When I first heard Lyon’s claim as the gastronomic capital of France, I was wary. Surely, Paris held that title. Granted, Lyon is the home of three-star Michelin chef Paul Bocuse, the creator of Nouvelle Cuisine, but I needed proof.
Arriving on the TGV from Paris, I headed for Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a glass-enclosed gourmet marketplace containing more than 60 merchants, where Bocuse shops for his four Lyon brasseries. The ambience called Tiffany’s to mind. Artisan cheeses, chocolates, sausages, breads, and meats were displayed like jewels—presided over by knowledgeable vendors ready to explain their products and offer samples.
Samples! At Sibilia, I bought foie gras and confit of onions. At Bahadourian, a Lyon gourmet shop since 1929, I snatched up cassis, Pear William and blood orange/grapefruit marmalades, black olive tapenade, truffle-flavored olive oil and enough chocolate bars to appease family and friends. Could I find comparable products back home? Perhaps. Would they be as fabulous? Pas du tout.
Ecole de Cuisine, the cooking school at Institut Paul Bocuse (www.institutpaulbocuse.com), offers classes for all levels of experience, with workshops running from one day to six weeks. Don’t have time for a day-long class? L”Atelier des Chefs (www.atelierdeschefs.fr) at 8, rue St Nizier offers one- to two-hour classes.
Every little village in France has a bistro or brasserie, but only Lyon has bouchons— cozy, affordable restaurants created originally for the city’s 19th-century silk workers. For lunch, I visited Daniel et Denise, a traditional bouchon run by chef Joseph Viola and his wife on rue de Crequi. The menu leaned heavily toward organ meats—sweetbreads, tripe, liver—but also offered seafood and vegetarian options.
I burned off calories exploring Vieux Lyon, the cobblestoned medieval section of the city designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, filled with charming shops, cafes, and craftsmen’s workshops.
The day’s high point was my dinner at Meres Lyonnaise, a 100-year-old restaurant now featuring the artistry of Mathieu Viannay, a young, two-star Michelin chef and recipient of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, a national distinction designated by a tri-color collar and more coveted than a Michelin star.
The first floor was a typical bistro; upstairs, however, the home’s former bedrooms had been converted into private dining rooms offering Belle-Epoch intimacy.
I started with a demitasse of delicately flavored consumé, then plunged into an appetizer described in English as “sea spider,” a member of the crab family.
Served in its shell, topped by lobster-flavored foam, it was a heavenly mélange of shellfish, herbs, and mayonnaise. Being France, there was crusty bread, fresh butter, and rivers of beaujolais and white burgundy.
Being Americans, we exchanged plates and I sampled exquisite raw oysters in basil jelly with caviar and a salad topped with a vibrant edible flower.
I ordered chicken for my main course, but should have gone with the chicken-and-lobster combo. No problem; my fork had a long reach.
Then came dessert. Sorbets, Napoleons, tarts, puff pastries. My favorite was a chocolate-and-coffee “soup” so rich it should be a controlled substance. Meres Lyonnaise is but one of 15 Michelin-starred restaurants in Lyon, in addition to countless bouchons, cafes, and brasseries. If you go, bring pants with an adjustable, draw-string waist.
Cour des Loges
4-star hotel and spa with gastronomic restaurant in the heart of Vieux Lyon.
4-star Relais & Chateau property, featuring a Michelin-starred restaurant, swimming pool, and dazzling views.
Buy a one-day Liberty Ticket good for all subways, buses, and tramcars.
Rent a bike from Velo”v, Lyon’s fleet of 4,000 bicycles, free of charge up to an hour; pick-up and drop-off throughout the city.