Monday, 11 July 2011

Da Enzos of Modena

This is just a quick blog to let people know about a great little local restaurant which I went to on my recent trip to Modena.

We were in Modena for our visit to Osteria Francescana however we had two nights and so had to find somewhere to eat on the first night.  I had read a great review of a restaurant hidden at the back of a bar(Hosteria Giusti) but we arrived to find that, while the bar was open, the restaurant was closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Propped up against the bar we started plotting our next move... 

Thankfully a friendly local guy turned to us and queried our quizzical expressions- what are you looking for?  How much? He pondered for around ten minutes and came back with Da Enzos so we finished our artisanal beer (I never knew the Italians did these so well!) and made our way round the corner to Enzos.

Now when you walk into Enzos I almost guarantee that you are not going to be overly impressed on first sight- its up a narrow staircase and the decor is a little dated.  That, however, is not what this place is about- what it lacks in modernity it makes up for in simple hearty local classics.

The restaurant was a little empty when we arrived but it quickly filled up with local families and by the time we were half way through our el primi it was buzzing.

As we were off to Osteria Francescana the next night the Fashionista and I were "taking it easy" and therefore decided to share a pasta dish of pumpkin tortellini in a sage butter sauce- the pasta was nice but the filling was a little sweet and, rather strangely, had undertones of marzipan.  The local at the bar recommended we try Cotechino (a rich italian sausage which is boiled on a low heat for four hours) and Zampone (a local sausage made in a pig's trotter).  Feeling adventurous I gave the Zampone a shot and the Fashionista had the Cotechino- both, while rather similar, were delicious served simply with potatoes.

Now Enzo's is not a fancy restaurant, and if you are looking for somewhere where the food will be served beautifully in chic surroundings then this is not the place for you- if, however, you are looking for genuine Modenese cooking in a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere then you could do no better than Da Enzos of Modena.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Sublime Osteria Francescana

As mentioned in a previous blog, on our recent food tour of Emilia Romagna, the Foodie Fashionista and I decided to indulge ourselves at a small restaurant in Modena called Osteria Francescana.

We had been talking for a long time about taking our love of food to the next level and had thought about The Fat Duck  (Heston Blumenthal's world-beating restaurant in Brae).  However, when the San Pellegrino Best Restaurant Awards 2011 were announced earlier this year, I noticed that the Fat Duck had slipped to 5th while another restaurant which I had never heard of had moved up two to 4th.  Intrigued I checked where it was, realised it was in Modena, checked how far that was from Bologna (our starting point for the food tour) and then got very very excited. As Modena is only half an hour by train from Bologna we were going to have to go to this restaurant.  Now to get a table...

With The Fat Duck and restaurants of that ilk I had heard that a six month wait was not uncommon...we only had four weeks.  I e-mailed and we got a reservation no problem, cue excited phone call to the Fashionista.

And so the evening arrived... our hotel was only a few minutes walk from the restaurant but we couldn't contain our excitement and ended up arriving some twenty minutes before our reservation.  The outside of the restaurant is understated with frosted windows... we stepped tentatively through to be met by some of the friendliest, unassuming and welcoming waiting staff I have ever met.  Not a whiff of the pretension that unfortunately so often surrounds restaurants thought to be at the top of their game.

We were sat in the rear room of the restaurant with three other tables- we were the first to arrive (later there arrived a table of high flying Russians who proceeded to order bottle after bottle of wine in excess of £5000).  We were both handed a large menu with options of either a la carte or the choice of three tasting menus:  the "Tradizione", "I Classici" and the "Sensazioni"  (Interestingly only my menu had the prices- a nice, if a little presumptuous, touch).  Given that we wanted to try as much as possible but weren't quite flush enough to go for the Euro160 Sensazioni menu, we decided to go for the I Classici which seemed to combine elements of both of the other tasting menus...

I had heard that Massimo Bottura's philosophy was to take traditional Italian dishes and reconstruct them in novel and interesting ways and, true to form, the first dish lived up to that ideal:  Mortadella Foam with Salted Bread and garlic mayonnaise.  Essentially this was Bottura's version of a Mortadella sandwich- it was simultaneously identical and completely different.  The Mortadella foam was light and creamy but packed full of the flavours of Mortadella, the bread was toasted dry with herby rock salt and the mayonnaise was delicate- a delicious course.

Now I could easily go on and on (and on) through the courses extolling the virtues of each and every one however, given the number of courses, that would end up with this blog being rather on the long side and so I have decided to let the pictures speak for themselves- so starting at course number two here we go:


Foie Gras, crisped hazelnut and almonds and forty year old balsamic vinegar on a lollipop stick- rich, delicious and wonderfully unique.

Five different ages of Parmesan done five ways: creamed, foamed, baked into a crisp, crumbled with ricotta and made into a cream sauce.  This interesting take on Parmesan was delicious although by the end was getting rather intense.

Then followed Ravioli of Cotechino and lentils- wonderfully light pasta served simply- delicious although, given the use of Cotechino in the Bollito Misto non Bollito (see below), perhaps lacking slightly in imagination.

Soup: but not like soup I have ever tasted- two types of bean- cannellini and another which I forget- a layer of Parmesan and some cured meat, herb foam on top and a bed of foie gras at the bottom.  Different from any dish I have had before.

Next leeks and shallots with a black truffle shaving and truffle oil.  This dish was incredibly simple and yet perhaps my favourite of the whole night- the leeks were cooked in a small amount of cream and simply melted in your mouth while the truffle was not overpowering and added a further dimension.

Then followed one of the signature dishes of the restaurant:  Bollito Misto Non Bollito (which literally translated means Mixed Boiled not Boiled).  Bollito Misto is a traditional dish from the region of Emilia Romagna in which various cuts of meat are slowly boiled together to create a hearty Italian classic.  The difference here being that all of the cuts used were cooked sous-vide to ensure that they were incredibly tender- hence the Non Bollito.  The dish was made up of six cuts of pork: head, cheek, belly, tongue, tail and Cotechino (a rich pork sausage from Emilia Romagna) all cooked perfectly served with a rosemary foam (which exploded in the mouth) and with a subtle caper and anchovy sauce lurking at the bottom of the dish which gave a wonderfully different edge-quite possibly the best dish I have ever eaten.

We had by this point been eating for a couple of hours whilst sipping on a wonderful bottle of Corte Sant'Alda Valpolicella.  Now service is, for me, not something which generally makes, although it can occasionally break, a restaurant- the food is the reason I am there.  However what happened at this point was evidence of the mastery of service which had been achieved at Osteria Francescana.  We had been sipping away at our wine for the best part of two hours and, although neither of us had noticed, our bottle must have been starting to look a little empty.  The waiter did notice though and proceeded to pour us ever smaller glasses of wine in order to ensure that we would have sufficient reserves to complement our Bollito Misto Non Bollito.  It was only after eating that course we realised what had happened such was the subtlety with which the waiter had acted- a true mark of service of the highest order.
Delicious fruity Valpolicella which worked particularly well with the Bollito Misto Non Bollito

Now moving onto the sweet courses: crisp bread with Goat's Cheese Ice Cream with mint reduction and strawberry reduction- wonderful mix of savoury, sweet, crisp, creamy and fruity- surprised that it worked but it did.

And at last we come to the final dish: rich dark chocolate mousse, ice cream, lemon soaked sponge and jellied liqueur- delicious flavours and wonderful textures throughout but rather on the large size given the number of courses- I suspect that the intention was to ensure that nobody ever left hungry but given the delicate nature of previous courses this one just seemed a little heavy.

And so it came to an end, but not without one final flurry which sets this restaurant apart from any other I have ever been to.  Having been unable to devour our petit fours with the joy they deserved after the rather large dessert, we had asked to take them away to savour the next day- not a problem.  When we got to the door there they were waiting along with a complementary book reviewing the best restaurants in the world- what a wonderful way to end a fantastic evening.  And so the Fashionista and I strolled off into the medieval streets of Modena grinning from ear to ear...
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