"Where are you from?” asks a pretty French brunette girl carrying, I kid you not, a bottle of champagne and a baguette, perhaps hearing our excited chatter in non-native tongue.
"Australia!” we answer.
"Well then, welcome to Lyon!!” she says cheerfully and waves to us.
No she wasn’t an employee from the Lyon Tourism Office but just a friendly local. We had just travelled from Antibes to Lyon by Rail Europe’s TGV train, which is a four hour ride. The first class seats are comfortable and the journey is scenic. After I spent half the time writing, I spent the rest of the time sleeping. There is also a car that serves food from croque monsieur to hot dishes like duck parmentier and beef provenale.
After arriving in Lyon, where the weather is welcoming and warm, we were taking the walk to Caf De Fdrations, said to be one of the best bouchons in Lyon serving traditional Lyonnaise food, where we would be trying the specialities of the region.
Originally the name bouchon derived from post men on horses who would ride their horses hard and arrive at a restaurant for the evening. The horses would have to be washed and brushed and the action of cleaning the horses was called bouchon. A bouchon is a uniquely Lyonnaise experience where hearty food and a casual, jovial atmosphere surrounds. In Lyon, there are about 20 certified traditional bouchons but many other restaurants call themselves bouchons even though their menus don’t reflect that of a bouchon. Which I’m sure raises a manicured eyebrow.
Lyon is an area rich in food. There are 2000 restaurants in Lyon with a total of 31 Michelin stars at last count. Renowned 'chef of the century' Paul Bocuse hails from Lyon and the Les Halles markets have been renamed in his honour to Les Halles Paul Bocuse. His restaurant has been open in Lyon for 42 years and has held the Michelin stars for the entire time.
The tables in Caf De Fdrations are decked out in red and white checkered tablecloths. Pigs dominate the decor with large pink and white pigs sitting on the counter. A drawing of male pig sitting on a toilet reading a newspaper shows the location bathroom and a female lipsticked pig blowing a kiss provides those otherwise engaged with something to look at.
Booths make up many of the tables and we slide into one large booth at the back of the restaurant. Bottles of house wine in covetable bottles are brought to the table. One waitress, unamused and head mistressy alternates with her polar opposite, one that is genial and friendly. The owner, Yves Rivoiron comes to our table to greet us along with the other customers.
Our first taste hits the table and its a whole poached egg in a rich red wine and bacon broth. Absolutely delicious, the broth is full of flavour from the red wine and smoky bacon and is viscous but not thick. The centre of the egg is a deliciously runny yolk which is a nice, creamy contrast to the smoky soup.
Next were two types of sausage that they cure on the premises, rosetta sausage and a vritable saucisson de Lyon. One hangs next door at a length over a metre and reaches from the ceiling to the countertop. Both are hungrily snapped up and are served with cornichons.
The lentils are those fantastic de puy lentils that never get soggy and these are shiny as tiny black river stones. They come with a mustard dressing.
For mains, there is a choice of dishes to choose from with Lyonnaise specialties like black pudding with apple, chitterling sausages, stew of pork cheeks, calves head with ravigote sauce and for those wanting something a bit more middle of the road: chicken with vinegar.
A generous serve, at each place the tte de veau is slightly different. This comes as two rustic style thick pieces which are soft and jellied and mild in flavour and this is paired with a sauce ravigote. This is made with vinegar, mustard, herbs and capers and give the mild tasting meat a contrasting sauce.
The cheeks are tender and meaty and served with whole potatoes in a rich, thick red wine sauce. And yes the serve was as enormous as it looks!
The cheese course comes out next and includes a vache cheese, Saint-Marcellin cheese, a potted blue cheese blend, another blue cheese and a cheese round covered in dried olives. There was also a bowl of creme fraiche strong with chives and we eat this with the bread provided.
Dessert comes out as a share platter made up of praline pie, a crunchy sweet pie coloured pink that seems to be abundant in pastry shops here that is a must try. There is also chocolate fondant cake, Chartreuse ice cream, rum baba and a fruit salad in a jar. The praline pie, a lovely mix of crunchy, nutty and sweet is a favourite. And with that, a very happy and well fed bunch of travel writers made their way back to the hotel!
Lyon’s Hotel Royal was our home for the night with two of my favourite decorating themes: toile and dogs. It is an M Gallery hotel which means that each hotel is uniquely decorated. The theme downstairs in the lobby is blue with bulldogs, pugs and blue toile wallpaper and I make my way upstairs to my room on the third floor which is a corner room with a Juliet balcony overlooking the Place Bellecour and a little way in the distance is the Rhone River...
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