Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France
Lyon has built a reputation as a food centric destination over the past decade, stealthily surpassing Paris as France’s foodie Mecca. The chef, Paul Bocuse has been pivotal in placing Lyon on the gastronomic map. When people mention Lyon it is usually in reference to its hearty style of rustic French cuisine or the fact that the inhabitants are renowned to have the perfect French accent!
Lyon is a foodie’s playground with a dizzying array of bistrots, cafes, patisseries, brasseries and bouchons. Traditional Lyonnaise cuisine is a mix of two different culinary traditions, the north (Alsace, Lorraine) and the south (Provence). The end product is regional fare that is simple and hearty. The restaurants in Lyon make good use of their geographic proximity to world renowned wine and agricultural regions – ordering the house wine or speciality cheese is never a bad idea here!
On our first night we visited a little tartine bistrot in the Presque’île called ‘L’épicerie‘. This bistrot was a very laid back venue. The menu was in French and our waiter spoke very little English…We somehow managed to get by with my rudimentary French and the help of google translate to enjoy a simple dinner of bread with delicious toppings. Our favourite tartine was the trois fromage which was served warm. We also ordered a smoked salmon tartine and a cheese and pear tartine.
Dining at a traditional bouchon is a must whilst in Lyon, expect multiple courses with a heavy emphasis on meat dishes. Bouchon dining epitomises traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, although without the fuss or finesse of haute cuisine. It’s expertly cooked regional fare, with all the classic French accompaniments of salad, cheese and dessert! We visited ‘Le Bouchon des Filles‘, which is run by two sisters. This restaurant serves dinner only and the produce is all sourced from the local region.
On arrival to this cute bouchon, we were provided with the saladiers course. This consisted of a pork terrine, lentil salad and pickled herring. The food placed in front of us was almost enough to fill us up completely for dinner! We had been asked our choice of main items earlier though, so we knew to save some room! I ordered a pork sausage whilst B ordered a skirt steak, which were simple dishes fabulously put together. We were then served with a small cheese course with two types of local cheese, a goats cheese and a soft cow’s cheese. This was followed by a cake based dessert each! All of the food had a hearty, rustic quality and was accompanied by superb wine from the local region. Eating at this bouchon was a highlight of our time in Lyon.
We ended up at chain restaurant ‘Les Fils a Maman‘ as we were keen to have a low key dinner and this was one of the top hits on foursquare. The restaurant is located in the Presque’île and has a kitschy diner style vibe. The waitstaff at this restaurant were approachable and friendly and were even willing to communicate with us in English – a definite bonus when in Lyon. I ended up ordering a caesar salad whilst B ordered the cordon bleu. The salad was served with crispy chicken and was quite filling. B’s chicken looked spectacular when it arrived on the table! It was again fried and served with a creamy sauce and was a very French style meal!
We also visited another chain restaurant, although this was more of a laid back lunch cafe called ‘Crock’n’Roll‘. They specialised in making a range of toasted sandwiches, serving coffee and cranking out tunes making it a quirky take on the traditional American Diner. We ended up sharing Croque Monsieur here which was huge! The cool thing was that you could customise your croque with the toppings you wanted. This cafe definitely helped to assuage my cheese toastie cravings during our five week Europe trip!
A blog about Lyon, truly isn’t complete without mentioning Paul Bocuse and his indelible footprint across the Lyon food scene. His influence is everywhere! The Institut Paul Bocuse has helped to train many amazing chefs and carried on his ‘nouvelle cuisine’. He also owns the prestigious Michelin multi-starred restaurant: Auberge du Pont de Collonges, as well as multiple diffusion fine dining brasseries. You want to get yourself to at least one of these places if time and money allow! His restaurants serve French cuisine at its simplistic and well-balanced finest. It is also possible to take cooking classes at his Institut, you just need to book ahead of time. Sadly we were in Lyon during August/September and the Institut was closed for the summer holidays at this time.
As a foodie, visiting Les de Halles de Lyon (the Lyon food market) is also another must do experience. The vendors in this market have all been curated by the Paul Bocuse team. You can find stalls selling crusty French breads, beautiful cheeses and deli meats here. There are also a few restaurants where you can stop off at for glass of fantastic French wine and some lunch! We ended up stocking up on gourmet deli foods to have for dinner.
We visited Brasserie Le Nord whilst in Lyon, this is one of Paul Bocuse’s fine dining brasseries which serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. It is a lot less expensive than Auberge, however expect to still spend some dollars here. The food at the brasseries are also a lot more approachable than the haute cuisine at Auberge with some ion them having international influences! Le Nord restaurant is an elegant space which serves well known and regional dishes that are perfectly executed. The service was impeccable, with crisp linen table cloths and waiters all uniformly dressed. I ordered the Lyonnaise salad for entree thinking it would be a lighter start to the meal. This was not the case! Being a Lyonnaise salad it was filled with thick slices of pork, a silky egg and a creamy dressing. It was delicious but a meal in its self!
B ordered the salmon main whilst I opted for the chicken main meal. The chicken dish was every bit as hearty and rustic as I was looking for. B was also blown away by the simplicity and balance in the salmon, perfectly cooked fish with a well balance cream dressing.
The creme brûlée at the end of the meal was incredible. The sugar crust was a delicate layer, that gave a satisfying crack when the spoon hit! Whilst the baked custard itself was well balanced with sweetness, egg and creaminess! Le Nord was a fantastic experience as it was a true display of French culinary brilliance at its finest! A warning though if going for dinner have a light lunch!
- The French traditionally have a large lunch time meal and then eat a small meal for dinner. Many restaurants will serve lighter meals at dinner time
- If visiting a bouchon for dinner, ensure that you are hungry as they offer a set menu which includes a lot of food! Otherwise you will fill up on their saladiers course before the main meal even arrives!
- To get a feel for Lyon’s food culture, head over to the Paul Bocuse market and purchase beautifully prepared pates, rilletes, cheeses and baguettes for a truly french experience. Everything is delicious and the speciality cheeses are to die for!
- The French believe in eating salad and have crafted tasty dressings to drizzle over a bowl of lettuce leaves. So remember to fill up on your vegetable intake during your time here! We were so glad to be able to have salads for dinner by this stage of our Europe trip.
- Be prepared to have rudimentary French during your trip here. The locals are very proud of their French accent and will always speak with you in French first before shifting to English, and this only happens at the point they realise you can’t communicate with them in French! Google Translate is your friend here!