Much delayed but newly relevant (as some friends were asking me about Lyon), it’s high time I published a description of a city I visited earlier this year and greatly enjoyed.
Lyon, about 400 km southeast of Paris and accessible by supergroovy double-decker high-speed trains (the TGV Duplex – I love two-storey trains, crave scenic trips in observation cars, but only ever get to ride on suburban versions (Sydney, Holland, Ontario), so a snazzy double-decker really does it for me!).
Anyway, as I was saying, Lyon is 400 km from Paris, is the main city of the Rhône-Alpes region (think Beaujolais), and is renowned for its pig-intestine sausages, andouillette, and its proximity to the home of Valrhona chocolate (in Tain-Hermitage) — ok that’s just my bias showing. Lyon is/was also the home to a weaver’s rebellion, a stunning textiles museum, has lots of groovy hidden passageways to get lost in (if you find the entry button on the hidden doorways in the first place), a scenic position and some fancy churches, trompe-l’oeil wall paintings, a good gastronomic bookshop, and a surfeit of homewares/decoration shops.
For a Melburnian, there was the added attraction of streets in a grid system (many Melburnians find bendy-street cities like Sydney, London, you-name-it hard to navigate… must be why I like Kyoto and central Lisbon;) ). Very liveable, as one says.
I stayed at Hotel Saint-Vincent, convenient to the old quarters (a bridge away) and the Place des Terraux (town hall, opera, shops). The hotel was simple (two-star) but adequate, though the lovely wooden floors made for lots of creaking as guests moved around and earplugs were necessary. The Russian toiletries were an interesting touch.
I was in Lyon for four evenings (a relevant way of describing it, given my obsession with food), but could only face two full restaurant dinners, alas. However, the dinners I chose to have were exceptionally good choices! Not high-end dining, but delicious hearty fare, well executed. The first dinner was at La Machonnerie. I had scouted out the menu earlier in the day and it looked very tempting. Seeing that the city was overflowing with tourists, I knew I’d have to dine early, so arrived at 6.30 (unusually early for me and for the French). The restaurant was empty, but the place was absolutely booked out. I looked as disconsolate as I could and the waitress took pity on me, offering me a little table squeezed into the back corner near the kitchen door. So nice of her!
Dinner consisted of
- grattons – ‘pork scratchings’; cold, rather greasy pieces of pork rind, fromage blanc and good rye bread
- salade lyonnaise – a generous salad of lettuce, lardons, croutons, poached egg, horseradish dressing
- saucisson cuit – a thick, pleasantly porky cooked sausage on a bed of puy lentils cooked with onion in red wine. Delicious!
- wine – a fillette (375 ml) of côte du Rhône; finally a decent house red!
- sorbet de cassis – blackcurrant sorbet with a serious splash of marc de bourgogne poured over it (helpful article about marc at NYTimes). A bit harsh at first, but after a little evaporation the combination of grape spirit and blackcurrant worked very well.
A grand total of EUR 28 (A$ 47) made this quite a steal, especially in a rather touristy establishment (the clientele was mostly Japanese, American, British and Swiss, with one English-speaking waitress). This isn’t fancy food, but it was enjoyable, hearty and the atmosphere and service were pleasant.
The second dinner was even better. Oft-mentioned in guidebooks, a popular restaurant in typical traditional Lyon style, called a bouchon, is the Comptoir Restaurant des Deux Places (Tel: 04 78 82 95 10; 5, Place Fernand-Rey, 69001 LYON). The interior was so French you might have feared a tourist cliché, but it was genuinely atmospheric and many of the guests were regulars.
Dinner consisted of
- langue d’agneau tiède, sauce ravigote – large slices of lamb’s tongue, served cold with a sauce of chopped capers, herbs, onion, stock and vinegar
- andouillette et sa marmalade d’echalottes, pommes dauphine – traditional pork sausage made with pork intestine, both sweet and salty (almost disarmingly like a breakfast chipolata, though this makes me sound like a heathen), quite porky and with a visual texture of something between a coarse terrine and bubble-and-squeak, due to the strips of intestine (rather disconcerting! Gory picture here). Lusciously rich potatoes and tasty shallot confit too:)
EUR 30 (A$ 51) with some wine. Reasonable value for the quality and atmosphere, making allowance for the effects of its guidebook popularity. Again, hearty and enjoyable.
Now, regular readers are probably wondering where on earth the cakes, chocolate and other sweet comestibles have vanished too in this travel report… Yes, I’m witholding information! Naaaaturally, I ate ice-cream (pain d’epices (gingerbread) and a stunning, earthy rhubarb), munched on chocolate and tried the cakes from the premier pâtisserie/traîteur Pignol, but most of what is reportable there will appear in an article in a few days’ time (sorry!).
I can, however, tell you a little about the market. Lyon is a gastronomic haven, with many open-air markets and one large covered market. This marché couvert, Les Halles de Lyon, is a quite modern building with many rows of merchants (the grid theme again!) selling a wide range of edibilia, from meat to cheese to wine to spices. An impressive place and sure to be bustling if you don’t arrive straight after the lunch break (sigh!).
A much smaller city than Paris, of course, Lyon has a surprisingly comfortable feel to it. For the culinarily inclined, the presence of a wide variety of markets, food shops, chocolatiers and an astounding number of restaurants makes this a very attractive place.