Lyon in the south of France is the proud owner of the title “gastronomic capital of France”. It’s long been home to many top chefs from the famous Mère Brazier, who ran a famous bistro and taught the renowned Paul Bocuse, the man who put nouvelle cuisine on the food map. Lyon has a unique type of restaurant – the bouchon. Small family-owned bistros that serve traditional cuisine and ensure an atmosphere of conviviality. There are thousands of restaurants, wine bars, food shops and excellent markets. Wine expert Will Jones checked out Lyon’s foodie credentials over a weekend…
Cakes and wine!
After a quick, but inspiring stroll through the Saturday food market skirting the River Saone, the first thing that grabbed our attention was a stunning chocolate snail pastry courtesy of the Boulangerie du Palais in the historic old town. We then headed to nearby Antic Wines. It’s been voted the finest wine shop in France. It took all of thirty seconds after having crouched our way into the quite unbelievable cellar, to see how this title may have been awarded. Shelf after shelf, rack after rack lined with treasures of legendary producers covering most vintages of the previous fifty years (1961 Huet Moelleux anyone?). I emerged relatively unscathed clutching bottles crafted by Stephane Tissot and Claire Naudin. This is a truly special place.
What was in truth a fairly unmemorable lunch followed at Michelin-starred Prairial. Save for an interesting and seasonal mushroom dish we weren’t massively impressed. In fairness, it does have fabulous reviews so I guess we were a bit unlucky that day.
The afternoon was spent strolling the quirky shops of Croix Rousse, the old silk workers district. Then we headed to Les Caves des Voyageurs, Lyon’s finest cave a vin. It was closed. Our 2020 summer visit between lock downs had its challenges. We made do with Vins des Vivants. It has the most gorgeous square-side location where we enjoyed a pleasant Crozes-Hermitage.
The day closed with a desperate scramble to find somewhere or indeed anywhere not fully booked to grab dinner. I enquired about a table in my amateurish French at Potager des Halles and was brusquely told that I was out of luck. However the same waiter gave a completely opposite answer to my French partner! Who says French snobbery is dead?
Wine, oysters and chocolate
Sunday started perfectly with a breakfast of spectacular Utah Beach oysters which went perfect with a glass of Muscadet at Les Halles Paul Bocuse, Lyon’s legendary food market. Les Halles is an absolute must visit with many of the stalls run by MOFs (Meuilleur Ouvriers de France – a title awarded to the very best artisans of their trade). Their reputations spread well beyond Lyon, for example Sibilia for charcuterie and Mere Richard for cheese. I also managed to grab a bottle of 2013 Pierre Morey Bourgigne Blanc from Cave Spera.
Then we headed to another Lyonnaise institution, chocolate shop Bernachon. This is not a cheap affair but it is irresistible. We found ariver-side spot and messily devoured our haul in a matter of minutes. This is chocolate of the gods and merits the price tag.
Dinner was at Cafe Comptoir Abel, Lyon’s oldest bouchon. Once you are through the door it becomes clear that this is the absolute archetypal French restaurant with traditional Lyonnaise cuisine filling the menu. Offal and butter feature heavily. We indulged ourselves with foie gras, andouillete (offal filled sausages)and veal sweetbreads revelling in the gluttony.
Lyon is a perfect foodie’s destination…
Will Jones holds a WSET Level 3 Award in Wines and is currently studying at the WSET School, London, for his Diploma in wines. As a lover of wine and food Will spends the majority of his holidays touring France in search of the world’s finest or undiscovered vignerons and chefs. You can find him on Instagram at CotesduJones