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France: One great meal in Lyon?

My wife and I will be traveling by car through quite a bit of France next month (July 2014) and although we plan to do a lot of picnicking and snacking on things we buy from shops and markets, we want to have at least one or two truly amazing restaurant meals that we will remember for a lifetime. Paris is not on our itinerary this time--I have visited Paris three times--but Lyon is. I know almost nothing about Lyon, but I have read it is considered the culinary heart of France. I have read a number of threads here with Lyon restaurant recommendations. From what I have read here and in travel guidebooks, I now am aware there is a distinct Lyonnaise cuisine, and the quintessential place to eat in Lyon is a bouchon. You must be amazed at my ignorance, but we all have to start somewhere. So this is as far as I have gotten in our planning. Sadly, we have only ONE full day in Lyon. We arrive in the morning and leave the next morning. We want to eat.

1. What restaurant(s) should we consider if we want to have the kind of meal we will remember for a lifetime? (This assumes I can even get a reservation.) Is my instinct correct that Lyon, as the supposed culinary heart of France, might actually be a better place to have such an experience than Paris? I have never eaten at any of Paris' temples of gastronomy, mostly due to lack of time. This particular trip, however, is as much about eating as anything else.

2. Would it be a better value to have this meal as a lunch rather than a dinner? Does anyone offer an amazing prix-fixe lunch that is just too good to miss?

3. We most certainly do also want to experience a bouchon. Any recent experiences that might add something to what others have recommended before here? If the old reliable recommendations are just as reliable as always, no need to list them--I can use the search function here just fine. So my initial inclination is to try to have lunch at a restaurant that will leave us with lasting memories, and then in the evening enjoy a bouchon meal. Does this thinking make sense?

4. Not to offend Chow, but is there a site on which these questions might get more attention from more Lyon experts? I don't see a lot of recent Lyon posts on here. No problem if the site is in French only.

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  1. I'm also travelling to Lyon but with teenagers. We are looking to do either brasserie nord or sud for dinner as our hotel is in between them. They are both part of the Paul Boscue empire but not the supper high one located outside of town. Good luck and I hope you get some responses.

    1. Before this gorup answers I think you need to tell us what kind of food you like. There are great restaurants near Lyon whoich offer traditonal food often rich in butter and cream and those that cook in a more modern style.
      A three-star meal costs $300/pp and up.

      BTW Lyon is not my cup of tea. So when I'm in the area, I'm happy to head out near la Dombes and enjoy a dinner of frogs legs persillé.

      4 Replies
      1. re: collioure

        Locals in that area have seriously warned us off frogs' legs except at those few houses that conscientiously serve up the real and right thing. That in mind, do you want to share the name of the place you visit?

        Googling la dombes brings up Restaurant Malapel, aka Les Platanes. With a frog as their logo, one might hope...

        1. re: mangeur

          Oh, my, that's a while back. First, while staying at Georges Blanc we drove south to a little restaurant in Marlieux. Then after my morning flight had been canceled in the late afternoon, I drove out to Pérouges and wandered down the banks of the Ain till I found a nice table. They sure tasted authentic to me. I wish I could make them myself.

          I'm neither a lyonnais, a bordelais nor a norman when it comes to cuisine. I love all the others.

          1. re: collioure

            Interesting. While we were brocanting in the Ain, we fell over a tiny hamlet restaurant where I always ordered frogs' legs. The portion was 300 gr raw product. Substantial! I looked forward to it annually, but sadly it sold and our last experience was not as local in feel.

            Auberge du Mail/Les marmottes
            Place du Mail
            01150 Chazey-sur-Ain

        2. re: collioure

          Fair enough, and in reply to others' requests for restaurant recommendations, my typical initial reply is "what kind of food do you like?" In this instance, however, I omitted that information because I figured that if we want to eat at, say, a 3-star restaurant, we are already limiting our choices. If I'm not mistaken, there are three 3-Michelin-star and two 2-Michelin-star restaurants in Lyon. Granted, that is a lot for one city--no wonder Lyon is apparently considered the "culinary heart of France." I have only had this kind of experience once before, and that was at Robuchon's outpost in Las Vegas. It left me wanting to try that kind of experience again, but in France. I have never been able to plan ahead enough to do it in Paris, and this trip we are skipping Paris altogether. So maybe Lyon is where I should finally do what I have been hoping to do for a long time. Yes, these restaurants are expensive, but it can only exceed my previous experience at Robuchon, and for that I am willing to pay. Am I correct that lunch rather than dinner might be a better value? This bit of advice is often repeated about Michelin-starred restaurants everywhere.

          So the first question is whether the big-name restaurants in Lyon are really as amazing as their reputations would suggest. And if so, which would you recommend?

          By the way, we will have plenty of opportunities on this trip to enjoy humble restaurants with modest, traditional cuisine. But my thinking is that Lyon would be a good place to indulge our dream and eat on the opposite end of the scale.

          Having said all the above, I would now be glad to discuss food preferences. I have nothing against butter and cream, but I have to believe that a starred chef can produce things that make more imaginative use of traditional ingredients. Traditional, local, seasonal ingredients are best, but perhaps employing (with restraint) a few modern techniques? For example, I see nothing wrong with one course of a meal including something that uses a modernist technique, but a whole meal of that would be over-doing it for me. I hope this helps.

        3. Bouchon food is hardly light. You may, but I could never consume a Lyonnaise gastronomic lunch and follow it with a Bouchon dinner.

          5 Replies
          1. re: mangeur

            That has occurred to us, but as I said, we have only one day in Lyon. Our thinking is that if we eat a multi-hour lunch, then in the evening we can eat as little as we wish in a bouchon. It's my understanding that bouchons are like bistros, and we wouldn't be tied to a multi-course meal. Some pate and wine, maybe a little tasting of some interesting offal item, might very well be enough. Who knows. In any event, this is why my initial thinking is to do the big meal of the day at lunch.

            1. re: LorenzoGA

              Case in point: DH ordered mussels as his starter at bouchon Daniel et Denise. Mid-portion, our waiter appeared with a fresh shell bowl and removed the filled one. DH counted the remaining half portion; he still had 40 to go.

              1. re: mangeur

                Oh, we're smart enough not to order mussels unless we're hungry. A standard portion seems to be a kilo.

                I appreciate you trying to knock some sense into me, but aside from that input, are you able to offer any recommendations or other information?

                Daniel et Denise gets a lot of recommendations. From what I have read, I get the impression it is a bit more ambitious than what has traditionally been considered a bouchon--more of a real restaurant that serves everything you could expect from a bouchon and more. For a more modest bouchon, where we might not feel obliged to order a full meal, how about Café des Fédérations?

                1. re: LorenzoGA

                  Café des Fédératioins is obviously a well recognized bouchon. The point is that, yes, you can go into a bouchon and order a bite, but you will not experience the intent of the bouchon, regardless of which one you choose much less the concept of a bouchon. They are a place where a working person can fill his belly at a reasonable cost, more recently a tourist's glimpse into the past.

              2. re: LorenzoGA

                Buchons are a kind of bistro that serve traditional lyonnaise cuisine = heavy. There are many fewer than before as more modern brasseries have replaced them.

                I seconded mangeur's sage advice above because you shouldn't do a 3-star restaurant and a buchon in one day. Indeed you need to space out fine and/or rich meals. Your palate needs a rest between them.

                3-star restaurants do not necessarily serve rich foods (though some seem to focus on lobster, foie gras and truffles to my dismay), but the flavors are generally intense.

                The 3-star restaurant I have never been able to get to but am dying to go is Troisgros over in Roanne. I make a couple of their wondeful recipes.

                Paul Bocuse is traditional; I have driven by a number of times.

                I have been to Georges Blanc in Vonnas a number of years ago. Excellent but not memorable in my opinion.

                Reportedly the best of all is Marc Veyrat near Annecy two hours east. I have never been tempted because the prices are so high.

                Hopefully others here can fill in the blanks I have left.

            2. Well, I can't weigh in on the "meal of a lifetime" request, but can say (we're in Lyon right now by the way...for the second stay in a month) that Boucuse's Institut in the Royal Lyon is a very nice dinner & he has opened a small empire of places ( Oest, Sud, Nord & Est + a couple of others) that look very good as well. We've concentrated on the Bouchons while here & can re-confirm that even ordering one dish can be very filling, as these are rich hearty foods. My quenelle tonite at Le Saint Cochon (11 rue Laurencin) was in a very rich sauce &, although it was light itself, the overall dish wound up being very filling. A very nice bouchon, by the way. Last month we ate at Poelon D'Or (Ramparts d'Ainay), another very nice Bouchon but, again, I couldn't see eating this food and another meal in the same day. Sort of defeats the purpose of getting this type of hearty fare If you're trying to not get full. But, your call...just remember to check for opening times. A lot of Bouchons close Sat. & Sun.

              1. "I know almost nothing about Lyon, but I have read it is considered the culinary heart of France."

                Yes, by the Lyonnais.

                "Is my instinct correct that Lyon, as the supposed culinary heart of France, might actually be a better place to have such an experience than Paris?"

                This is really what the Lyonnais want everyone to believe, but the truth is that you do eat wonderfully mostly everywhere in France.
                There is no "culinary heart of France" and if there were one, I'm not sure it would be Lyon.

                Besides, the age-old tradition of cuisine bourgeoise and especially of sauces is from Auvergne, not Lyon. But Auvergne was always poorer, and Lyon always richer (from the silk industry), so Lyon appropriated the savoir-faire through the many house cooks and hired cuisinières who came from Auvergne to Lyon in the 18th and 19th centuries. Thus the great Lyonnaise culinary tradition has two sources: the many anonymous house cooks from Auvergne, and the "canut" (working class) tradition, mostly known through simple, sturdy, highly seasoned dishes like tripes, andouillette, cervelle de canut…

                But let not my remarks mislead you, of course there is fantastic food in Lyon. Just not very light. I've heard a lot of good about Le Palégrié and L'Ourson qui boit.

                8 Replies
                1. re: Ptipois

                  "The truth is that you do eat wonderfully mostly everywhere in France."
                  I'll second that motion
                  So maybe that puts the Auberge de l'Ill in Alsace and the Jardin des Sens in Montpellier in play as well.
                  Or just pick a good 2-star. I prefer them. Theyre more inventive.

                  1. re: collioure

                    Since originally posting these questions, my wife and I have spent some time discussing it and considering the replies here.

                    I think if we force ourselves to say what we are really feeling, we will admit we want to take this opportunity to experience a 3-star or at least a 2-star. It would make our decision easy if someone said "Paul Bocuse is not worth it anymore, and you could have the same experience for less money at this other restaurant ______" but few people are going to go so far as to say that. Reading other threads here as well as many reviews and blogs, it is clear that a restaurant like Bocuse continues to draw customers who want the experience. I suspect we would enjoy the food more at one of the 2-stars, as we do enjoy "inventive" food and seasonal ingredients. It is difficult to bring ourselves to eat food out of season, and there are no seasons in the traditional dishes at Bocuse. But for this particular trip, we will be in Lyon, and Bocuse is in Lyon, and I think we simply want to add the experience to our collection of culinary experiences. It is truly a shame we will only be in Lyon for one day. But with just one day in Lyon, I believe we should check the venerable Bocuse off our list. Next time we will eat at bouchons.

                    1. re: LorenzoGA

                      You have to do what you have to do! Better to have a less than astonishing experience than to get home and have regrets about a missed opportunity.

                      1. re: LorenzoGA

                        If you are intent on a 3-star meal, I highly recommend taking the train out to Roanne and dining at Troisgros (lunch). In its present incarnation, it is both traditional and modern. And everything about the place is sublime.

                        Roanne is only a short train ride from Lyon.

                        1. re: ChefJune

                          As I have known for many years, Troisgros is opposite the train station. Just I have never quite gotten there.

                          As for Bocuse I don't read anything that indicates it has lost a step. 3 stars, 4 toques in the Gault-Millau.

                          1. re: ChefJune

                            I will look into Troisgros. Thanks. We will have a car, though.

                            1. re: LorenzoGA

                              With or without a car, I would go to Troisgros.

                    2. <So my initial inclination is to try to have lunch at a restaurant that will leave us with lasting memories, and then in the evening enjoy a bouchon meal. Does this thinking make sense?>

                      What makes you think the bouchon will not leave a lasting memory? I would book the noon meal at Daniel et Denise, in the original location (not Old Town). bouchon food is quite heavy, and you will not likely be inclined to have a very big dinner afterwards.

                      If you are really intent on a fine dining meal, I would probably book lunch at the Institut Paul Bocuse (a professional culinary school just outside Lyon in Ecully). The setting is a beautiful castle, and the food is excellent. A truly memorable experience.

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: ChefJune

                        Thank you. "Lasting memories" was the best description I could come up with, and it admittedly does not fit well. I didn't mean to imply a bouchon would be forgettable. We remember so many great meals we have had, and many of them have been at virtually unknown places. I suppose what I really meant was not just "lasting memories" but the total experience of a 2 or 3-star restaurant. I have only eaten at one previously, and for years afterwards just thinking about the experience (and reliving it through the souvenir menu) made me smile. I realize that many deserving restaurants do not receive a star for one reason or another. But I suppose I am just star-struck, as many tourists no doubt are.

                        There are a number of posts here that recommend Institut Paul Bocuse. It is very tempting. And Daniel et Denise seems to be on everyone's list in every thread asking about bouchon recommendations.

                        It is a very difficult choice. But I am certain that wherever we eat we will remember it for a long time.

                        Lyon is only one stop on a 2-1/2 week driving trip around the southern and western regions of France. I think we will eat many amazing things and have many amazing experiences. I cannot wait!

                        1. re: LorenzoGA

                          Lorenzo, the most memorable meal of my life was at a 2-star restaurant, Leon de Lyon in 1992. Leon de Lyon has since been turned into a brasserie, and while the food is still delicious and I love to go there, Jean Paul Lacombe is no longer cooking, and it's certainly not the same.

                          My current favorite table in France would be Assiette Champenoise, in Reims.

                          I think, however, you are doing Lyon a great disservice by only allotting it one day. What is your hurry? Lyon is one of the oldest cities in France, and there is much of historical interest and significance to see and do, not to mention so many delicious places to dine. Of all the cities I've visited in the world, Lyon is my #1 favorite.

                          1. re: ChefJune

                            ChefJune, our lunch at Leon de Lyon about 3 years ago is one of our fondest memories. Not because the food was stupendously good; it wasn't. But it was well-prepared and we ate it outside on a brilliantly sunny day. Most importantly, it turned us on to the simple of joy of rose wine. Indeed, we were just speaking of it last night, as my husband opened a couple of bottles of rose to accompany our dinner.

                            (My recommendation to the OP if they only have time for one meal in Lyon is to go to Daniel & Denise (original location). It will not be a "mind-blowing" Michelin star experience but it will be an authentic experience of the locale, with very good food. But that's me -- I can only take so much "fine-dining" and equally enjoy honest "bourgeois" local cuisine.)

                            1. re: ChefJune

                              We are only allotting Lyon one day because we want to utilize the car to reach places that would otherwise be difficult--coastal villages and that sort of thing. We are also visiting some of my wife's family who live in the south. Lyon happens to be a good place to stop overnight and eat a fantastic meal on the drive south from Brussels. If we fall in love with Lyon, we can fairly easily take a train there on some other visit when we do not have the luxury of a car.

                              It looks like we will choose from among Troisgros, Daniel et Denise and, yes, Paul Bocuse. Thank you for all the suggestions.

                              1. re: LorenzoGA

                                If it was me I would stay in the city and explore and take in a good local lunch. It just seems odd on a first visit to jump into the car and head out of town - OK they maybe magical places, but Lyon is meant to be a lovely city and have great food - definitely not worth wasting time driving out to a meal.

                                1. re: PhilD

                                  Phil, it is not that we will "jump into the car and head out of town" but rather than we will stop in Lyon overnight because it is on our way south. We thought it would make a good place to stop because we have heard so much about the gastronomic scene there, and one great meal is better than nothing. It is not our objective to visit Lyon. Sadly, we are similarly bypassing a number of other wonderful cities in France. We cannot see all of France on one trip. I have only been to Paris and Burgundy before. This trip we are spending our time in the coastal regions. We have a lot of France to cover: Marseilles, Bayonne, Brittany, Normandy .... I am exhausted just thinking about how much driving we will be doing. But the eating--very much looking forward to that.

                                  1. re: LorenzoGA

                                    It was more advice for everyone suggesting you ate out of town - it's seems bizarre. A bit like going to Paris and heading to Reims eat.

                                    OK if there a week, a bit mad if there for one night. As you say you have a lot to explore in France so why limit your time in Lyon a city renowned for food...?

                                    I think it's especially apt advice as you are now thinking of by passing Lyon altogether, or only using it for a bed for the night.

                            2. re: LorenzoGA

                              While you say that you will have a car, I'd like to mention Troisgros' country property, 20km north of Roanne. The setting is lovely: rolling hills and oaks, cows and streams. We have stayed there on three different occasions, two nights each. But stopping there for a lazy lunch would definitely be memorable.


                          2. Not a meal, but if you like quality chocolate make sure to pick up some from Bernachon, which is very hard to obtain outside of France. Note that the small filled chocolates have a very short shelf-life (fresh cream), but the bars would make a great souvenir/gift. http://www.bernachon.com/fr/

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: foodeye

                              Bernachon's truffles are heavenly and travel well. :) I'm not as fond of their dessert cafe as I am of the candy store.

                              1. re: ChefJune

                                I'd second this as well - the chocolates in the store are amazing, but the items served at the cafe aren't memorable at all.

                              2. re: foodeye

                                Thank you--sounds wonderful. I will need to be careful not to enjoy them "too" much, though ;-) My wife is Belgian and has strong opinions about chocolate.

                              3. Thanks to all, especially ChefJune, for the recommendations and advice. We have a lunch reservation at Troisgros in Roanne. After looking at the menu and reviews, we knew this was the right choice for this trip. We will stop there on our drive south (should make a nicer drive than the motorway) and then spend some time after lunch relaxing in Roanne. Then we will drive to Lyon and spend the night. I'm sure we will manage to venture out of our hotel for a bite to eat, and we will enjoy whatever we find. We are tempted to bypass Lyon altogether on this trip and just stay in Roanne. It looks like a very nice town.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: LorenzoGA

                                  I need to toss out another pitch for one of our favorite places, Troisgros' country location. At the moment and until November when they close for the season, they are offering a terrific deal.

                                  2 nights at the country location, breakfast included
                                  Bottle of welcome champagne
                                  1 dinner at the Grand Couvert, country restaurant
                                  1 dinner at the Roanne Maison Troisgros
                                  Beverages included at both dinners

                                  1050€ for two people, for the two nights and two dinners.

                                  Pull up Maison Troisgros, click on red Now button and scroll down to Nid d'Amour offer.

                                  1. re: mangeur

                                    Saw their other location on the web site. Looks lovely.

                                2. OP here, reporting back! I'd really like to report on more of our 3-week loop around France, but for now, here's a follow-up on Lyon. Troisgros (in nearby Roanne) was the only Michelin-starred resto of our trip--a real splurge for us--and although we ate very well everywhere we traveled, our meal at Troisgros was a major highlight. We had grins on our faces for days and will remember it fondly for years, I suspect.

                                  The entire trip was a whirlwind, and we should have allotted twice as much time to each destination. And so we found ourselves racing to make our lunch reservation from somewhere near Dijon where we had stopped for the night on our way down from Belgium. (Due to our lack of foresight, we were just in time to join the August traffic madness heading south.) Anyway, with the help of GPS we managed to arrive in Roanne in time and enjoyed a Champagne and amuse-bouche in their garden. We were asked if we wanted a tour of the kitchen, and we excitedly accepted. Once through the kitchen we were seated at a perfect table by the window, looking into the garden. To avoid having to think too hard, we chose the wine pairing menu. For the sake of space, I won't describe every course, but I will say everything was superb. I did not photograph everything, but I did discreetly (I think) snap a few pics. I know my initial post was sketchy, but Troisgros turned out to be exactly the kind of experience we were seeking. Thank you, ChefJune, for recommending Troisgros.

                                  We drove on to Lyon and had a very difficult time navigating the inner city, even with the aid of GPS. By the time we checked into our hotel and changed into some more casual clothes, it was close to 8:00 pm, and we went out to explore on foot. Because we had no idea in advance what time we would arrive or whether we would even be hungry, we hadn't made a dinner reservation. Of course, by 9:00 pm, we WERE hungry, and we searched for--what else--a bouchon. We found (this was closing in on 9:30) that a couple of those that often receive mention were no longer serving and/or were full or simply closed. There are, of course, numerous places that call themselves bouchons but rarely receive much notice, and we satisfied ourselves with one. So we at least had a chance to sample andouillette and quenelle de brochet. We remain blissfully ignorant whether the renditions were up to par.

                                  Before heading out of town the next day, we visited Les Halles. I wanted to mention this because, well, we were a little disappointed. I suppose whatever we had read had led us to expect it would be grander. We found larger and more interesting markets elsewhere on our trip. We had also thought we might find something to eat on the spot there, but there's really nothing like that. There are a couple of restaurant outposts, a place to eat oysters and a Spanish ham bar. (I don't know what we were thinking/expecting--Asian-style hawker stalls?) We bought some St. Marcellin and some Brillat Savarin from Mere Richard's cheese shop, as well as some items from other vendors, and had these later or the next day as a picnic. Some of the best meals of the trip were our picnics--cheese, bread, pates, even oysters and whelks. As we made our loop around France, we tried to eat and drink whatever was local/regional. The vendors were always happy to steer us to such items.

                                  With regard to Lyon, I suspect we will return. But it will definitely be done by train (from Brussels where we visit my wife's family once or twice a year). It's a great food city, though I'm not sure it deserves the label "gastronomic capital of France" that I have seen used. Bouchon cuisine definitely needs further investigation, not to mention the tourist sites that I suppose I should see between meals ;-)

                                  My intent is to post a broader trip report soon.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: LorenzoGA

                                    There's a touristy pedestrian street - Rue Mercier - that has a whole string of bistrots and restos that are open late. Some of them even have good food! I hope that's where you found something to eat. I recall a lovely New Years Dinner at Bistrot de Lyon, starting with oysters, ending with Cervelle de Canut with tasty joue de boeuf in between. :)

                                    1. re: ChefJune

                                      Well, no. We stumbled upon Rue de l'Arbe Sec while walking down Rue de La Republique, and it seemed that area was still lively at 9-10 pm. The bouchon we found was Le Petit Flore on Rue du Garet.