Lyon takes eating very seriously, as befits a town that proclaims itself the capital of French gastronomy. Here, traditional restaurants are called bouchons, casual places that have existed for centuries, decorated with bric-a-brac and lace curtains, where the tables are covered in paper and strangers sit elb0w-to-elbow.
The typical bouchon menu usually features a few classic dishes: salade Lyonnaise (frisée lettuce strewn with bacon and topped with a poached egg), pickled herrings, or clapotons (sheep’s trotters) to start; andouillette, tablier de sapeur (a sort-of chicken-fried tripe), tête de veau (poached calf’s head), or quenelles de brochet (a fluffy fish dumpling) to follow. The cheese course is often Saint-Marcellin — aged until fragrant and runny — or cervelle de canut, literally “silk-workers’ brains,” a farmer’s cheese blended with herbs.
Where to eat in Lyon?
Chez Hugon (12 rue Pizay, Lyon, tel: 04 78 28 10 94) is my favorite bouchon, a mother-son enterprise with nonchalant ambiance (fluorescent lights, paper napkins) and classic food prepared faultlessly. Try the poulet au vinaigre — chicken in a creamy sauce heightened with a splash of vinegar — or the divine quenelle de brochet, as light as a cloud, served in a puddle of langoustine sauce.
La Hugonnière (13 rue Neuve, Lyon, tel: 04 78 28 58 79) is a new offshoot of Chez Hugon, featuring more flexible hours (they’re open on Saturday) and a similarly delicious menu. For dessert, I loved the housemade moelleux au chocolat, a pudding-like chocolate cake encrusted with hot pink, crushed pralines, served warm from the oven.
La Voûte Chez Léa (11 place Antonin Gourju, Lyon, tel: 04 78 42 01 33) is more of a restaurant than a bouchon, and I found their quenelle a bit stodgy. But the salade Lyonnaise here is exceptional, a pile of frisée leaves tossed with lardons, garlic-rubbed croutons, and a coddled egg gently broken so that the soft yolk trickles into the crags of lettuce and bread.
Café des Fédérations (10 rue du Major Martin, Lyon, tel: 04 78 28 26 00) is a classic bouchon that has existed, as its sign proclaims, “depuis bien longtemps.” At €19.50, the set lunch menu is perhaps the greatest bargain left in France, its three courses offering a generous array of appetizers (local charcuterie, thinly sliced head cheese in vinaigrette, smoked mackerel pâté, lentil salad), a main course (the usual suspects: tablier de sapeur, steak, quenelle), cheese or dessert. Some criticize La Fédé for being too touristy, but when the atmosphere is this charming and the food this tasty, who really cares?
Plum Lyon (49 rue des Tables Claudiennes, Lyon) is a cooking school (not a restaurant) run by an American, the charming and knowledgeable Lucy Vanel. She’ll take you shopping in the city’s famous markets, bring you back to her home/teaching kitchen, show you how to prepare classic Lyonnais dishes, and lunch with you in her cozy dining room. The cheese board is especially exciting, laden with rare and delicious discoveries.
Where to sleep and shop in Lyon?
La Chambre d’Hugo (23 rue Victor Hugo, Lyon, tel: 06 18 38 27 68) is an eccentric chambre d’hôte housed in a classic Lyonnais apartment. There is just one guest room, elegant and serene, decorated in shades of pale grey, with linen curtains and beautiful parquet floors.
Mama Shelter Lyon (13 rue Domer, Lyon, tel: 04 78 02 58 00) is the latest outpost of the Philippe Starck-designed chain. The throbbing bar downstairs thumps late into the night, but the guest rooms are like cocoons, quiet with crisp white sheets and down comforters. Though the location is a bit far from the city center and space is cramped, prices are fairly moderate.
Marché Saint-Antoine (Quai St-Antoine, Sunday-Friday), which sprawls along the Saône River, is a gorgeous melange of fruits, vegetables, cheese, flowers, roasted chickens, and other produce that will make you want to rent a vacation apartment and cook and cook and cook.
Au Petit Vatel (1 rue Pierre Cornaille, Lyon, tel: 04 78 52 11 45), a traîteur owned by two brothers, Frank and Michel Vaivrand, is famous for their quenelles, dumplings made of soft, eggy, choux pastry that’s been beaten with pureed fish, traditionally pike. Cooked in advance, quenelles are considered a form of charcuterie — buy them prepared and puff them in the oven at home for a fast and decadent supper. (Lucy Vanel’s blog has a gorgeous photo essay on the quenelle-making process.)
Hungry for more? Today’s post is a companion to my new book, Mastering the Art of French Eating, a food memoir that Peter Mayle, the author of A Year in Provence, says is “very elegantly served. A really tasty book.”
And more from the series, Where to Eat in France.