Even before booking our trip to Lyon in France, I heard about the city’s magnificent culinary culture and its history of renowned chefs, with the legendary Paul Bocuse at the top of the list.
I don’t consider myself a foodie per se, but I do appreciate whenever I can enjoy a great meal that leaves a lasting impression in my palate – especially if it’s representative of the local culture or place I’m visiting. Hence, my dilemma while in Lyon: Should I venture out in search of a unique meal experience with my extremely picky young eater? Or resign myself to eating at home and/or at casual kid-friendly places?
I had a few other concerns about eating out in the city. On one hand, there was the language barrier. While I understand some basic French (and kept my Google Translate app at hand), French menus intimidate me. And, at least in Lyon, I didn’t come across many menus in English. Also, I didn’t feel comfortable asking a lot of questions to French servers, so that made the idea of ordering a meal quite stressful. On top of that, I was worried that it would be hard to keep my six-year-old entertained at the table for any extended period of time to allow me to actually enjoy a decent French meal.
Thankfully, all of my worries vanished after meeting some wonderful expats – a single dad and his young daughter – who didn’t mind introducing us to some of the local gems we probably would have missed otherwise, including eating at an authentic bouchon lyonnais.
Far from fancy, authentic Lyonnais cuisine is humble in its origins and extremely functional. Traditional dishes are prepared using fresh seasonal fish, meats and produce from the local market, and following the principle of “nothing goes to waste.” Add to that a pot (half-pitcher) of regional Beaujolais wine, and you are on your way to a meal that will leave you wanting to do nothing else afterwards.
My Bouchon Lyonnaise Experience
“We peel, we bone, we simmer, we cook,” reads a mirror at Les Fines Gueules, the intimate bouchon in Vieux-Lyon where we ate. The chef here spent 11 years working with Michelin-starred Master Chef Paul Bocuse before opening his own restaurant.
On the menu: Cassolette de Tripes de Boeuf (beef tripe cooked with vegetables, white wine and garlic); Pieds de Cochon (breaded pig’s trotter loaf with mushrooms and veal sauce); Tête et Langue de Veau sauce Gribiche (veal head and tongue poached in a sauce); Escargots de Bourgogne (Burgundy snails) – you get the idea.
I have to admit that I went for the less adventurous menu choices, settling down for a flavorful Salade Lyonnaise (baby greens, thick bacon, and a poached egg) and the fantastic Quenelle de Brochet Artisanale Bisque d’Etrilles Maison, a pike fish soufflé with bisque crab sauce simply to die for.
Having never heard of a fish soufflé, I didn’t know what to expect, but boy, was I in for a treat! The strange fluffiness of the fish combined with the light crab sauce and hints of cinnamon and/or other spices – it all came together as this mouth-watering delightful new food pleasure. I ate the whole thing, and also part of the Gratin des Ravioles de Romans (mini ravioli gratin, topped with cheese and a creamy oyster mushroom sauce) that my mini-me refused to even try.
For dessert, I tried the Cervelle des canuts (silk worker’s brains), local cottage cheese served with herbs, shallots, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar – not your typical sweet course – and the Tarte aux Pralines, a sugared almond pie that is a local specialty but compared to the Cervelle des canuts, was way too sweet for my taste.
So what’s a bouchon? Simply put, a bouchon is the type of cozy place, traditional of Lyon, where you go to enjoy a hearty and tasty homemade meal prepared using fresh and easily accessible local ingredients. Typically, bouchons offer a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, with décor that makes you feel in a home-like environment, where you can enjoy good food and wine, in good spirits.
In Lyon there are many restaurants that call themselves bouchons, however, only 22 of those are certified by Les Bouchons Lyonnais Association, the official organization representing restaurateurs committed to preserving the heritage and authenticity of the bouchon culinary tradition. Certified restaurants use the Association’s logo: the image of a puppet known as Gnafron, dating back to 1808, who loves Beaujolais wine and is considered to be a “bon vivant.” Choosing a certified bouchon is a guarantee of a quality and authentic Lyon-style meal.
A Kid-Friendly Oasis in Lyon
Making friends with the locals also led us to Monplaisir Côte Cour, just the right place to have dinner at a moderate price while the kids played in the children’s room next door.
Conveniently close to the Musee Lumière, in the 7th arrondissement, Monplaisir Côte Cour has a lovely terrace and a whole separate room where kids can play with puzzles and other toys. The ambiance was cozy and relaxed, and the staff extremely kind and patient.
There, we were treated to delicious flat bread with locally-grown vegetables, courtesy of the house. It was so good that I was afraid I wasn’t going to leave enough room for my main entrée: traditional steak frites. Yum!
The burger from the kids’ menu (menu enfant) was exceptionally good, too. I enjoyed the food and the wine, but most of all, the excellent service and every effort made to assure that we, the parents, could unplug for a moment and savor our meal without concerns about the children being too loud or too anything. The night ended with a free shot of their home-brewed Rum – a perfect blend of cinnamon and vanilla that went down as smoothly as the evening.
Have you visited Lyon? Did you try a traditional bouchon lyonnais? What was your favorite dish?