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Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

by Andrea on April 11, 2013

614156 Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

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?

614156 Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise Lyon: Gastronomic Paradise

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