Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

Also, "a good day to you, sir/maam" for our American pals, "Ni Hao" to China, and "Здравствуй" to our Russian comrades, "etcetera etcetera and so forth"... (for Yul Brynner).

It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Now, what's on the bill of fare today?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lyon: The Two Faces of Food.

From Arles we travel North, via train past lush farms and nuclear power plants covered in paintings of children on the beach, to the culinary capital of “die Welt”. It’s here that Kit keeps running into Paul Bocuse, cream, and discovers that there’s more to food than meets the eye…

Lyon: cosmopolitan, rich, sunnier than Paris. Statuesque ebony women walk by in haute couture, rubbing shoulders with young men sporting military hair cuts and hip hop track suits, traditional old men in flat caps and women in brown scarves. This buzzing metropolis may not be the political capital of France, but it’s definitely the gastronomic capital of a country obsessed with food.

After the sleepy back waters we’d been travelling in, I was google eyed and licking my lips in anticipation of the delights that awaited us. All I could think was “Maitenant nous parlons, baby!”

Gastronomically, Lyon sits firmly north of the olive oil equator: i.e. everything comes in animal fat of one type or another. I also discovered one completely surprising thing about this gastro-capital. There are two types of food in Lyon (gasp!).

There’s the real type; with local markets, and friendly and cheap little restaurants the locals use (possibly with a preponderance of offal).

Then there’s the “theme park” Lyon eating scene, which is like going to Disneyland with a food theme that features cream and heavy going four courses. Painted harlot tourist restaurants ply their wares loudly on the strips, gathered together en force, shouting to jaded tourists “come into my palour”.

It kept reminding me of Luka in Cagliari saying: “Well, you could go to the touristy places, or you could go to a place that I’d eat”. And that pretty sums up the restaurant scene here.

First a quick thumbnail of the town itself. Sprawling in size, at the centre lies the ancient seat of Rome in Gaul on a hill (Languedoc), which was later the habitué of silk merchants in the Renaissance. Beside the old town lies a thriving retail and central business district sandwiched between the Saône and Rhône Rivers. Finally, there’s the new retail section in Part Dieu, around the main railway station next to which is a huge retail shopping centre akin to Chadstone.

There’s a palpable ebb and flow to Lyon society over the week, which climaxes with the mad bustle of Saturday shopping in the city. This gives way to leisurely markets on the river on a Sunday morning, the Sunday afternoon stroll around scenic areas, then the complete shut down of the city on a Sunday evening (“a proper Sunday” – as Anthonie at La Niche would describe it). Then it’s back to business as usual during the week, with the build up to Saturday.

How can you write a gourmet’s journey to Lyon without at least mentioning Paul Bocuse? Pardonez moi, mais ce n’est pas possiblement. Basically, Paul Bocuse owns Lyon.

Paul Bocuse is THE celebrity chef of the town. Avuncular, ancient (now in his mid-eighties), jovial, rich beyond the dreams of mere mortals, he made his name as a leading light in nouvelle cuisine, has cooked for Presidents and has been awarded the title ‘Chef of the Century.’

I first heard of Paul Bocuse through the Victorian Executive chefs’ organisation ‘Les Toques Blanches’, who sponsor and train a student to compete in the Bocuse D’Or, the world’s top chef competition.

His Michelin starred restaurant is located outside central Lyon. Those wishing to make a pilgrimage to the great man’s restaurant will need to take a trip by boat or road half an hour up the river. Apparently, he no longer ACTUALLY cooks there, but does come out and do hand shakes and photos with patrons.

Bocuse also has his own market in Part Dieu. I recall watching Maeve O’Meara’s terrific show French Food Safari (avec Guillame Brahimi), where they visited Lyon and “happened” to run into Paul Bocuse at the market. This should have been no surprise, since the man is a media machine and it is one of his private business affairs. Plus they rang ahead.

Want to find out more about the enigma? Visit his official site!

I leave it to you to decide which face of food Bocuse represents (see above).

On Sundays, there are markets – real markets - on either bank of the Saône.

On one side of the river lies the art market. Artists could variously be typified as:
“Oi make things out of wire, me!”
“Yeah hi, I’m a serious artist and would love to do your portrait if you could come to my studio… Oh her? She’s just my girlfriend, but don’t worry, it’s all art. You’ve got a great form for paint…”
“Hats! I’m just batty about felt hats!”

On the other side of the Saône on the Quai Saint Antoine lies a fresh produce market, which is absolutely amazing: chickens on rotisseries, goats cheese sellers, bakers, fresh fruit and vegetables, those yellow skinned chickens with the heads still on, ducks, oysters, you name it, it was there.

The produce market gets eight tentacles out of eight in my squidzy review scale (my first ever). French people, French food, a Francophile (moi), cheap, outdoors, beautiful. I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven.

There are signs on every second restaurant reading “original bouchon”, so I thought I’d better look it up just so I knew what was going on:

From Wikipedia:
The tradition of bouchons came from small inns visited by silk workers passing through Lyon in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

According to the dictionary Le petit Robert, this name derives from the 16th century expression for a bunch of twisted straw.[1] A representation of such bundles began to appear on signs to designate the restaurants and, by metonymy, the restaurants themselves became known as bouchons. The more common use of "bouchons" as a stopper or cork at the mouth of a bottle, and its derivatives, have a different etymology.

Since 1997, Pierre Grison and his organization, L'Association de défense des bouchons lyonnais (The Association for the Preservation of Lyonnais Bouchons), bestow annual certifications to restaurants as "authentic" bouchons.[2] These restaurants receive the title Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais and are identified with a sticker showing the marionette Gnafron, a Lyonnais symbol of the pleasures of dining, with a glass of wine in one hand and a napkin bearing the Lyon crest in the other.[3]

The following list, subject to some fluctuation as the certification is bestowed annually, contains most of the certified bouchons: Abel, Brunet, Café des deux places, Café des fédérations, Chabert et fils, Daniel et Denise, Chez Georges le petit bouchon, Les gones, Hugon, Le Jura, Chez Marcelle, Le Mercière, La mère Jean, Le mitonné, Le Morgon, Le musée, Chez Paul, Les Trois Maries, A ma vigne, and Le Vivarais.[3]

Here are some reviews of places we went to that rate a mention. None have websites (quel dommage!), so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Les Enfants Terrible
58 Rue Merciere, 2nd, Lyon, France
Tel: 04 7842 8813

Disneyland, here we come! Our first dinner was at a little restaurant around the corner, in the midst of many amazing looking restaurants, called ‘Les Enfants Terribles’. I opted for the Menu Gatromonique. From the various choices, I ended up with:
* snails and mushrooms, cooked in cream;
* steak with truffle infused cream and daubes of fois gras;
* my choice of cheese, which ended up being the stinkiest of drippy stinky cheeses; and finally,
* sliced pineapple (I begged for forgiveness from the waiter, and he brought it to me in the shape of my dessert).

I arrived back to our room as full as the proverbial. A strong six and a half tentacles with a recommended dose of antacid powder, Metamucil and a possible colonoscopy or heart bypass chaser.

Le Musee
2 Rue des Forces 69002 Lyon
Tel : 04 7837 7154

Le Musee – rated a marionette bouchon, was the top rated restaurant in Lyon by Trip Adviser. It was shut when we tried our luck. It was small, unpresupposing, and looked kind of homely, completely unlike the other larger more touristy restaurants nearby.

I suspect high tentacles and would recommend it to anyone who wants to go to a bouchon…

L’epicerie – Bistrot à tartines
2 Rue Monnaie, 69002 Lyon, France
Tel: 04 7837 7085

Frequented by young uni types, l’epicerie is a bistrot that specialises in “tartines”: basically toast with toppings, that you have with a salad and chase down with a dessert and coffee. It’s cheap as chips.

They had a couple of soups, and very French drinks (pastis, Cinzano cocktails), etc. It was simple and excellent. Jane had a chicken coleslaw on toast (with corn and mayonnaise), I had the pork spread traditional with cornichons, and we shared a green salad, half bottle of rosé, and washed down the lot with a coffee, and fantastic tart with cherries and blackberries, and a calvados.

The really nice thing here was the atmosphere: great service, young and upbeat, and a young, skinny, and local crowd – it felt more like what you would expect a bouchon to be. Cheap, friendly, warm, local and traditional.

Pukka. Six tentacles, an extra tentacle for the laissez faire environment, and a great idea for anyone thinking of opening a restaurant here in Melbourne.

So, sated (and with colds), we packed our bags and fell toward the finish line of our trip, Paris, trundling our bags onto the Metro and departing to the ‘Fuck You!’-s of a beggar (I told you it was a cosmopolitan city).

Next episode: Gay Paris, Capital of France!


Anonymous said...

Hee, I laughed out loud at this post, especially the colonoscopy with the bypass chaser. Keep the cholesterol coming Kit.
Fatty Arbuckle

Charlotte said...

Awesome pic! Jane, you look like an au natural bone fide Frenchie!!! Tres chic!