I’m just back from three lovely days in France. Friends Di and Tam invited me to visit them at their house in Burgundy and as I flew into and out of Lyon, about 100km south of where they live, Di suggested I book an evening flight so we could spend the day in Lyon. We’re all ‘foodies’; I know some people hate the term but really, it immediately gets across just what I mean! Di and I met through our blogs, each following the other, and it turned out that when they’re in UK, they live within walking distance of me, so we met up, which led to the invitation to France. Di and Tam have spent most of their life on barges and Di’s blog about travelling on their barge through France is about not just life on the canals but food and wine too – which is why it’s called Foodie Afloat. She’s soon to have a book published – Barges & Bread.
Lyon is one of France’s most famous foodie destinations (some even say the best in the world), mostly due in recent time to its ‘son’ Paul Bocuse. Bocuse was born near Lyon in the village of Collognes-au-Mont-d’Or in 1926. His restaurant l’Auberge du Post de Collonges has 3 Michelin Stars and he’s made a huge contribution to gastronomy through his innovation and training of other famous chefs. If your pocket doesn’t stretch to 3 Michelin Stars then you can still experience Paul Bocuse in one of his 8 brasseries in Lyon – one of which we ate at yesterday lunchtime: Le Nord. But first of all, we visited Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse.
This covered market pays homage to the master chef with restaurants, cafés and food shops. Sometimes I find these huge food emporiums a bit overwhelming and disappointing, but not these. The food looked stunning; the restaurants looked like places you could happily sit without feeling you were in a market thoroughfare, and there was even a cookery school. As we’d already booked a table at Le Nord, we weren’t looking to eat. But we did need a coffee after the drive before we explored and, as you’d expect, it was a very good coffee indeed.
Here are some photos of what we saw:
I was really pleased I saw these ‘Saucisson brioche Pistache’ (photo above) as it encouraged me to order some as my starter for lunch; brioche filled with local sausage. Lyonnaise cuisine and fame goes way back past Bocuse. It focuses on local products and tradition; often described as rustic, it of course also comes quite refined. It’s a rich cuisine with lots of pork and cream. However, there is also excellent Charolais beef, glorious chickens from Bresse, huge snails, wonderful sausages (a speciality is boudin blanc), fabulous cheeses like Tomme and a variety of chèvres; frogs legs (grenouilles) are also a local speciality and there is fresh fish from the rivers. Crossing from one side of the city to the other you first find yourself by the side of the Saône and then on the far side you reach the Rhône. There is also the added bonus that Lyon is in the heart of some of France’s best wine regions with Burgundy just to the north, and the Rhône and Beaujolais areas.
Historically, much of the tradition of the cuisine comes from Lyon’s mères, the mothers, and there are simple restaurants called Bouchon that you won’t find anywhere else in France, usually offering a cheap no-choice menu of simple Lyonnaise dishes, often based on sausages and wine. They were originally set up by women (hence the mère connection) to feed the local silk workers in the middle of the 19th century. By the end of the 19th century, Lyon was also famous for its enormous cafés.
We were so impressed by the food on offer in the Halles that we vowed another time we’d eat there. But it turned out Le Nord was so good, a real gastronomic treat, that I’m very pleased we went there. Inside it has echoes of Paris and the decor is classic brasserie.
Not only did it feel like a classic French brasserie but the service matched it: friendly and wonderfully efficient but definitely not over the top. Soon some excellent bread and very good olives were put before us and Tam chose a bottle of Givry, a lovely Burgundian wine, to go with our meal.
When I saw that the sausage-filled brioche was on the menu, I couldn’t resist it, especially as I wanted to eat Lyonnaise dishes.
‘Sausage in brioche’ really doesn’t convey how good it was; the sausage warm with a good flavour, the brioche soft and slightly sweet and a perfectly dressed little salad on the side (no one dresses salads as well as the French). Di meanwhile had chosen Lyonnaise salad, a classic salad of lardons with frisée and poached egg.
It was enormous so she didn’t finish it all but was enthusiastic about how good it was.
For my main, given my fairly hearty starter, I chose a light dish of Charolais beef carpaccio.
It was perfect and really delicious. Di chose another Lyonnaise speciality of quenelles of pike in a lobster sauce.
She gave me a taste and the quenelle was so light, the sauce so rich and glorious that if I ever go to that restaurant again, I’m having this dish. However, I really was happy with my own choices, so I wasn’t disappointed, just excited by the good food on offer.
I chose a simple dessert of the day – an Alsatian apple tart with Chantilly cream (definitely homemade and not from a can!), which was very good and the kind of dessert I like best.
Di had the more impressive looking coffee granita with Chantilly cream, which she enjoyed a lot.
We finished with coffee.
And then it was time to head back to the car and the airport. Our few hours in Lyon had been a perfect ending to a lovely trip – of which, more another time.
This article and more on Lyon are now available to download on the GPSmyCity app. Click here for link.