Pralines and Offal in Lyon
Pralines and Offal– that is what comes to mind when I think of the gastronomic capital of France. Not on the same plate of course, but often in the same meal. There are very specific dishes and products that are considered particularly Lyonnais or from villages outside of Lyon. During our visit there, I had a mental list that made tasting them all an imperative and full-time activity. Here is a little summary of what we ate over 3 days in the beautiful city of Lyon. No judgment on the quantities- we had to make the most of it!
Le Bouchon Lyonnaise
Firstly, in planning our weekend gourmande I had to research which of the many traditional bouchons we were to experience. Eating at a bouchon, for a purist such as myself, was mandatory. The bouchon, an establishment that has roots in the inns the silk workers used to visit, is the cornerstone of traditional Lyonnais cuisine. There are even certified “authentic” bouchons (why am I surprised) where one can eat with the satisfied knowledge that the dish you are savouring may be from a 200-year-old recipe. These authentic bouchons make the grade because they resemble the classic cuisine of the mères de Lyon (mothers of Lyon that created this cuisine). Even though Lyon is a modern city with all kinds of restaurants, we wanted the authentic experience; I booked 3 bouchons!
Traditional Lyonnais Dishes you may find at a bouchon:
– Cervelle de Canut: (silk worker’s brains) is a light cheese dip made of fromage blanc, seasoned with chopped herbs, shallots, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar
– Quenelle: a mixture of creamed fish, chicken, or meat, sometimes combined with breadcrumbs, with a light egg binding. In Lyon, this usually takes the form of a pike quenelle aver sauce crevasses (crayfish sauce)
– Andouillette: a sausage of coarsely cut tripe usually served with a mustard sauce
– Salade lyonnaise: lettuce with bacon, croûtons and a poached egg
Suffice it to say that this cuisine is very heavy and carnivorous. Even the salad has a large amount of bacon in it. I’m actually a heavy meal kind of girl; give me beef stew or pasta any day. Robin, on the other hand, always orders the filet of fish in a restaurant while I chow down on Osso Bucco with copious amounts of potatoes. Despite this, I wasn’t prepared for what was awaiting us…
I know you’re probably thinking- yuck- tripe? Really?
I’m not wild on offal either. Saying that, I’ve tried the Provencal version of andouillette sausage (the first time I tried it I had no idea what it was) and it’s delicious! Then there was that time when I was a student in Italy, and an Italian man thought he should test me by ordering tripe on our first date…
We arrived in Lyon an hour before our lunch reservation; so we roamed around the Presqu’île area amazed at the amount of bouchons tucked into the back streets. I was picturing lively atmospheres with red checked table cloths, grumpy waiters, lots of Cotes du Rhône wine and locals. Ha! I was right about the red checkered table cloths. Our reservation was for 12:30; I told myself that perhaps we were a little early as there were absolutely no other diners in the restaurant…
We ordered the most traditional of fare with enthusiasm and a “pot” Lyonnaise or a carafe of cheap Cotes du Rhône wine. Robin had the quenelle and I had the andouillette. My andouillette wasn’t a sausage but a single piece of tripe folded in a pretty shape until I touched it and it unraveled. Now, I can’t complain about that- I indeed ordered it. Just buck up and eat it! What I can complain about is the incredible saltiness of the meal and how it repeated on me for days. Robin didn’t feel right all weekend after this first quenelle which was really a shame because we had a lot of eating planned!
I won’t name the above restaurant as I don’t wish to be negative here but let’s just say you can’t rely on reviews online!
The truth is, bouchons have become quite touristy. It’s tricky to find a good one. Despite our bad experience, we were not beat yet!
A Lighter, Modern Cuisine
The next day, we canceled our lunch reservation at a bouchon and tried to have a lighter lunch at Le Bistrot du Potager which was delicious! The restaurant is a French tapas restaurant with tiny tables, great atmosphere, and flowing wine. It was packed and decorated in that perfect Classic French style with a modern twist.
That night, we had reservations at a Daniel et Denise restaurant. We were nervous as it is indeed another “authentic” bouchon with red checked tablecloths. However, the restaurant called me once during the day and texted me twice to confirm my reservation. Surely this place must be popular! Our reservation was for 9:30 pm; it was the second service. We arrived a little early and were anxious at the lack of people. Then, as we took the first sip of the delicious house apéritif, every chair all of sudden was occupied. The copious (in 2 ways) waiters were walking briskly to and from the kitchen with purpose. We signed with relief.
It was our final chance to try something truly authentic; despite our lack of enormous hunger we decided to order the menu that would allow us to try all the specialties of Lyon (including a gluttonous different glass of wine with each course):
Apéritif maison: Gnaffron (marc de bourgogne, cassis, red wine)
Menu dégustation des Tramassacistes
Grattons, la cervelle de Canut et croûtons (pork scratchings with dip and croutons)
L’Assiette du Canut : museau de boeuf, pied de veau et lentilles à l’échalote (beef snout, veal’s foot and lentilles-not my favourite course)
Verre de Beaujolais blanc « Exception », domaine Cheysson, 2014
La Quenelle lyonnaise au brochet, sauce Nantua (traditional quenelle with crayfish sauce)
Verre de Viognier « Les Granges de Mirabel » 2014, M.Chapoutier
Le Saucisson lyonnais brioché, façon « Henri Bouillet » (lyonnaise sausage wrapped in brioche)
Verre de Brouilly, Domaine Condemine, 2013
La Blanquette de veau du Limousin (Label Rouge), façon Grand-Mère (veal stew)
Verre de Côte du Rhône, “Joseph Viola”, 2014
Le ½ Saint Marcellin affiné de la Mère Richard (delicious cheese from the area)
Mère Richard’s ripe ½ Saint Marcellin
Dessert au choix
There was so much brioche, and cream that I’m surprised we both didn’t have heart attacks. We were defeated before the blanquette de veau arrived- and that was served with a delicious mac n’ cheese! We couldn’t even touch the Saint Marcellin. They let me take it home. I think it’s still in my fridge come to think if it…
All to say, it was delicious, and copious!
Thank goodness, our faith in bouchons was restored. Daniel et Denise is a bouchon that identifies as tending towards the gastronomique. There are 3 of these same bouchons in Lyon that were created by chef Joseph Viola that has become a name associated with quality in Lyon.
Other places we ate:
Le Canut et les Gones
French modern cuisine in a restaurant quirkily stuffed with vintage clocks and memorabilia.
We ate: Wild mushroom and truffle consommé, Rabbit 2 ways, Filet de Skraï with crevette sauce and cauliflower purée, Paris-brest et tarte tatin
Le Bistrot du Potager
Great atmosphere with a young hip crowd and delicious food.
What we ate: Rillettes de poulet et estragon, poulpe à la provençale, magret de canard, crème brulée et moelleux au chocolat
Le Café Epicerie
Delicious, simple French food cooked well but pricey for what it is.
What we ate: charolais steak, filet st pierre sauce oseille, tiramisu framboise et pistache au mousse chocolat
Les Halles: Chez Léon
I’m not going to lie- maybe the tastiest meal we had all weekend- and in the middle of the market. Sometimes simple is best.
What we ate: moules farce à la espagnol
On the way home from Lyon, in a tiny village:
Ô Delices de Caro (Pellussin)
Our rumbling stomachs led us to one of the only restaurants we found as we were driving home through the Parc National du Pilat south of Lyon. This place was also some of the best food we had all weekend, and because we were out of the city, it was a great price.
What we ate: salad d’hareng fumé, tatin chévre et endive, sauté de veau pommes, cidre et semoule, faisselle
To try next time:
Every single local we met recommended Le Bouchon des Filles. We couldn’t handle one more quenelle but this restaurant is meant to be a more modern, lighter take on the traditional cuisine.
Also, all of the three Paul Bocuse Brasseries are held in high regard by locals.
I’ve learned that, for once, traditional might not always be the best. It’s worth spending a little extra money in Lyon to get quality; this isn’t the case in the countryside. Check out the episode from chef Raymond Blanc’s Very Hungry Frenchman series of his visit to Lyon, where he tastes the local cuisine and then elevates it to fine dining by simply using the best ingredients and his knowledge of cooking techniques.
*I want to say thank you to food blogger Anne Liesse who writes the BulleetBlog who gave me great suggestions for where to eat in her hometown.