"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 traveled 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 provençale.
After arriving in Lyon, where the weather is welcoming and warm, we were taking the walk to Café De Fédérations, 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 2,000 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 Café De Fédérations 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.
Meurette (egg soup)
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 véritable 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.
De puy lentils
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.
Tête de veau calves head
A generous serve, at each place the tête 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.
Stew of pork cheeks
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.
View from my window
My room is decorated in red toile and furnishings and has a comfortable, big bed. There is free wifi in the rooms and in the bathroom is a range of Fragonard toiletries in two fragrances including shampoo 2 in 1, body lotion, bath salts, body wash and soap. I couldn't quite figure out how to use the shower head to use the second one and the hot water tap didn't work but apart from that there were robes, slippers and soft towels.
The area around the hotel holds some serendipitous finds and we discovered that the best places were ones down quiet looking streets. We found a cool vintage store called Leonard with some amazing shoes in pristine condition as well as a good range of men's vintage clothing.
Quality men's and women's vintage at Leonard
Goodies to go at Chorliet
Another cheese store La Crémerie de Charlie had cheese that was made on site and showed the number of miles as "0" for some of the cheeses. We tried a thimble sized vache cheese which is served as an aperitif and it was fabulously tangy, creamy and dry.
Displays of cheese at La Cremerie de Charlie
Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
About 10-15 minutes walk or a short bus ride away from the square on the C9 bus is the famous Les Halles de Paul Bocuse markets which is worth a visit. Recently renovated, the nearly 60 stores inside are sleek and neat with prettily presented goods. Prices are not too bad however and there are some stand out stores that are known to locals. At 9:30am it is quiet but later on in the day and weekends sees the most patronage.
Bahadourian is a spice store that sells wonderfully exotic pastries like pigeon pastilla and a glorious range of glistening glacé fruit. Each piece is cooked in sugar syrup and then left for three days and then cooked again. The fruit including barbery figs and prickly pear comes in a range of luscious hues and you just want to dive in and try them all. Some of the figs are stuffed with foie gras and almonds and there are even entire whole glacé pumpkins.
Oh and speaking of foie gras, well there is no shortage of the controversial item here. Lobes of foie gras are available alongside a range of foie gras mousses and pates. I try one with gingerbread for 2.50 and it is good and I'd imagine it would be great spread on some toast although I think you're just meant to eat this with the spoon provided.
Sibilia is headed by Colette Sibilia, the charismatic doyenne of the Les Halles markets. Considered as the Mere Lyonnaise or the Mother of Lyon, she has spent over 40 years working at the markets. Her store Sibilia sells an enormous range of pork and meat based charcutierie and other products including one item called cervalas sausage with pepper and pistachios which are sliced up and cooked and served with beans.
Another specialty item is the poultry from Bresse which is sold at a few stores here. The poultry is sold with the head still on with some feathers attached. A ring on the left leg shows the name and addressses of the breeder, a seal on the base of the neck shows the name of the slaughter operator and there is also a special Bresse poultry label. The poultry, poulard, capon, is either male or female and comes from the "Gauloise de Bresse" breed and is fed on dairy products as well as corn, wheat and cereals grown exclusively in Bresse.
Their feed is supplemented by natural feed found in the meadows. Each chicken gets 10 square metres and they eat larvae, worms, insects as well as grass. After at least four months they are then kept in 10 or so days in a coop. The meat varies between breeds but is renowned for being superb.
Troiliertis one of the most well known butchers in the area
Well you know why I like visiting France right? The pastries and chocolate! And there are plenty of chocolatiers here including Richard Séve who was recently named one of the best chocolate makers in France although the cakes also caught my eye.
I bought a "tamaro" to take back to the hotel with me for breakfast and the inside was chocolate mousses studded with croustillant pearls (tiny crunchy balls) on top of a chocolate financier soft almond cake layer. It is then covered with a fine mist of chocolate and the ball on top contains a tangy passionfruit sauce.
How beautiful are these praline tarts? In 1905, a master pastry chef started a shop in Champagne Mont d'Or and inspired by the rose gardens in the region, tinted the pralines a similar pink in his copper mixing machine. This proved a hit with customers and the rose hued praline tart was born.
After several changes of ownership, in 1991, Richard and Gaëlle Séve bought the patisserie and found the original machine downstairs, neglected over the war years. They revived and modernised the recipe after consulting with the master pastry chef's descendents. The almonds are roasted prior to coating with red sugar and vanilla.
Le Mere Richard is a cheesemaker that specialises in the creamy Saint-Marcellin cheese, which we tried last night.
Before we make our way to the next leg of the Hidden France journey with Rail Europe, we visit Le Silk at the Sofitel for a quick lunch. Situated along the Rhone River, past the floral bouquet sculpture above, Le Silk is situated on the ground floor and there is also an outdoor dining area.
Emperor Angelfish with sesame seeds and sauce vierge
We choose from a alternate two course menu and the sun warms us up. The angelfish is a white fish served moist and coated in toasted sesame seeds. It sits on a bed of moreish zucchini noodles, pickled radishes, yellow capsicum and cherry tomatoes which is dressed in sauce vierge which is a vinegar, oil and herb sauce.
Supreme of poultry with tarragon and potatoes
There were three components to the cafe gourmand, a cup of strong black coffee, a strawberry salad dressed in a sweet strawberry sauce, a chocolate fondant and a delicious creme brulee with a toffee crust. A fittingly sweet ending to this food rich city.
So tell me Dear Reader, which markets have really impressed you? And when you travel, do you like casual dining like bouchons or fine dining?
NQN travelled as a guest of Rail Europe.
Rail Europe is the exclusive distributor of the France Rail Pass in the world. www.raileurope.com.au
Café De Fédérations
8 Rue du Major Martin 69001 Lyon, France
Tel: +33 04 78 28 26 00
20 Place Bellecour 69002 Lyon, France
Tel: +33 04 78 37 57 31
Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
156 Rue Garibaldi 69003 Lyon, France
Tel: +33 04 78 62 39 33
Le Silk Brasserie
20 Quai Docteur Gailleton 69002 Lyon, France
Tel: +33 04 72 41 20 20