CITY TRIP: LYON ON THE MENU


Shall we go to a bistro or to a restaurant? Shall we dare to eat at a bouchon? In Lyon, the choice is overwhelming. This historical city situated along the Rhône and Saône is a gourmet Eldorado with a long culinary tradition. Simple eateries, from canuts to the legendary mères, lie at the base of Lyon’s reputation as the world’s gastronomic capital. With over 2,000 restaurants Lyon offers gastronomy customized for everyone’s budget and taste, a city trip to lick one’s fingers. 

Contemporary ideas resulting in a modern twist
A success story. ‘Et surtout, faites simple’ was the motto of Curnonsky, the culinary critic that changed Lyon into the gastronomic capital of the world. This was something Eugénie Brazier (1895-1977)  understood very well. The 26 year old farmers daughter from Trancière, whose name is pronounced with a kind of religious respect around Lyon, started in 1921 on a low budget with an estaminet in the rue Royale, named La Mère Brazier. Sooner than later her little restaurant transformed into a gastronomic temple. Her concept: a simple menu consisting of local ingredients that she picked out personally, made that in 1933 she was awarded 3 Michelin stars which she kept with her for 30 years. Her ‘artichaut au foie gras’ and ‘poularde de Bresse demi deuil’ were a big hit. As I snuggle into the leather seats of Mère Brazier I feel like being invited at a friend's home, instead of being seated at a restaurant. ‘I wanted to create this distinctive character’ explains chef Mathieu Viannay who took over the business and renovated the premises fully in 2007. ‘Also maintaining the historic charm of this emblematic spot was a priority’ he quickly adds. The modern furniture fits surprisingly well with the colorful old faience and beautifully stained glass windows: sober and stylish. I try out the famous dish of Eugenie, poularde Bresse demi-deuil, named after the thin slices of black truffle slid between the skin and the meat of the chicken. Served with baby vegetables and a fine creamy sauce it tastes exquisite. The savoir-faire of Eugénie Brazier and the rich variety of regional products keep inspiring chefs like Mathieu Viannay for a large chunk of their own input in order to add a modern twist. On the way out I walk past a life-size black-and-white photo of a sturdy lady who proudly poses behind a cooking pot: it is the farmer's daughter from Trancière who became patron of the Lyon gastronomy, a title that counts. La Mère Brazier is just one of the 14 Michelin star restaurants of Lyon.


Carefully chosen local ingredients for the basis of Lyonnais cuisine
Gifted. Between the eclectic architecture on Boulevard des Belges, one of the most beautiful streets in Lyon, the elegant Gare des Brotteaux immediately catches my attention. The former SNCF train station has been transformed back in ’97 through nobody else then chef Paul Bocuse into the stylish brasserie of today. On an elegant lean-to next to the entrance I read ‘l’Est – La cuisine des voyages’. I get to know the gifted gastronomy of Bocuse through enjoying a delicious three-course menu for only around 20 pound. Bocuse was entirely inspired by the ‘travelling’ theme for the design of the establishment l’Est. Even a miniature steam train rides around the ceiling. Through having 4 thematic brasseries in Lyon, one in every point of the compass, the ambassador of the French gastronomy wanted to democratize his cuisine. Top chefs running besides their top restaurant also a bistro or brasserie have been a growing trend for years. Bocuse's Temple ‘L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges’ is just located outside Lyon. You can unrestrainedly enjoy top-level gastronomy but it will cost you a pretty penny. In the mean time Paul Bocuse build his own imperium; I constantly see his image popping up in the city: on frescos, as a marionette or in a souvenir shop, sometimes even too ridiculous to imagine. Who wants to experience the finesse of top chefs by themselves can do so at the Place Bellecours, where since 2002 the Institut Paul Bocuse teaches inspiring chefs from all corners of the world. Even amateurs like me can come and improve their cooking skills with multiple-day workshops. I already added this to my to-do list. 



A culinary grab bag. It was almost evitable that also the gastronomic temple ‘Les Halles de Lyon’ was named after Bocuse. ‘Là où le produit est roi!’, I can read at the entrance. It is really crowded when I walk in, but that seems to be normal. Since 1971 ordinary Lyonnais as well as top chefs are coming to do their shopping here. There are more than 50 shops with delicacies and specialties from throughout France: top quality and preferably accompanied by an AOC/AOP label, I can notice plenty of them. A long queue is lined up in front of Etienne Bouvry’s cheese stall. Every cheese is presented like a stylish mosaic in his comptoir. According to an insider it is the best cheese from throughout France, every single one made  of lait cru. Wines originating from the Beaujolais and the Rhône area, fish from the Dombes and cheese from the Alpes; which makes that the region around Lyon is represented as well. The butchers of Rhônes-Alpes are especially proud of their ‘Poulet de Bresse’, I can find in the shelves of several butchers. This tasty chicken subject to strict criteria also carries the French tricolors given it has blue legs, white feathers and a red comb, moreover it has been of value in the Lyonnais cuisine for a long time. 


Sibilia's charcuterie, a big hit in Lyon

The queues become mind-boggling at ‘charcuterie Sibilia’, which has been a household name in Lyon forever and a day. Despite the crowd, Colette, the owner and one of Bonuses’ best friends, took the time for a little chat with me. As the child of an Italian butcher family who settled in Lyon in 1925, she was able to learn the craftsmen’s knowledge. In no time their charcuterie was wildly popular with the Lyonnais, who up till today still like to defy a long line for an authentic saucisson of Lyon, a lovely rosette or a delicious pie. She let me taste of a smoldering Cervela pistachio, a real hit in Lyon and it tastes delicious. Kilograms of sausages pass the counter, and banknotes slip smoothly into the opposite direction. The crisis is not noticeable around Les Halles. Also for sweet specialties of Lyon, like the blue green couissins (a bonbon of chocolate, marzipan and curacao liquor) and the pink tarte aux pralines (a tart with pink fruit pralines and cream), you will find what you are looking for in Les Halles. Like most of the Lyonnais I finish my visit at the culinary grab bag with oysters and a refreshing glass of white wine. ‘It is a tradition we do not like to skip’ says a man that stands next to the bar and confirms what I already discovered by myself ‘the crisis didn’t affect Les Halles’. 


Pink pralines of Lyon as a basis of sweet specialties
Bistro & co. Walking through the colorful streets of Vieux Lyon, I feel disconnected from the world. It is one of those places where with the time nothing changed; you can still feel the rich history and the long (gastronomic) traditions of the city. I let myself being carried away by the liveliness around the rue Saint-Jean, along narrow streets and squares where the cozy bistros nearly literally lean against each other. The pale pink and ocher facades give me the feeling of having arrived somewhere around Tuscany. On the advice of friends, I eat at 'Cafe Epicerie' in rue du Boeuf, where Anthony Bonnet, a star chef keeps running an affordable bistro. The metal furniture between the age-old walls give the interior a trendy touch and I immediately feel that I made a good choice. Cloth napkins, shining cutlery and a friendly service, as everywhere in Lyon is also dining here a matter of pride, a ritual for which nothing is left to chance. They recommend me the foie gras de canard des Landes en cabillaud, sel gris aux herbes aromatiques. It tastes delicious, the mashed potatoes on the base of olive oil, finished with chives, are to lick one’s fingers. 


gastronomically enjoying the haute gamme in a bistro
In the better Lyonnais bistros you also get the best price / quality deals, gastronomy for everyone’s desire and for every budget while eating in a relaxed atmosphere. You can find the most famous bistro of the city in rue Mercière, Le Bistrot de Lyon, of chef Jean-Paul Lacombe. In 1974 it was him who apart from opening the star restaurant Lean de Lyon also started a cheaper bistro setting a trend, followed by many others since. Le Bistrot de Lyon also saved the rue Mercière from decay, nowadays the street is car free and one of the coziest streets around Lyon. It is even open for dining late at night, and the choice is overwhelming. 


Tradition (with a certificate). Not only the wealthy bourgeoisie, also the workers from the silk weaving in Lyon, the canuts had to satisfy their hungry stomachs. They were more numerous and found their mères in one of the several bouchons Lyonnais. They served simple but nutritious dishes like Saint-Cochon, Paleron de Boeuf larde, andouillettes, boudins and salade Lyonnaise. Also the famous quenelles, which are oval-shaped balls of mashed fish or meat are a specialty of the Lyonnais bouchons. The canuts finished their meal with a sturdy pot Beaujolais, a carafe of wine measured 46 cl. Still today you can dine in an authentic bouchon, just like in the early days you sit shoulder to shoulder, along small tables with a red-white checkered tablecloths in a busy but cozy interior. The basis of the cuisine stayed more or less the same, however the dishes – and the prices – evolved, and the dining houses of the previous canuts have nowadays also a professional chef in their kitchen. Because the food of a true bouchon is a must for someone discovering Lyon (gastronomically) I go to have dinner at Le Vivarais, a charming square along the Rhône. The interior does not match the typical image of a bouchon as there is more space and light then I imagined and I miss the red and white tablecloths. The welcome is very sincere and after an aperitif – a pastis – I order a Terrine de rouget-barbet and an Opéra de jarret de veau as a main course, two classics from the traditional canut repertoire. Getting introduced to the canuts cuisine was an instant success; I rarely ate that good food. After dessert chef William sympathetic Jacquier drops by for a chat. He can be proud because in 1996 he was the ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’, an honor that also Bocuse received. Together with his daughter, he runs the kitchen of Le Vivarais, about which they are proud. William explains me that since 1997 the bouchons of Lyon have to meet strict criteria, to keep the standard high. Only 17 eateries received the authentique bouchon Lyonnais certificate that you can recognize through the label depicting the puppet Gnafron. Bon vivant Gnafron symbolizes the best of Lyon, because the doll represents the pleasures of the good life, the pleasure of delicious meals and according to his red nose, a very strong pot Beaujolais.



© TEXT & PHOTO'S: W.G.-DICHTBIJ & VER WEG 2013.


Tips and trivia:

For those who want to dine in one of the fine restaurants, bistros and bouchons, or whoever visits Lyon during busy events such as the Fêtes des Lumières, is advised to book their table well in advance. This applies to just about all restaurants, bistros and bouchons from the text, including the ones from the tips below.

The 'COLLECTOR' is a convenient and comprehensive edition published by the tourism department and in collaboration with Yelp Lyon and My Little Lyon; full of useful addresses about restaurants, shopping, entertainment and cultural events. Regularly updated. For free available at the tourist office of Lyon, and in most hotels.

To prevent the proliferation of the bouchons Lyonnais, they have to obey to strict criteria since 1997. Only 17 of them received the certificate of ‘Authentique Bouchon Lyonnais’, which you can recognize through the image of a famous marionette ‘Gnafron’. Who wants to dine at an authentic bouchon should take this into account. (see picture)

Bistro & bouchon:

Café des Fédérations: considered one of the best bouchons of Lyon. 10, rue Major Martin.

Le Vivarais: another recommendation, an authentic bouchon along a cozy small square along the Rhône, sympathetic people and a renowned chef. 1, Place Gailleton. On Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings you can also follow cooking classes: www.restaurant-le-vivarais.com

Rue Mercière: touristy but charming car-free pedestrian street with fun little bistros and small terraces: Le Bistrot de Lyon (64), Le Mercière (56) and Le Layon (52).

Café-Epicerie des Loges: the bistro of the star restaurant Cour des Loges in Vieux Lyon, one of the best price / quality deals you can find in Lyon, highly recommended: www.courdesloges.com

Aux Trois Maries (rue des Trois Maries 1).
Grand Café des Négociants: delicious dining in the grandeur of the Second Empire, 1 place Régaud. www.lesnegociants.com





Dining at the table of top chefs:

La Mère Brazier: (see text) www.lamerebrazier.fr
Les Terrasses de Lyon: star restaurant of chef Davy Tissot, with a panoramic view of Lyon. www.villaflorentine.com
Brasserie Leon de Lyon: two-star restaurant of Jean Paul Lacombe, 1, rue Pléney.

Paul Bocuse in Lyon:
Institut Paul Bocuse: www.institutpaulbocuse.com
Brasseries Bocuse in Lyon: www.nordsudbrasseries.com
L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges, three-star restaurant Bocuse, 4 km from the city centre of Lyon: www.bocuse.fr




Culinary shopping:

Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse: www.hallespaulbocuse.lyon.fr
Maison Malleval: one of the oldest wine boutiques of Lyon (1869), pretty interior, wide range of wines, champagnes and spirits, exquisite delicacies. 11, rue Emile Zola.

Charcuterie de Lyon: two addresses where you are guaranteed to find Lyonnais specialties like Saucisson de Lyon, Cervela aux pistachios and Rosetta's of top quality: Reynon, 13 rue des Archers, (since 1937) www.reynonlyon.com and Sibilia, Halles de Lyon (since 1925 ) www.charcuterie-sibilia.com

More about Lyon on this blog: Les Illuminations, for a moment disconnected from the world. (will be translated soon, can only be read in the Dutch version at this moment)

Practically:

Info about France: www.rendezvousenfrance.com
and about the region Rhône-Alpes: www.rhonealpes-tourisme.com

CITY TRIP: LYON ON THE MENU

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