Getting a Reservation at the World’s Best Restaurant

One writer’s five-year quest pays off

Osteria Francescana
Osteria Francescana
City Foodsters/Creative Commons

Is Modena, Italy’s Osteria Francescana the best restaurant on the planet? Quite possibly. At a 2018 ceremony, it emerged atop the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. (The current title holder: France’s Mirazur.) That wasn’t its first time at the top of said list, and it also possesses three Michelin stars — all signs of a singular and excellent dining experience. A 2016 profile of chef Massimo Bottura described the cuisine in memorable terms: “He cooks food that’s about Italy and family and history and memory and art, yes, but ultimately his eclectic platings and flavor combinations reflect the miasmic workings of his own mind.”

At Air Mail, writer Mark Seal described his own process for getting a reservation there — and the fascinating story of what came next. It sounds as nerve-wracking as any competitive sport:

Ten thousand people will be competing against me, all of them (or their underlings) salivating at their laptops at ungodly hours in Paris, London, Berlin, Hong Kong, Moscow, Tokyo, and other cities, eager to steal my dream and snatch up the few precious seats. Twelve tables. Open five days a week. Serving only 28 to 30 diners per lunch and dinner.

Seal spent five years in search of a reservation at Osteria Francescana before finally landing a reservation in late 2018 for a table for two earlier this year. His account of dining there, including a ten-course tasting menu and a 177-page wine list, is a fantastic example of rapturous writing about the delights of consuming great food. 

I want to laugh. I want to cry. I want to dance on the table. I wanted to grab a bottle of Barolo and spin doughnuts through the cobblestone streets with Chef Massimo at the wheel of his vintage Maserati.

Seal’s account gives a welcome sense of what it’s like to eat such a meal, but it also abounds with small details of the environment in the restaurant: the diners waiting to get in, the process of arriving and the reverent silence in which everyone assembled there dined. 

Whether you’re in Italy or on the opposite side of the world, getting a reservation at Osteria Francescana is no easy task. But Seal’s account of his meal there offers an immersive evocation of what it’s like, and why it exerts such a pull on the hearts and minds of diners around the globe.

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