Lyon is generally acknowledged by the French to be the gastronomic capital of France; there are more restaurants per head in this city than any other place in France and probably Europe. Food here is taken to another level and people see eating well, eating delicious dishes not just as a pleasure but a way of life.
How to make a meal of your visit to Lyon
It’s a little daunting isn’t it? Lyon, with its enviable reputation as a centre of culinary excellence, its history of the Mère Lyonnaises, its 14 Michelin starred restaurants and its world renowned Paul Bocuse, who celebrated his 50th year of being a 3 starred Michelin chef in 2015. The city simply oozes sophisticated gastronomy, fine wines and luxuriously good places to eat.
But don’t worry. Because if like me, you’re just a little nervous of such haute cuisine or perhaps just don’t have the budget to indulge at quite such a hedonistic level, Lyon still has plenty of quirky, traditional, innovative and darn right bizarre dishes for you to sample, enjoy and to help you slip into the distinctive vibe of this fascinating southern city. There’s no need to be a timid gourmet.
Making a meal of it
I was going to start with the Bouchon Lyonnais, the traditional restaurants now easily distinguishable by their red and white table clothes. But this is the south of France, so before we go there, let’s stop first for an aperitif.
Just ferret in amongst the narrow streets of Vieux Lyon and you’re bound to find somewhere like Le Sirop de la Rue who specialise in local produce.
Here, in amongst cold meats and sausages hanging from the ceiling and an unusual selection of old motorbikes, you can enjoy the likes of Grattons, (a sort of pork scratching), Cervelle de Canut (a local, salty, soft cheese delightfully named: silk weaver’s brain) and Andouillettes Lyonnaises (best described as a sort of tripe pâté, tripe being a particular favourite of the region). And although I’m not generally a huge fan of Andouillette, washing it down with a glass of chilled white or rosé Beaujolais on a warm spring evening, is certainly an intriguingly tasty way to start my novice gourmand experience.
But back to the Bouchon. These distinctive and informal restaurants have to adhere to specific guidelines so you’re guaranteed to enjoy snug tables and homely décor, subdued lighting and traditional Lyonnais fodder.
There are dozens to choose from but I found myself seated at the chunky wooden table of Denise and Daniel, surrounded by pots and pans and all manner of both art and culinary equipment.
In 2009 owner and chef Joseph Viola won an award for best meat pie which in my view, can never be a bad thing, so I opted for this pâté en croûte which combines Foie Gras, sweetbread and 12 other mystery ingredients. And I then followed it up with something which features a lot on the menu boards around Lyon, namely Quenelle. A creamed pike soufflé with a rich crayfish sauce, it may sound a little quirky but it was sublime and a great induction to the tastes of Lyon!