The city of Lyon is one of France’s best-kept secrets. I lived in Paris for six years and not once did anyone mention Lyon or tell me it was worth the detour. That was foul play, because the quality of life in Lyon is breath-taking. It has the bustle without the hustle. By that, I mean that you can breathe here. You can take your time. You can see the sky thanks to the wide, tree-lined boulevards and the promenades along the banks of its two rivers: the Rhône and the Saône. There are green spaces; wide open, beautiful parks where you can actually sit on the grass unlike the 'forbidden’ lawns of Parisian parks.
Lyon is a city with two hills and on one of them, a vibrant music festival is held every summer in a Gallo Roman amphitheatre. Paris, city of lights? I don’t think so! First of all, Lyon has its own festival dedicated to light: La Fête des Lumières is a citywide event held over four days starting on 8 December each year. It is free to all and attracts some 3 million visitors annually. Secondly, Lyon is home to the Institut Lumière, celebrating Auguste and Louis Lumière, inventors of film camera. Imagine that. Lyon: the birthplace of cinema and no-one told us about it? Quel dommage!
Let’s back up a bit. Lugdunum was founded by Lucius Munatius Plancus-us-us-us… (he was an officer of Julius Caesar) in 43 BC and then went on to become the capital of city of the Three Gauls. The Romans liked the city for its strategic location, which made it an ideal hub for Gallic communication and operations. In the middle ages annual fairs drew merchants from all over Europe and Lyon became a major centre for the spice and silk trade, which in turn attracted Florentine immigrants who made Lyon a financial centre for banking and insurance. And Lyon is still a strategic hotspot for business, research and education today …
Sitting snugly between the Alps and some of the best wine-growing country in the world (Côte Roties, Condrieu, Saint Joseph, and of course Côte du Rhône and Beaujolais) the city of Lyon is also known to be France’s gastronomic capital, a title endowed by the celebrated French food critic Curnonsky in 1935 and consolidated perhaps by Paul Bocuse, Lyon’s culinary godfather. Every two years the city hosts the Bocuse d’Or international cooking competition to find the world’s next big chef. This event is held during another: Sirah, the international hospitality and food service trade show. It’s like culinary Russian dolls! Or perhaps more aptly a human millefeuille; layer after layer of chef upon chef! Now there’s a picture…
With all of this commotion, it is easy to see why foodies regularly flock to the city to sample elegant, Michelin star cuisine as well as the humble and hearty fare that is served in the city’s numerous bouchons. Ah, the ‘bouchon’. You’ll need this word in your vocabulary if you’re coming to lunch in Lyon. Bouchons are tiny traditional bistros that sprung up in the 1800s to feed the hungry silk workers or ‘Canuts’ as they were known. They were run by women for the most part, known as the ‘mothers’ of Lyon, the most famous being Mère Brazier who, in 1933 became the first woman ever to gain three Michelin stars. Her establishment still stands today and rests in the capable and elegant hands of two star chef Mathieu Viannay, who has respectfully retained but gracefully revisited Mere Brazier’s classic dishes as well as adding his own creations, of course.
I’ll make no bones (pun intended) about it and then you are forewarned: traditional Lyonnaise fare centres on offal! Typical dishes include: Tête de Veau, (beef brains) tablier de sapeur (breaded tripe), and andouillette (a ‘sausage’ made from pigs intestines). Usually though, you will find something ‘non-tripey’ on the menu; Silk weavers’ brains or ‘Cervelle de Canuts’, a creamy, yoghurt-type cheese with chopped chives running through it. You could also sample some quenelles de brochet; pike dumplings in short, but they’re much nicer than they may sound. Light and fluffy and served with a creamy sauce, they’re actually not very ‘fishy’ at all. Of course, if you’re truly stuck and you don’t know which way to turn, why not ask for Jesus? Not the son of God. I am actually talking about sausage, or rather Jésus de Lyon, the local, cured saucisson. Finally, if nothing else appeals, you can always skip straight to the cheese course and have yourself a nice, runny, smelly, creamy Saint Marcellin - or any other French cheese, let’s face it!
I suggest Café des Federations for your initiation into Bouchonnerie, but be prepared to bite off more than you can chew!
Paul Bocuse Food Halls
Well worth a visit even if you don’t buy anything -but you will! I am told that if you get here early enough, you can find the man himself having a coffee with Renée or la ‘Mère’ Richard, as she is dubbed. She is the most famous cheesemonger in all of Lyon, she supplies any bouchon worth its salt and she can supply you too! But there’s more to les halles than cheese. You can buy wine, fish, charcuterie, macarons, chocolats. But best of all, come early on a Sunday morning to enjoy some oysters and white wine. What? That is a healthy breakfast. And if oysters don’t float your boat, why not have some pata negra and red wine at Bellota & Bellota. What else are you going do on a Sunday morning? Croissants are for wimps, n’est ce pas?
The Banks of the Rhone & The banks of the Saone
For a more ‘domestic’ market, the kind that doesn’t have lobsters swimming in tanks but does sell you olives and cauliflowers, I recommend the banks of the Rhone between the Pont Wilson et Pont de la Guillotière on a Thursday afternoon or alternatively, the Peninsula on the banks of the Saone between Place des Jacobins and Cordeliers on a Sunday morning.
By the Gallo Roman Théatre at St. Just:
I’d advise a Saint Valentine’s day dinner chez Christian Têtedoie. It’s the kind of place that reminds you what life was like before kids: clean lines, minimalist, chic and shiny and that goes for the food too. The view is époustouflant…
Montée du Chemin Neuf, 69005 Lyon
tel. +33 (0) 4 78 29 40 10
Up on the hill of Fourvière:
Les Térasses, Villa Florentine (1*)
No photograph will come close to the view from this Florentine Villa par excellence. It is beautiful but perhaps more so by day. Here would be a great place to try your first quenelle made not from pike but lobster and served with wild mushroom emulsion and hazelnut oil.
Chef: Davy Tissot.
25 Montée Saint-Barthélémy, 69005 Lyon
tel. +33 (0) 4 72 56 56 56
Down in the old town:
Les Loges (1*)
Tucked away in the heart of the 5 star Cour des Loges hotel in Lyon’s old town, this beautiful restaurant is reminiscent of a Florentine courtyard, with its marble floor and spectacular high glass ceiling. Chef Anthony Bonnet was awarded the Gault Millau Gold in 2007 as a "Talented Young Chef" and the establishment gained its first Michelin Star in 2012. The menu is traditional (pigeon, oxtail…) yet innovative and oh so refined.
6 Rue du Boeuf, 69005 Lyon,
+33 (0) 4 72 77 44 44
Café Gadagne (Member of the Toques Blanches Lyonnaises)
While we’re in the old town, I want to tell you about the restaurant at the Musée Gadagne, Lyon’s history museum. This gem is well worth knowing if, on a sunny day, you happen to be in this area and you don’t have a gastronomical budget, but you also don’t want to get stuck in a tourist trap eatery. Head to the museum, take the lift to the fourth floor and prepare to be delighted! You will find a haven of quiet and green, tucked away high above the bustle of the narrow, cobbled streets. Once you’re out on the terrace, you really feel like you’ve found something a bit special. Chef Maxime Tardy really provides some of the best dishes I’ve tasted anywhere… especially for 15 Euros!
1 Place du Petit Collège, 69005 Lyon
tel. +33 (0) 4 78 62 34 60
Hop over the Saone and onto the Peninsula:
Toute Une Histoire
Just off the cobbled, restaurant-lined rue Mercière (very popular with tourists) you will find a great place to stop off for an inexpensive, elegant lunch. Chef Darbandsari fuses Persian and French cuisine. His knowledge of flavours and his skill for combining them is spectacular, with dishes such as lamb with lemon, duck with pomegranate and gilthead sea bream served with barberry rice. All delicious and an absolute steal, with the dish of the day priced at around 10 Euros. Good wine here too!
Toute une Histoire
4 Rue du Petit David, 69002 Lyon
tel. +33 (0) 4 78 37 40 62
Cross Place des Jacobins and head to Place Bellecour:
The l'Institut Bellecour-Lyon
Paul Bocuse has opened a new training school right in the centre of Lyon at Place Bellecour. This is wonderful news for all who work in the city centre and for the students too, because it means a steady flow of customers at lunchtime! This is a win-win situation: the students get practice and we lucky eaters get a gastronomic treat. I need make no further comment, this is Bocuse.
l'Institut restaurant-école Paul Bocuse
20 Place Bellecour, 69002 Lyon
tel. +33 (0) 4 78 37 23 02
Walk towards the Remparts d’Ainay:
This bouchon has been here since 1726. The current owner, Alain Vigneron has been there for 37 years…what more can I say? It’s a long-standing love affair and you just have to go there to become a part of it.
Café Comptoir Abel
25 Rue Guynemer, 69002 Lyon
tel. +33 (0) 4 78 37 46 18
Cross the Rhône and head for the Parc de la Tête d’Or:
Takao Takano is back. After what seemed like an eternity, his eponymous new restaurant has just opened in the sixth district: a zen sanctuary, once behind the big wooden door, you can relax and indulge. A sample five-course menu including: pan-fried foie gras with a raspberry and beetroot jus, cod served with sweet peas and a citron ‘burst’, saddle of lamb and artichoke purée, matured cheeses and a chocolate tarte served with Tonka bean ice cream.
33 Rue Malesherbes, 69006 Lyon
tel. +33 (0) 4 82 31 43 39
12 Rue Royale, 69001 Lyon.
tel. +33 (0) 4 78 23 17 20
Café des Federations
8 Rue Major Martin, 69001 Lyon
tel. +33 (0) 4 78 28 26 00
View © Tristan Deschamps/Lyon Tourisme et Congrès
Market Food © Brice Robert/Lyon Tourisme et Congrès
Cour de Loges 1 © Cour des Loges / G. Picout, MPM, A. Rico & DR
Lyon © Jacques Léone/Lyon Tourisme et Congrès
Lumieres © Marie Perrin/Lyon Tourisme et Congrès
Cour de Loges 2 © Cour des Loges / G. Picout, MPM, A. Rico & DR
Terrasse Restaurant © Villa Florentine
Cafe Comptoir Abel restaurant © Jean-Pierre Lemoine
Cafe Comptoir Abel dish © Fred Durantet - CONTRE JOUR
Market © Marie Perrin/Lyon Tourisme et Congrès