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Monday 11 March 2013

Lyon: a treat for food and wine lovers

It is with good reason that the city of Lyon is known as the culinary capital of France.

With Beaujolais to the north and the Côtes du Rhone to the south, Lyon is surrounded by vineyards and has a formidable culinary history. 

The legendary chef Paul Bocuse, who has several restaurants in town and was named chef of the 20th century, is just one of the many famous Lyonnais pan handlers, but the city is just as well known for its many small, friendly restaurants serving traditional local dishes and wines, which are known as bouchons. 

The food in these lively establishments is usually red-meat dominated; think charcuterie dishes like rosette Lyonnais and saucisson de Lyon or hearty fare like andouilletes (tripe sausages often smothered in mustard), the traditional chicken casserole known as coq au vin, tripe cooked with onions or the small pike mousses known as quenelles. Cervelle de canut is a cheese spread much beloved by the locals with curd mixed with chopped herbs, shallots, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar.

Make time to check out Cafe des Federations, a lively, jovial and bustling spot where you drink local wine from small carafe bottles known as pots and a massive platter of charcuterie is slapped down in front of you on arrival. It's not about haute cuisine here - it's about fun. 

This is the real deal: checked tablecloths, closely-packed tables and sausages hanging from the ceiling. You eat what you are told, although you do get a choice of hearty mains; dishes like black pudding with apple, calf head with ravigote sauce, cake of chicken livers (and delicious it was, too) and stew of pork cheeks. Other similarly-styled bouchons include La Meunière; Daniel et Denise, Chez Hugon and Le Poêlon d'Or, as well as the character-filled Restaurant Le Musèe. 

More sophisticated (and expensive) dining choices include the venerable Le Mère Brazier, where Bocuse did his apprenticeship, Auberge de I’lle, La Rotonde Leon de Lyon and Le Maison Clovis. In all, the Lyon region has 14 Michelin-starred establishments.  The Auberge du Pont de Collonges, superchef Bocuse’s main restaurant is out of town on the banks of the Saône. The only time I have eaten here I was disappointed – but I was dining as part of a large group and found the food lacklsutre; the service equally so. Far more affordable, and enjoyable, are Bocuse's small brasseries dotted around town: Le Sud, Bistro de l’Est, Le Nord, L’Ouest etc.
Don't miss the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse (pictured) - the city’s best covered market and paradise for anyone who loves gourmet goodies. Among the stalls not to miss are Mère Richard, a decadent cheese shop, Sibilia, a stunning charcuterie, and the chocolates and sweets at Sève.

If you are into food it is a delight to spend a few hours here tasting the many local specialities from the 56 merchants, many of whom also have small restaurants or cafés attached to their stalls. An alternative is the Saint-Antoine Market, a food market along the banks of the River Saône from Tuesday-Sunday. If you want to get out of town, the Kanpai group offers a range of half- and full-day wine tours to Beaujolais and the northern Rhone. And if you don’t have time to do some tastings you can pick up some well-chosen bottles at the Cave Valmy, probably the best wine store in town.

A well situated place to stay is Hotel Le Royal Lyon at 20 Place Bellecour ( It has just 74 rooms, is luxurious in a restrained way and brilliantly situated on the city’s major square, just a short walk from both the Saône and the Rhone.


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