Savoring Lyon’s food: Part 1

Savoring Lyon’s food: Part 1

You followed French Girl in Seattle around Lyon a few days ago. We looked at historic streets, buildings and churches, scenic riverbanks, and at least one world-class museum. Let’s be honest: We can’t talk about that magnificent French city without discussing Lyon’s food. Tout un programme. A long story. Lyon is said to be the French (even the world’s!) capital of gastronomy. Move over, Paris!

Lyon's food
Salade Lyonnaise: Green salad, lardons, croûtons, poached eggs. How bad can it be?

There are many different ways to savor Lyon’s food. Some visitors visit some of the area’s most renowned addresses, like Paul Bocuse‘s restaurant, l’Auberge du Pont de Collonges (the deliciously retro website announces “Like the Eiffel Tower, Paul Bocuse is opening all days all year long without exception.”) Paul Bocuse, “Monsieur Paul,” is one of the world’s most revered chefs. A living legend. He was once awarded one of three “Chef of the Century” awards by Gault & Millau. Co-founder of la nouvelle cuisine, businessman, author, the man has done it all. His influence can be felt all over the French food scene, and beyond. In Lyon, he is featured on several giant murals, a local tradition.

Bocuse Mural

Many people visit Bocuse‘s restaurants as if going on a pilgrimage, with much anticipation and reverence. They tell the tale when they return, stars shining in their eyes as they recall their culinary adventures while discovering Lyon’s food. There are other big names in the area, like les Trois Gros, the three-starred Michelin restaurant, north of Lyon. In the city, people flock to les Bouchons lyonnais, bistros that serve traditional local food in a modest and friendly environment. Most Bouchons can be found in le Vieux Lyon (the touristy old town,) or la Presqu’Ile, the area located between the Saône and Rhône rivers. There, customers sample specialties such as Cochonaille (charcuterie,) or tender Poulet de Bresse, local chicken raised north-east of Lyon, with the coveted Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, (A.O.C.) label, a guarantee of quality. They can choose, as I did, quenelles de brochet (pike dumplings served in a rich Nantua sauce made of celery, crayfish, carrots and Cognac,) and for dessert, a Cervelle de Canut (brain of the silk-weaver,) fromage blanc flavored with chives, garlic, shallot, parsley and more. Every decent meal in Lyon can be washed down with a pichet (house wine) or bottle of local wines, Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône.

Lyon's food
Quenelles de brochet, carafe de Brouilly

Picking a restaurant in a big city known for its gastronomy, can be daunting. In Lyon, spotting the words “Bouchon lyonnais” on almost every restaurant window in the Old Town is puzzling. Any restaurant can claim to be un bouchon and serve Lyon’s food. In order to separate the boys from the men, the city created a “Bouchon lyonnais” label in 2012. Look for the logo featured at the top of this story to identify restaurants that belong to that respected group. There are about 20 members so far.

I travel alone, and eating in Michelin-starred restaurants is not an appealing option. When looking for a dinner place, I tend to ask around; or I trust my instinct as I explore a neighborhood and spot a menu and cadre (environment) I like. Last month, when I stayed in le Vieux Lyon, I decided to visit a restaurant I’d heard great things about: Aux 24 ColonnesIt was the weekend, and I did not make a reservation. My mistake. When I showed up and flashed my Americanized smile (“Do you have a small table for me, or a seat at the bar, s’il vous plait?“) the manager told me they were booked solid. He took pity on my disappointed face. He motioned me aside; found a piece of paper; and kept his customers waiting while he took the time to write and explain detailed instructions to another reliable address, Notre Maison, in the touristy old town. “Tell them I sent you!” Off I went, clutching the precious note, passing other eateries, crammed with tourists, on the way.

Lyons' food
Jeu de piste lyonnais. Treasure hunt.

I knew Notre Maison. It is described online as an incontournable, (not-to-be-missed) restaurant in le Vieux Lyon. I had also taken a photo of an unusual sign on the red, unassuming front door the day before. Clearly, if you are going to enjoy Lyon’s food there, you’d better not be rushed.

Lyon's food
“If you are in a hurry, you are not welcome here!”

Alas, I struck out again. The colorful owner spotted me standing at the door; stepped decisively across the packed room; shook his head and commented in a long whisper: “Ma petite dame, it’s going to be difficult to find a table in a decent place at this time of the evening. Visit my friends at Les Fines Gueules. Theirs is an authentic Bouchon. You won’t regret it. Stay away from long menus. Run if they are translated into other languages! Tell les Fines Gueules I sent you.” Off I went, around the corner, to an unassuming restaurant with a small terrace I had passed on my way from the hotel twice.  This time, I lucked out. There was one table left in the narrow, cobbled street. Perfect. Not only was I going to savor Lyon’s food; I had also landed a prime location for people-watching. Menu with limited options: Check. Friendly service (traveling alone as a woman comes with perks:) Check! Delicious food (see photos in this post:) Check. It was a tasty but simple dinner, at a reasonable price. I could not have asked for more.

Lyon's food
Menu with limited options: Check.
Lyon's food
The friendly restaurant manager and waiter
Baba au rhum
Baba au rhum. I can still taste it.

Lyon’s food is incredible, and varied. Restaurants are not the only way to savor it. In Part 2 of this post, I will share with you more good times and deliciousness I enjoyed during my two-day visit. Stay tuned.

A bientôt. 

 

All photos by French Girl in Seattle

Please do not use without permission

Lyon's food
House digestif, offered for free and with a smile. Les Fines Gueules, Lyon, France

Parting words:

For a comprehensive and entertaining overview of Lyon’s food scene, I highly recommend Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, “Lyon,” released in 2014. You can download the episode online for under $2. Trust me, you won’t regret it. Preview is here.

10 Responses to Savoring Lyon’s food: Part 1

  1. What fun you must have had finding the restaurant, wonderful! Everything sounded delicious. I’m looking forward to Part 2. As an aside, Marita and I booked our tours in Paris and Bordeaux. We are taking a 4.5 hr cooking class in Paris and we are so excited!

    • Merci Cherie. So happy Marita and you are returning to la Belle France soon. I know you will have a fabulous time, including at the cooking school in Paris. You will have to report back when you return. Enjoy Bordeaux too. Another beautiful French city to explore. Bon voyage!

  2. Finding a bouchon was confusing for us…most menus offered many of the same dishes which were unfamiliar even though I have spent a lot of time in France. But I think we found a gem, recommended by one of those lovely, warm and helpful people who worked at the desk of our small hotel. It is in la Presqu’Ile and I would recommend it but would love to know your thoughts if you go back. Another food related experience was the fabulous market! And a little restaurant serving only poulet de Bresse and decorated with chickens and roosters of all types everywhere you looked!
    http://www.bouchonlejura.fr/bouchonjura/

    • Bonjour Heather. I wonder if your “little gem” is not the place a local friend recommended to me during my stay. I never made it there, but I just looked at the restaurant’s website, and it seems the shoe fits. Will show it to her and report back to you. I see it does belong to the limited list of official “Bouchons” I mentioned. Ah, Lyon, so many restaurants, so little time…

  3. I gained five pounds (2.5 kilos?) in Lyon and never got rid of them. We ate and ate and ate and reveled in every second of it, from the simple bouchons to two-Michelin-starred restaurants (that was the limit of our budget, and 2 stars in Lyon already guarantee amazing amazing food).
    Your friend from Notre Maison gave good advice for choosing a restaurant in any city: limited options, not too many translations. Also, not too obvious. I’m thinking of a street in the heart of Brussels that’s lined with restaurants, most with covered (for the rain) outdoor seating and a maître d’hôtel who is more carnival barker, cajoling passing tourists. At the end of the same street is a severe building with one of the best restaurants in town. Nobody begging anyone to enter. No menu posted in 27 languages. Easy to walk right past.

    • Merci de votre visite. Gaining a few extra pounds in Lyon is an easy thing to do, I can see that. I was only saved by the impressive number of steps I took to explore once again as much of the city I could in two days, and by the other ways I sustained myself (more about that in Part 2,) the rest of the time. Good observation about restaurants in touristy cities. I have not been back to Brussels for a long time. Now I want to return 🙂 Bonne journée!

  4. If you don’t have the time to try them all… good local advice is clearly helpful… and an article like this one!
    I remember a visit to Lyon with the kids, when they were young. They were unfortunately not yet at the age to appreciate “les bouchons” (we had to lie a little about what they were really having on their plates), but I know that they have been back as adults … and have appreciated. It’s really special!!
    (I have been lucky enough also to make Bocuse and Troisgros… That’s also an experience, but different!!)

    • Dear Peter, I can see why you’d have to lie to kids about what’s in their plate if they are having local delicacies such as andouillette or gras double 😉 As for you, Bocuse and les Trois Gros: Only the best for Peter Olson…

      • You can still enjoy a Bocuse experience at the 2 star ( or toques) level- we dined at Brasserie Le Sud and it was terrific!

  5. I would say your sour evening turned into lemonade. I always try to eat early or very late when I travel to avoid the long waits for food. One must savor and enjoy your meal and France is a great place to do that. Although I have only been to the country once for a couple days, I managed to see Paris and Toulon in that time and take in the sites. Although as you said being a female traveler does tend to get you better service then being a young male. 🙂

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