in Italy is laden with traditions, some of which are thousands of years old. How food is farmed and prepared is even inscribed in law, for example the making of buffalo mozzarella. Bottura’s home province of Emilia-Romagna is home to many protected products including balsamic vinegar of Modena, Parmigiano-Reggiano and prosciutto di Parma. Through his cuisine, he honours the expertise of producers but also tries to drive the culture forward.

It’s not for the faint-hearted, but Osteria Francescana is a window into the mind of one of Italy’s most important contemporary chefs.

Osteria Francescana, Via Stella, 22,

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