While Paris enjoys more worldwide recognition as a destination for French cuisine, the old city of Lyon is France’s true gastronomic capital. Gourmets know that the ancient Gallo-Roman city, while more understated and secretive than the French capital, harbours some of the world’s finest restaurants, wineries and local delicacies. Whether you’ve already visited or are yearning to discover the elegant capital of the Rhone region, read on to learn more about why the Lyon food and wine scene is so prized by gastronomes– as are the delicious and distinctive wines made in the Rhone Valley and beyond. Should you find it inspiring, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us so we can craft the perfect bespoke culinary tour in the area for you.
f you’re seeking to taste some of the best French cuisine has to offer, a trip to Lyon and its high gastronomic restaurants is definitely in order. Boasting an unusual number of Michelin-starred tables and chefs, Lyon’s finest restaurants are noted for melding tradition and innovation and for their focus on superb local ingredients. These are just a few of the most sought-after in the city and its surrounds:
Paul Bocuse Restaurant (Auberge du Pont de Collonges): Sadly, France recently lost one of its most famous chefs, Paul Bocuse, who passed away on January 20th, 2018 at the age of 91. The loss is a tremendous one for the French culinary world: Bocuse enjoyed decades of acclaim since he opened his signature restaurant in 1965, located 20 minutes outside of Lyon. The three-star Michelin restaurant draws gastronomes from around the world and is situated in a brightly coloured “auberge” that resembles a baroque theatre set. The menus, regal and elaborate, feature traditional and innovative dishes including seabass stuffed in puff pastry shell, truffle soup, Beaujolais winemaker’ s sherbet, Lyon quenelles with crayfish and braised veal sweetbreads with white Ivoire sauce. A destination no true gourmet should miss out on when visiting the region. Here’s to hoping that the restaurant remains open and thriving well into the future, carrying the legacy of the remarkable chef who established it. Bocuse is such a towering culinary figure, in fact, that he has long been referred to as the “pope of French gastronomy”: an honorific he is almost certain to keep for years to come.
La Mère Brazier: This restaurant in central Lyon has been a legendary gourmet destination since the 1920s, when Eugenie Brazier opened the establishment under her now-acclaimed name. The first woman to earn 3 Michelin stars (in 1933), Brazier notably served as a mentor to the young Paul Bocuse, and has long been regarded as an early 20th century master of French and Lyonnaise cuisine. Upholding her legend, it has won new accolades since Mathieu Viannay took the helm in 2008, earning two Michelin stars in the process. Known for his creative use of ingredients and eye-opening presentations– think Bresse chicken or lobster tail decorated with colourful purple broccoli and cauliflower, or cabbage stuffed with wild fowl and foie gras– Chef Viannay is certainly one of the stars of the Lyonnais culinary scene. The extensive wine cellar and adjoining wine bar affords the perfect opportunity to sample wines from the greater Lyon and Rhone region, and from other winemaking regions of France.
Pierre Orsi: This Lyonnais table helmed by the chef of the same name has one Michelin star, and a local reputation as one of the very best restaurants in the city for fine regional cuisine with a globalist twist. Unusually for Lyon, there are a number of fine vegetarian and even vegan options here, and the seafood and meat options are known to be exceptionally fresh and perfectly prepared. A wine list boasting 1,000 different bottles and varieties means you’ll be able to experience regional cuisine and wines all under the same roof. An understated gem where simplicity rhymes with perfection.
Lest you mistakenly believe we’re only recommending restaurants and eateries boasting Michelin stars, think again: one of Lyon’s strongest attractions as a culinary capital are its humble, family-owned restaurants, known locally as bouchons, serving regional specialities that are at once distinctive, simple and utterly gourmet. You might easily pass by some of these places without even paying them any notice, but they often represent some of the best of Lyonnais gastronomic culture.
What specialities should you try in priority, and where to find them? Probably most famous among the signature Lyon dishes is quenelles de brochette, a delicate, creamy dish made with white pike fish combined with flour and and smothered in lobster sauce or other varieties of creamy fish bisque. Additional versions are made with chicken, veal or even shrimp. To sample these surprisingly delicious, melt-in-your mouth specialities, head to Le Cafe du Peintre , a lauded bouchon that has gained a loyal local reputation for making some of the best quenelles in the city. Another address that comes highly recommended by local gourmets is the Cafe Comptoir Abel, appreciated for its entirely homemade quenelles.
Other gourmet items native to Lyon will please carnivores especially: veal head, tripe, andouillettes (homemade sausages made to a traditional recipe, and various pates populate the menus of many of Lyon’s most iconic bouchons. Bresse chicken and Charolais beef, raised in the environs of Lyon, are world-famous. But there are a few non-meat delicacies that feature in the city’s culinary scene, too: a lentil salad named “caviar de la Croix-Rousse” (after the hilly neighbourhood of the same name crowning the city’s heights) and gougères, delicious puff pastry filled with gruyere or other cheeses. Salade Lyonnais, or Lyonnais salad, a filling dish featuring poached egg and gourmet bitter greens, generally includes bacon but can be served without as well.
For more ideas on the best places to try authentic Lyonnais cuisine, see this article at the Guardian— and browse our advice on food markets further below.
Lyon is an ideal wine-tasting hub: situated at the crossroads of several prestigious French wine-making areas and appellations, the city affords easy access to numerous acclaimed vineyards and cellars around the Rhone Valley– and beyond.
Just south of Lyon is the Northern Rhone Valley winemaking area, celebrated for its Côte-Rôtie, Condrieu, Crozes-Hermitages and other marvellous wines, mostly made from Syrah and Viognier grapes. The vintnering tradition in the Northern Rhone Valley extends back two millennia, and these terroirs are prized for their unique mineral composition and soil quality. Some even say this might be France’ oldest winemaking area.letely Unique & Intimate
The Southern Rhone Valley, meanwhile, features warmer, Provencal-style climes and begins some 220 km from Lyon, near the hilly city of Avignon. The Côte du Rhone crus are produced here, made from a blend of numerous different grapes. Some of the more prestigious among these include Chateauneuf du Pape (red and white), Gigondas, Beaumes de Venise and Vacqueyras.
North of Lyon, the Burgundy region boasts some of France’s most acclaimed wineries in appellations such as the Cote de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune. For complex, utterly unique wines made in the true spirit of “terroir”, private wine tastings in the area are a must for oenophiles. See more about wine tasting in Burgundy and common mistakes to avoid here.
Also north of the city but only 35 km away, the Beaujolais area produces light, fruity reds whose new arrivals are celebrated each fall in lively festivals around the country. Numerous wines produced in the Beaujolais are spirited, unpretentious wines with wide appeal, but many of the Gamay varieties, including Brouilly and Fleurie, are noted for their complexity and depth.
Lyon isn’t only a draw card for its Michelin-star restaurants and intimate, authentic bouchons: the city also boasts some wonderful farmer’s markets and gourmet “halles” (traditional covered food halls) that are regular stomping grounds for chefs and gourmets in search of top-quality ingredients.
Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse is by far the most famous of these, named after the eponymous chef and boasting some five dozen stalls. From mouthwatering French cheeses of the worldwide renowned family-owned MOF MONS cheeses maturer or Mère Richard, one of France’s most celebrated cheesemakers, to fresh produce high-quality meat and fish, and local specialities such as quenelles and escargots sold at shops such as Maison Malartre, the gourmet possibilities here will make any foodie’s head spin.
First opened in 1859, the vast permanent market also houses onsite bakeries, florists, wine shops, chocolate shops, and a number of restaurants and bouchers. Whether you want to stock up for a gourmet picnic overlooking the Saone river or enjoy a gourmet lunch in the market among the cheerful market bustle, authenticity is always on the table– literally.
Another wonderful food market in the city is the Marché Saint-Antoine, featuring outdoor stalls that pop up along the banks of the Saone in Vieux Lyon (old Lyon) every week. High-quality produce, bread, cheese, pastries and local specialities are all on offer at this market, which is prized by locals. Some 140 vendors from around the Rhone Valley set up shop at the market, bringing the very best the region has to offer to the residents of the old city.
Far from flashy or glamorous, Lyon is a city whose local culture is not one of ostentation, but of reserved elegance. One of the reasons tourists tend to overshoot Lyon on their way to the South of France is that it doesn’t loudly advertise its own riches– including culinary ones. This, of course, only makes it the more coveted among gourmets in search of experiences off the humdrum tourist track.
Even among the French, the former Gallo-Roman capital has a reputation as a staid, rather bourgeois banker’s city. It’s easy to understand why many assume that there’s not much to see (or taste) in France’s third-largest city (after Paris and Marseille). But the truth is that Lyon, much like the coveted wine-making region of Burgundy, is secretive and difficult to penetrate. To really experience all it has to offer, you need local expertise and a desire for authentic contact.
As mentioned above, many of Lyon’s most treasured places for local cuisine and wine tasting are family-owned, unpretentious bouchons where snagging a table can be a challenge, or unassuming cellars in the middle of the countryside that may be difficult to visit without the help of someone with local savvy. This is why a private guide or concierge service is always recommended for any luxury getaway to Lyon and environs: you’re much more likely to have an in-depth, authentic and bespoke experience when you decide not to go it alone.
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If you’re ready to discover Lyon’ gastronomic riches and taste some of the region’s finest wines, don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss the possibilities. We’ll put together an entirely bespoke and exclusive food and wine tour of the city and its marvellous surrounding region.
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