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Jun 18, 2007 10:52 PM

Paul Bocuse, Lyons

Am interested and surprised to see that Souphie (whose posts I particularly respect) writes that the Grand Paul Bocuse in Lyons never disappoints. My children ate there last year and complained bitterly of uninspired, oversalted food, tacky atmosphere. Then I read in, I think, U.S. food writer Mimi Sheraton's Memoirs exactly the same complaints written several years ago. I seem to remember that she also wrote about how the Michelin people are reluctant to remove stars and especially reluctant in cases where a small community is supported by a certain restaurant. In another post Souphie suggests a thread on bad restaurants in Paris. How about a thread on restaurants that don't deserve their Michelin stars?

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  1. I ate there in 2004 and it was one of the best meals in my life. Paul was there at the time...

    1. "How about a thread on restaurants that don't deserve their Michelin stars?"

      There would be too many of them. Just like too many restaurants unfairly excluded from the guide. IMO, the michelin guide only offers a rough indication.

      Paul Bocuse is much more popular than the red guide. Should the Michelin demote Bocuse, they would suffer a serious backlash. This is why in my opinion Paul Bocuse is untouchable.

      That said Paul Bocuse is still worth a try if you can. Think more of an historical journey to what made modern cooking...

      1. Well, Fuffy, let me first thank you very much for your kind words.

        It is an interesting subject for me because what I try to do is to give a honest, detailed review of restaurants, which favours giving a sense of the specificity of each place over blunt judgement and hierarchy. So here are a few thoughts and responses.

        As usual, I am very long, which seems to cause violent reactions on some French forums, but not in Chowhound so far.

        Of course I am aware of the common wisdom about Paul Bocuse, relayed by most critics: it's a joke, it used to be wonderful thirty years ago. I want first to point out that most of these reviews look to much like one another, and give too little (if any) detail to avoid giving the impression that they are basically spreading the word. In the best case, former readings heavily influence the actual restaurant experience. In the worst, critics are plain repeating what they read (A lexical analysis of some reviews would support this view).

        Clearly, the idea of fallen glory has a lot of appeal. Works with Paul Bocuse, started to work with Bernard Loiseau (did not help him to overcome his suicidal trends, obviously), and I hope that the time of Ducasse will come. Smartly, Robuchon retired just before it started (and came back as a new man). I am not saying that bad reviews of Paul Bocuse are insincere, but I always beware of papers whose content I can predict.

        Speaking of which, Michelin bashing seems to be as fun a game as Bush bashing. I understand both, and I believe the two share of lack of transparency which is regrettable. That said, I also believe Michelin to be highly reliable (and respected among top chefs). I do believe they have a set of fixed criteria, even though they do not advertise them. In any case, many affirmations about them are unfounded, such as the one that there would be a numerus clausus of three star restaurants.

        In my experience, Michelin positive judgements can be trusted and are justified. I would not say that they are early trend spotters to be sure. But why would they be so nice to Bocuse and so mean to other icons like Meneau, Lameloise, Lorain and Jung (all French legends demoted at one point or another)?

        I also do not think that Michelin helps much in giving a sense of the specificity of the place, and helping you chose which place to go without having already been there. But then again, that’s why I try to do it.

        Coming to the actual point, I reiterate that Bocuse deserves the third star and never disappoints. This is based on seven visits over the last few years.

        Is Bocuse outdated? Positively. Is the place annoying with all its circus and imagery of the Master? Fuck yeah. Has he been serving the same stuff for over twenty years? Without a doubt. Has he any surprising recipe, unheard of? No: his cuisine has been one of the most influential worldwide for over thirty years, everybody is familiar with it. Is it light? No.

        But it is flawlessly executed, offers good value on wine and food, and dishes that you can actually hardly find in other places. About this last point, just check the online menu: . For example, a (truffled, may I add) chicken in a bladder is 160€: this dish serves four, and would hardly be found under 250€ in comparable French restaurants (e.g. Le Bristol, Westermann, Loiseau or Blanc). Old Romanée-Conti can be drunk for under 1000€, and those are wines for which there is not even a market price because there is no market.

        Unlike many other renowned restaurants (e.g.Ducasse, Rochat, Savoy), I never spotted imperfect cooking or seasoning at Bocuse, be it for chicken, veal or fish (the most delicate fleshes to cook exactly). Granted, his traditional seasoning is not light – I like it, but it is obviously also a matter of personal taste. I would argue that dissatisfaction of any kind in that sort of restaurant should be voiced, and even loudly (I had several good meals offered that way ;-).

        Again, who else does a perfect, tasty, old-styled but subtle sauce Choron to go with the huge sea bass in puff pastry? Who offers perfect poulet à la crème et aux morilles? Côte de veau bourgeoise ? The list could go on. I am always said that good bistrots do it as well, but never actually found one of these wonderful bistrots. Save L’Ami Louis, which is not cheaper than Monsieur Paul.

        Those dishes are historic, but they are historic for a reason: they taste good (and outdated). They are not that easy to make. There are many restaurants, where I think I could have done what they do: Bocuse is not one of them, and I am a pretty good damn cook. Bocuse has four “Meilleurs ouvriers de France” in his kitchen (the highest distinction for cooks – only nine awarded this year). That is, to my knowledge an unparalleled number.

        There is way too much to eat at Bocuse – I confess I don’t mind. Last summer, we had to ask for a break before the army of desserts was served, and we actually went out for a thirty minute walk along the river in order to be able to consider the many fruits, tarts, chocolate cakes, ice-creams, etc. Such are the old French ways, and we are not fit for it anymore.

        I have eaten there in presence and in absence of Paul Bocuse, and I did not spot a difference (except that, when Monsieur Paul is here, it shows). When asked who cooks when he is away, he says “same ones as when I am here”.

        In my opinion, Bocuse deserves the highest rating because no one does what he does better than him, and what he offers is very high level, and very consistent.

        No one has to like it of course, like with every top restaurant. Personally, I don’t like Bras and Gagnaire. But I recognise the high level and consistency of their approach. I am also unmoved by l’Astrance, and feel robbed whenever I go to Ducasse or Passard (therefore I don’t go there anymore). I do not, however, question their rating, and I try to give a fair account of their talent.

        All this said, and extensively said, if you want to start a thread about undeserved stars, I would start with Ducasse. I find it pretentious and boring.

        4 Replies
        1. re: souphie

          Very well reasoned and explained. In the end it all comes down to taste. Personally, I wish I could somehow be transferred back in time to Fernand Point's Le Pyramide or to a banquet prepared by Careme. All things modern flow from Bocuse and I would still love to taste his truffle soup and maybe will take a trip to Lyon. I just looked at the menu and it is very much less expensive than the vegetables at L'Arpege or a meal at L'Amboisie. I too do not understand the food and service. The at L'Astrance getting three stars. The one time I ate there, the food was delicious and very inventive, but the service was way less than three star, especially when compared to Taillevant (I know it is now a 2 star, but I find that incorrect).

          1. re: souphie

            As excellent as Marc Meneau, Jacque Lameloise, Michel Lorain and Emil Jung are, they are not "legends" in the sense of Paul Bocuse.

            1. re: PBSF

              Granted. But again, why not focus on the level of cooking before throwing suspicion at Michelin for not daring to take off a star? Has Bocuse done less good a food at any time? No, and that is why he did not lose the third star. Same is true from Guérard -- a living legend in his own right, but still a remarkably subtle cook (the post-Bocuse stage in terms of history of cuisine), who still invents (after a long pause, yet) and who masters cooking in the fire like no other (save Passard of course). Vergé, on the other hand, did totally turn into a caricature of himself before retiring, and he is another legend, like ChefJune mentioned. But his fall was reflected in the Michelin, and critics at the time had better argument than saying it was outdated.

              1. re: PBSF

                Lorain is JEAN-Michel. Michel is his father who is retired.

                they couldn't possibly be legends of Bocuse's stature. They are much younger (don't know about Lameloise) and as good as they are, are they innovators?

                That's like saying Wynton Marsalis is not a legend as is Miles Davis. Apples and Oranges, here, I think.

            2. And I would not rule out Rochat either, for undeserved third stars

              1. Fuffy, I and many of my associates, colleagues and friends have the same feelings as your children and Mimi Sheraton. However, I realize there are many who disagree with us. Paul Bocuse indeed is a legend in French cooking, one of the fathers of the modern cuisine, along with Roger Verge, who has retired, and Michel Guerard. Dining at Bocuse is an "experience," however, if you have time (and money) only for one fabulous meal in Lyon, I respectfully disagree with Souphie that Bocuse is the place for it. I much prefer Leon de Lyon.

                Granted, Chef Bocuse initiated many of these dishes, but I submit there are Lyonnais chefs doing similar things much better these days. In addition to Jean Paul Lacombe of Leon de Lyon, there is also Georges Blanc in nearby Vonnas.

                As for a thread about restaurants that DON'T deserve their Michelin stars, we who dine there occasionally are certainly entitled to express our opinions, but it seems to me a better use of our energy to focus more on the good things, no?

                7 Replies
                1. re: ChefJune

                  Hi ChefJune,

                  I guess there is henceforth a Paul Bocuse clivage.

                  Recognising the merits of the ancestor is not, in any way, diminishing those of Paul Lacombe at Leon de Lyon, or of Georges Blanc in Vonnas. May I add that a trip in the restaurant Alain Chapel in Mionnay is also one of the great historical experiences in the, all in all very conservative and very gastronomic, Lyons region?

                  I would be really embarassed if I had to chose but one. Since chef Paul Lacombe is retiring this year, however, I actually agree with you for this year and prioritise dining at Leon over Bocuse. Blanc, for the record, is more expensive (and both cookings are very different cooking from Bocuse's, even if they rely on the same bases).

                  I also agree that focusing on places we like makes more sense. Isn't it what we do? In general?

                  1. re: souphie

                    A short note to agree with the choice of Leon de Lyon over Bocuse-a better space, more interesting food and flawless execution. Not to say you shouldn't try Bocuse as well-goodness knows, I did (the sacrifices we make) and don't regret it...the truffle soup is heaven.
                    But no-Chef Lacombe is retiring? When? I may have to find some way to return before this happens...

                    1. re: souphie

                      I'm curious where you got the information that Jean-Paul Lacombe is retiring this year? I haven't heard that.

                      1. re: ChefJune

                        Dear Friends,

                        I am really sorry to be the one to tell you. I thought you knew, I would have been more gentle. I too love Leon and I propose that we organise a last meal together. (maybe coupled with a Bocuse, so we can argue more? -- just kidding!)

                        (or we really survey the whole region: Bocuse, Leon, Chapel, Brazier, Le Bec, and then the larger geographic circle: Blanc, Troisgros, Pic, Marcon, La pyramide. hmm)

                        Closing date would be 31 december 2007.

                        Here you will find an interview of chef Lacombe to a local journal, for example.

                        I apologise for having called him Paul and not Jean-Paul, and I blame Bocuse.

                        To respond to your question, ChefJune, I am pretty sure I originally learnt that from, though I was unable to find the corresponding post again. Or I just learnt it from the French press. It seems like real news -- there is for example an article in Le Progres de Lyon, 22 mars 2007. But maybe, ChefJune, since this is your best meal ever, you could call them to check?

                        1. re: souphie

                          I, too, feel Leon to be the place of my best meal ever...below, I share the response to their reply to my question:

                          "Further to your E-Mail, we can confirm you the date of Mr Lacombe 's retirement: December 31st, 2007
                          We hope that you can visit our restaurant before."

                          I wish him well, and am now trying to figure out how I can eat there one last time.

                    2. re: ChefJune

                      Because there is such disagreement about Paul Bocuse, I now agree that it is not worth listing restaurants to avoid. If it weren't for the disagreement, I would have said it would have been well worth saving my darling children from the journey, the expense and the disappointment. (And the missing of the meal they would have had if they hadn't chosen Bocuse). But, it is true, I find it very hard to recommend restaurants to visiting friends because of taste differences.

                      1. re: Fuffy

                        Which is why it makes more sense to try and give a sense of the place, rather than simply stating a subjective ranking. I find it hard to say that a restaurant is better than another. I can't say I like l'Ambroisie better than Padova (bd du Montparnasse). I just can say that it is fair that Pacaud is more expensive, that the experience at his restaurant is sublime and perfect, and also a bit sad. And that Padova has huge plates of creamy pasta, which, depending on my mood, are yammy or yukky. In both restaurants, I know what to expect and usually get it (and accidents are always possible, even in Leon -- really shouldn't pay then).

                        Sometimes restaurants are bad: dirty, make you wait, bad quality products, shitty cooking. Those are less arguable (and this is what my stance on Ducasse or Rochat is based upon -- not that they are dirty, of course. This is also what you just wrote about le Trou Gascon -- thanks for that).

                        Despite the abundant literature on the topic, I still believe it is hard to get an idea of what to expect from a great restaurant. Obviously too, some require some special preparatory work and are more or less easily accessible. Again, this should be the role of useful critics.

                        My friends who argue that Leon is incomparably better than Bocuse have changed their mind after we discussed and they tried it again. I don't think it is because I am an hypnotizer, but because different three stars offer different kinds of pleasure, and I was able to draw their attention to what is exceptional at Bocuse.

                        Don't worry, I am not saying that they reversed their stance and now hate Leon. They would just argue that those are different experiences, that you should go to these places expecting different things if you don't want to be disappointed, and that they can correspond to different purposes and different moods. And they did, this time, have a good time at Bocuse too.

                        I am sorry for your Children, and I hope they will try French grands restaurants again. (Maybe Bocuse;-?) I suggest we start the research, based on their taste, their likings, and their expectations, their experience, for the next meal that will satisfy them.

                        An example: my brother-in-law came to Paris lately. He has very "simple" gastronomic taste -- basically likes potatoes and ketchup only. But he wanted to try a fancy meal. We had planned a lunch at Savoy and I am sure he would have enjoyed it a lot. But accidental circumstances made him miss that lunch, and instead he joined us latter for a meal at L'Astrance. His only comment was in the end: "so this is a 1000$ meal?!" (for 3 persons). He had much more fun the next day when we cooked a chicken and roast potatoes (actually, so did I -- but I still appreciated, or mostly admired, l'Astrance).

                        No one believes you can enjoy a Wagner opera just by showing up at the Opera house for six hours, without any knowledge other than "I heard this is great" (It is! Also very long and strange). Or that all paintings are immediately enjoyable. So why believe that 300€ meals do not require particular instructions and awareness raising, fit for the specificity of each one?

                        It is a matter a taste, but that is not a reason for it to be be a lottery.