With its rustic bouchon restaurants and prized peasant delicacies on every street corner, it doesn’t take long to work out why Lyon is hailed as “the stomach of France.”
As you huff and puff your way through Lyon’s mountainous streets, you really do feel that you’re high up in the Alpes, with the alpine-fresh air and inky green pine trees. The pastel-pink and peach buildings tumble down gushing streets, whilst boulangeries tempt you inside with seductive wafts of artisan breads and buttery croissants.
Here is my gastronomic guide to France’s culinary capital. Read on to discover the best places to eat in Lyon!
Les Halles Food Market, Lyon – A Foodie’s Pilgrimage
My hands trembled with excitement as we approached Les Halles food market. I’d heard so many tales of its magnificence and I was finally about to witness it with my own eyes. Boasting 59 elaborate food stalls, bars and restaurants, there is nothing mediocre about it.
There’s something very sophisticated about the way the food is laid out on black marble surfaces, and the way the staff dress in their branded uniforms, waltzing proudly from one end of their pitch to the other.
This really is the beating heart of Lyon’s buzzing gastronomy scene. Even the city’s very finest chefs come here, to Les Halles, to buy their produce for their restaurants. Don’t miss it.
Macarons – France’s Most Mysterious Pastry of All
Yes, pastries can be mysterious. Lyon, like most of France, is a polka-dot rainbow of these sophisticated little pastries. It’s unclear where they originated, but macarons became cemented in French culture during the French Revolution back in 1972 when a couple of Carmelite nuns started baking and selling them to the locals – cheeky little devils!
And now these sweet and somewhat mysterious little puffs of almond-paste-come-meringue-magic are one of France’s most prized culinary symbols.
If ever there was proof that food is art, you’ll find it here.
Le Fromage et le Vin – Cheese & Wine
It’s no surprise that Lyon is full of cheese; it is en France, after all. Whilst exploring Les Halles Market, be sure to visit the city’s favourite “cheese monger”, Renée Richard, and buy a wedge of her creamy St. Marcellins cheese, which is made just east of Lyon. Soft and salted on both sides, this mature cheese is perfect with a glass/bottle of the region’s Côtes du Rhône wine.
Châteauneuf du Pape
is probably the most famous of the Côtes du Rhônes, a complex and full-bodied red wine with aromas of vanilla, cinnamon and dark red fruits. Actually, it’s so famous and such a favourite of mine that I freaked out with excitement as we drove past a Châteauneuf du Pape sign, as if I’d just witnessed Michael Jackson moonwalking across the autoroute.
is another essential red wine of the Côtes du Rhônes, made just north of Lyon in the Beaujolais region. It’s a lighter and easier wine to drink. Naturally, I would recommend a bottle of each.
But don’t worry if you’re not much of a wine expert
Most of Lyon’s rustic restaurants will pretty much tell you what wine you’ll be drinking. I like that type of minimalist dining experience, it makes life so much easier. I remember going to a little restaurant on the Amalfi Coast in Italy once. There was one man who served as both waiter and chef; “Ciao! Wellahhh, it’sahh €45 per person for three courses. Do you like meatahhh or fishahh? White or red wine?” Then, based on our responses, he made a bespoke meal to fit.
Lyon’s Bouchon Restaurants – None of that Namby-Pamby Parisian Haute Cuisine…
Much as Paris has its trendy bistro scene, Lyon has the bouchon. That’s ‘boo-shon’, dear reader, not ‘bow-chon’ as you were reading it. Developed over many, many years, the bouchon was originally a place for Lyon’s silk workers to eat, and there remains something of a working-class style to the look and feel of these Lyonnaise legends.
Unlike the haute cuisine we typically associate with France, bouchons are far more relaxed and jovial, and it is highly important for the owner of a bouchon to have a close relationship with their guests. Bouchons are incredibly unpretentious, to the point that it is almost pretentious, if you know what I mean.
Focusing very much on meat – mainly pig meat and offal – traditional bouchons serve very heavy, rich dishes which celebrate ingredients like tripe, chicken liver and donkey snout.
It’s serious stuff and not for those of you with a weak stomach.
Important Bouchon Stuff
Back in ’97, L’Association de défense des bouchons Lyonnais (The Association for the Preservation of Lyonnais Bouchons) began certifying the city’s bouchons in an attempt to conserve the bouchon brand and heritage. As you may have already pondered to your clever self, there are in fact a few rogue restaurants which consider themselves to be legit bouchons even though they are not registered in Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais.
Don’t get too wrapped up in this “branding”, a good restaurant is a good restaurant, regardless of its official category.
We were recommended a classic Lyonnais restaurant called Le Pailleron, by our friends who live deep in the heart of Lyon, in Croix Rousse.
Would you like an aperitif to start with?” asked Madame, “I ‘ave a special one tonight which I ‘ave made myself using ze juice of ze lemon and aniseed…you know aniseed?
Served in tall vintage flutes, we sipped on them slowly and let the spicy and boozy overtones get to work. I caught Madame waiting for a reaction from behind the bar – “C’est bon!” I exclaimed with a very un-cool thumb in the air and a grin only a mother could love.
The friendly staff proudly served Lyonnais and Périgord specialties such as Salade Lyonaise – a classic green salad served with croutons, bacon and a fried egg – and a véritable andouillette de veau rôtie au four, which was a sausage about the size and diameter of a can of Coke filled with pig tract and an uncooked selection of intestines and other slithery goodness. Yes, my stomach really took a battering in Lyon.
I happily handed over a wedge of euro notes, I wouldn’t need to eat for the rest of the trip so I figured it was well worth sixty-something-euros. A quick sidestep passed a particularly excited lap dog and we were back in the stifling summer heat. Madame was standing out front with a shot glass of her night’s specialty in one hand and a flaming inferno in the other; “Au revoir! Merci beaucoup.”
Quenelles de Brochet – One of Lyon’s Most Famous Dishes
It’s unique in that I’ve never seen nor heard of it in any other city on earth. Quellenes are like little dumplings with the consistency of mousse or creamy mashed potatoes. They can be made with meat but are traditionally made with pike (or other white fish), and served with a heavy cheese sauce that looks like custard – talk about comfort food!
List of Recommended Bouchon Restaurants in Lyon, France
I haven’t eaten at all of these bouchons, but I have carried out some serious research and these are the ones that consistently appear on recommended lists when looking for the best bouchons in Lyon.
2 Rue des Forces
Tel: (33) 04 78 37 71 54.
Oxtail with red wine, lamb’s tongue, boiled chicken, tripe soup…
Approx Per Person: €20/£ 17.50; € 23/£ 20
8 Rue du Garet 69001 Lyon,
Tel: +33 4 78 28 30 46
Café du Jura
25 Rue Tupin
Tel: (33) 04 78 42 20 57
Try: Calf’s head, crepinette de pied de porc (pig’s trotter sausage), chicken liver gâteau.
Approx Per Person: €25
Café des Fédérations
8-9-10 Rue Major Martin
Tel: (33) 04 78 28 26 00
Try: Œuf en meurette (poached eggs in red wine sauce), boar terrine.
Approx Per Person: Lunch €20, dinner €20
7 Rue du Garet 69001 Lyon, France
Tel: +33 4 78 28 16 94