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Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

by Andrea on April 11, 2013

If you do only one thing in Lyon, be sure to eat. Eat a lot. Spare no expense. Try everything, even if you’ve never heard of it before or it falls outside your normal gastronomic comfort zone. Just eat.

Lyon is home to 2,000 restaurants, 14 of which have been awarded Michelin stars for 2013. The tradition of incredible cuisine in Lyon began in the late 19th and 20th centuries with a group of women called the ‘Mère Lyonnaises,’ or “Lyon mothers.” Wealthy families at that time had to let their cooks go and some of these women went on to find work in local restaurants or to start their own. And so began the ‘bouchons,’ which are the small traditional restaurants of Lyon that serve up local specialties in a convivial atmosphere. You’ll often be eating at long tables with family-sized portions of at least some of the dishes to be shared.

The region is known for its excellent produce. So what you’re eating didn’t come from very far away. It doesn’t matter where you eat or at what price range; the food will be fresh and local. We had dinners at both a bouchon and a brasserie, and one lunch and one dinner each at Michelin-starred restaurants. Perhaps I’ll stop talking now and just do a little show and tell about what we ate. We paid for these meals on our own, by the way, so there is no bias here. The food was absolutely sensational.

Beginnings

A long dégustation lunch at Mère Brazier (12, Rue Royale, lamerebrazier.fr, two Michelin stars) is a foodie must. Just relax as we did and ask them to choose some wines to pair with each course and you cannot go wrong. Long lunches are a French birthright and you can rationalize away the bill by reminding yourself that this isn’t just a meal, it’s a cultural mainstay.

escargots mere brazier lyon Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

Snails and frogs on watercress with raw and cooked asparagus and a garlic emulsion at Mere Brazier

I have been enjoying my review of these photos and the menus that accompany them (don’t forget to ask for your ‘copie du menu’ as you leave) because I speak enough French to get around and I really try hard to speak as much of the language as possible when I’m in the country. It’s particularly helpful in France because even in the large cities you will encounter many people who don’t speak much or any English. Of course, in the finer restaurants English is almost always spoken and you can often get an English menu. But I am stubborn! Anyway, sitting here now translating the menu at home, I had no idea there were frogs accompanying the snails in this dish but it was absolutely delightful. As were the two seafood dishes that followed.

crab mere brazier Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

Crustaceans with a citrus emulsion at Mere Brazier

scallops mere brazier lyon Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

Scallops with lemon, green pepper and fennel at Mere Brazier.

At a bouchon, the first course may be a trio of salads, as we found at the wonderful Le Bouchon des Filles (20, rue Sergent-Blandan, 04 78 30 40 44). Typical bouchon dishes include (in English): chitterling sausage, dumplings, different chicken dishes, roasted pork and all kinds of offal. I had actually never seen a “triperie” until visiting Lyon.

salads mere brazier Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

Salads at Le Bouchon des Filles included a traditional ‘salade Lyonnaise’ (right), one that was like a coleslaw with spicy mustard and another with lentils. They’re all delicious but don’t fill up!

Our second Michelin-starred experience was at Le Gourmet de Sèze (129, Rue de Sèze, le-gourmet-de-seze.com, one star). Here I had one of my most memorable dishes in Lyon. Again, I did not know what it was and could not figure it out with the waiter due to a language barrier but I should have known it was one of my all-time favourite things to eat: sweetbreads.

veal sweetbreads gourmet seze Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

Veal sweetbreads with a creamy Port glaze, creamed peas and glazed carrots at Le Gourmet de Seze.

Main Dishes

Main dishes are always a bit heartier, even more so at the bouchons…

fish dumpling bouchon fille Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

A large quenelle (ground fish dumpling) at Le Bouchon de Filles

blood sausage puff bouchon Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

Blood sausage with apples in a crispy puff pastry at Le Bouchon des Filles

Move over Argentina. This blood sausage was the best I’ve ever tasted and the pairing with warm baked apples in a pastry was divine. The blood sausage (boudin noir) is traditionally served with apples (pommes). Look out for it. Back at Mère Brazier, we were enjoying pigeon during the main course, which I’ve never had before but thoroughly enjoyed.

pigeon mere brazier lyon Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

Pigeon breast with glazed turnips; the puff pastry sits atop a portion of giblet consomme with wasabi and lime – at Mere Brazier

Mère Brazier is an important historical restaurant in Lyon. Mère Brazier was the first woman to receive three Michelin stars. It was here that France’s most famous chef, Lyon-based Paul Bocuse, did his apprenticeship. Since 2008 the executive chef here is Mathieu Viannay – and he is doing a spectacular job.

gourmet de seze lyon lamb Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

Tender delicious roasted lamb with a cauliflower tart at Le Gourmet de Seze

Endings

We really should skip the cheese course but that is impossible for us when in France – we love it too much. At least if you are eating so much at lunch you have the evening to recover…

cheese plate gourmet de sez Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

Cheese plate at Le Gourmet de Seze

The reason to skip the cheese becomes apparent when you realize how seriously the French take dessert. The sweets never stop coming, each one more beautiful and decadent than the last. The French are also obsessed with chocolate fondant, which is great because we are too.

buchon filles fondant lyon Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

Chocolate fondant with caramel ice cream at Le Bouchon des Filles

fondant gourmet de seze Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

Chocolate fondant at Le Gourmet de Seze

 

madeline mere braziere Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

The best madeleine I’ve ever had at Mere Brazier, with other sweets

 

mere brazier lyon dessert Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

My beautiful lychee and grapefruit dessert at Mere Brazier

gourmet seze dessert trio Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

Three more desserts at Le Gourmet de Seze

gourmet seze sweets lyon Lyon: Gastronomic ParadiseIt’s also fun to try new things when dining in a foreign country. Our big discovery in Lyon was a drink called Chartreuse. It’s green.

chartreuse bottle Lyon: Gastronomic ParadiseAnd it’s 54%. Something I would only try after already having an aperitif and sharing a bottle of Pinot Noir with my husband.

chartreuse Lyon: Gastronomic ParadiseIt’s made, surprisingly, by monks from Grenoble with 130 different herbal extracts. If you’re thinking a medicinal taste, I might say yes but that would be doing this liqueur a tremendous disservice. It’s pretty delicious, starting out very sweet in your mouth but with a powerful, extremely complicated finish. I couldn’t have more than one or two sips, albeit big sips. But I couldn’t believe how much I liked it.

Bon appetit!

What is your favourite French dish?

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Megan April 11, 2013 at 4:42 pm

ive never been the biggest fan of french cuisine but i would eat every single bit of this and probably proclaim it the best meal of my life. i really need to get france another shot and get down to lyon. it will be your photos that entice me to do so!

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inspiringtravellers April 13, 2013 at 10:48 am

I’m so happy – do give it another chance. I find French food so varied from region to region!

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Jess @UsedYorkCity April 11, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Oh, what delightful dishes! I’m now officially sold on visiting Lyon! My favorite french foods are Ratatouille, crepes, and anything dealing with wine and cheese;-) As a vegetarian, I think I miss out on a huge chunk of the meat based cuisine…but I’m perfectly content with the other dishes!

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inspiringtravellers April 13, 2013 at 10:48 am

Ahhh – crepes are soooo good – we did not have enough of them!

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Emily in Chile April 12, 2013 at 12:45 am

I knew Lyon had a foodie reputation, but I didn’t know the history behind it. Interesting! And yum. It all looks delicious, even the sweetbreads (which taste good but kind of creep me out).

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inspiringtravellers April 13, 2013 at 10:47 am

Mmmm – sweetbreads…I should have known that’s what they were because I adore them…

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Antoinette April 13, 2013 at 1:56 am

Alrighty then, I guess I´ll be heading up to Lyon after Italy this summer! I spot that chocolate fondant, and although I´m not the biggest chocolate dessert fan (shockin, I know), I´ll gladly have a fondant / souffle any given day or night!

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inspiringtravellers April 13, 2013 at 10:46 am

I don’t love chocolate either but fondant always tastes delicious to me! John, on the other hand, adores chocolate…

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Kieu ~ GQ trippin April 12, 2013 at 7:55 pm

I want to eat my way through Lyon so bad…. I’m obsessed with French desserts!

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inspiringtravellers April 13, 2013 at 10:47 am

They are so amazing – and so pretty!

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Andi April 12, 2013 at 9:06 pm

OMG I want to eat the screen!!!!!!!!!!! Seriously looks like the best food ever!

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inspiringtravellers April 13, 2013 at 10:47 am

It was so good – I couldn’t stop eating everything in sight!

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TammyOnTheMove April 13, 2013 at 1:34 pm

14 Michelin Star restaurants? That’s incredible. I have never eaten in one before actually, so would love to try it out. Those crustaceans look amazing!

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inspiringtravellers April 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Oh, that’s a life must-do Tammy – especially in France!

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Jemma April 13, 2013 at 4:09 pm

I wish I could download those dishes from my PC… If I could only fly to Lyon right now!

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inspiringtravellers April 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Can I come too?

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Laurel April 15, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Everything look soooo delicious! I agree, visitors should make lots of time for eating in Lyon. The amount of restaurant options is truly staggering.

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inspiringtravellers April 15, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Isn’t it? Way too many options – and the portions are so generous!

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nicole | the wondernuts April 17, 2013 at 4:06 pm

I love the photos! Thank you for the background info on the Mères Lyonaises. It’s amazing how history gets intertwined and something that seems so small (like getting fired as a chef), becomes something awesome like great food.

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inspiringtravellers April 19, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Isn’t it a cool story? I would have never known what made Lyon such a special foodie place had we not visited…

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Mike Carlson April 21, 2013 at 4:05 am

These are all sumptuous. Lyon surely has a lot to offer for both foreign and local visitors. I love all the deserts they got.

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inspiringtravellers April 23, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Yes, such variety of desserts in France

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Howard September 15, 2013 at 3:20 am

I looked at the pictures. But I have to say besides being colorful, they don’t really look very appatizing. The ciy does seem very interesting. I just hope people will go there to visit the city for its interesting sites and history, not for food, for which you can get in your own countries already somewhere!

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Nanna Gunnarsdóttir July 29, 2014 at 2:15 pm

All this sounds and looks very appetizing, exciting and very creative, but did you not try out any restaurants that have not got a Michelinstar? I find that often the smaller restaurants offer first of all really good value for money, and really good meals.

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inspiringtravellers July 29, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Yes, we only tried two Michelin starred restaurants, the rest were smaller restaurants. You’ll get a wonderful meal at any of the bouchons – I highly recommend Le Bouchon de Filles but there are many others to choose from. The cafes there are also really good. Enjoy!

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