25 Jul Lyon: capital of gastronomy
I sneaked in a visit to Lyon just before the arrival of the summer heat wave – or la canicule as the French call it, when temperatures approach 40C degrees, and the locals seek the sea breeze or the mountain chill,
The word canicule comes from the Latin word for dog, or canis, and relates to the Dog Star, or Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky and which rises and sets from 22 July until 22 August – the hottest time of year. Hence the saying the ‘dog days of summer’.
This was my first visit to France’s gastronomic capital since 2016. I found a changed city. As philosopher Emanuele Coccia writes in Modern Alchemy, which I picked up in Arles: “What comes before does not always explain what comes after.”
Lyon, France’s second biggest, is at the confluence of two mighty rivers: the Rhône and the Saône. The city is less than 2 hours by train south of Paris, north of Marseille, and west of Geneva, and near the fields of Auvergne, the slopes of the Rhône and the foothills of the Alps.
I divide Lyon into four main areas.
- Vieux-Lyon – old Lyon, which rises up the west bank of the Saône, to the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourvière, a city landmark.
- Presqui’Île – ‘nearly an island’, between the Rhône and the Saône.
- The slopes at the northern end of Presqui’Île that lead up to the Croix-Rousse district, where the silk weavers of old used to live.
- East of the Rhône, towards the La Part-Dieu train station and below the Tete d’Or Park, the 6th arrondissement. A bourgeois district home to many top restaurants, and the city’s biggest park, la Tête d’Or.
My favourite spots in Vieux Lyon
The old city, on the left bank of the Saône, is a painter’s delight, with orange & russet pink buildings, narrow, windy, stone-flagged streets, and lots of little shops, ideal for buying presents, and cafés & restaurants with terraces overlooking picturesque squares. I come here to eat ice cream. My two favourite places:
- La Fabrique Givrée – the choice was two out of 17 ice creams and 16 sorbets. I had a Provence melon sorbet with a yoghurt ice cream from yoghurt from Ardèche, made by Bénédicte in Vals-les-Bains. 2022 marks the Givréversaire, the 10th anniversary of this exciting ice-cream company from the Ardèche regional natural park.
- Terre Adélice – this was where I had an ice cream back in 2016, and they are still going strong. Back then, I had two scoops: one of Bergeron Apricot and the other of Ardèche Gooseberry ice cream.
4 favourite spots in Presqu’ile – city centre
- PraiRiaL for a special lunch or dinner – see my blog post for more on this one Michelin star restaurant inspired by the regional terroir of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.
- Café Gonéo for coffee – the coffee of choice in Lyon in summer 2022. Only a few small tables in the street outside, or you can find them at Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. Un gone is the Lyonnais word for gosse, or young child.
- Café Terroir for good food & natural wine – a cavé-restaurant near the Théâtre des Célestins, Run by the son and daughter of Florence at the Café du Peintre (see below) in the 6th arrondissement. The food was good. I went for Tartare César (the meat slightly cooked on both sides) with Charolais beef. A speciality is also roasts. Excellent selection of natural wines… but… the bad service started with my dry bread … “I saw [the waiter] cut the bread,” said the sommelier, when I said I was deçue about my experience. On the menu is also the Lyonnais speciality of Cervelle de Canuts, which translates as the brain of the silk weavers. (Lyon was once famed for its silk.) It is a soft cheese spread with herbs, shallots and vinegar – perfect for a hot day. I would go back for the produce, not the service.
- Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon for a quiet spot – overlooking the Place des Terreaux, and near the town hall. The tree shaded courtyard is a pleasant place to spend a moment away from the busy streets. I was at the museum to see the Eric Poitevin exhibition, on until the end of August, for those in Lyon in the ‘dog days’.
3 favourite spots on the slopes
I’ve never climbed to the top of the hill to the Croix-Rousse district, where the silk weavers used to live. Too many things to do and see on the way up there. My favourite spots are all in or around the Place Sathonay, a square is shaded by chestnut trees.
- Récoltant-Manipulant for natural wine – more of a shop with some tables outside than a bar, RM is my favourite (natural) wine shop in the world. It was opened by Myriam Chaperon just before my first visit in 2016, after her return from London, where she worked at the Bubbledogs champagne bar. Twice over my 2022 stay did I walk 30 minutes there and 30 minutes back to buy much-appreciated wine to share with others. As for the name, it refers to wine producers who also sell their own wine.
- Micro Sillon for when you can’t go to Biarritz – a ‘sister’ destination to RM. Micro Sillon calls itself a ‘cellar to eat’. It’s in the neighbouring Place Fernand Rey. Here I sat at the bar with some olives and a glass of VDF- Reviens Gamay 2022 (a play on reviens jamais – never come back) produced by Sylvain Bock, who I had met by chance in Paris a few years back. Micro Sillon was set up by Mathieu Rostaing-Tyard, who was behind Sillon, one of Lyon’s hot tickets back in 2016. He has since relocated Sillon to Biarritz.
- Tom & Co. Micro-Brewery – I am not a beer fan, but I really took to the basil beer… second from the right in the picture below. You can buy beer here, and taste it, but it’s not a bar. The brewery uses local and organic ingredients.
Other places in the neighbourhood on the slopes up to the Croix-Rousse district include: Sur Le Bout de la Langue for ice cream; La Boîte à Café for coffee by local roaster Café Mokxa; and Maison Marie Tounette for a small, ‘natural’ hardware store.
Knocked for a gastronomic six in Lyon
Some of Lyon’s best restaurants are in the 6th arrondissement. However, I was horrified to see that the box plants outside two Michelin star La Neuvième Art both had box blight, and had not been replace.
My favourites are:
- Café du Peintre for lunch – Talk about Lyon & food, & most people will mention the bouchon Lyonnais. These were the taverns that fed the workers, the canuts, who worked in the silk factories for which Lyon was so famous. Now there are hardly any silk factories & a large number of bouchon. They are about local, hearty food, & offal… which I tend to avoid, being slightly squeamish about such things. My favourite is Le Café du Peintre, with Florence Perier in the kitchen and her son Maxime in charge of the wine. Florence buys the produce fresh every morning in the market The set three-course menu is €25.
- Takao Takando – A two Michelin star restaurant featuring “French cuisine created and assembled by a chef born in Japan”. Only two other restaurants have two Michelin stars: La Mère Brazier (in Presqu’Île) and Le Neuvième Art (in the 6th). See my blog post on Takao Takando, written in 2016, when Takao had just one Michelin star.
- Le Passe Temps – The chef behind this one Michelin star restaurant is South Korean Younghoon Lee, a graduate of the Institut Paul Bocuse, and who has worked at Bocuse’s L’Auberge de Collonges (a two Michelin-starred restaurant in the Lyon area), among others.
My last three favourites in the 6th are not restaurants:
- Les Gasteliers – a gluten-free bakery with the most amazing cakes and Gones coffee. I had Le Pecheur Mignon (the cute sinner), with yellow peaches, sablé biscuit, orange flower mousse, and an infusion of verbena. No wheat flour – rice and chestnut.
- Maison Deschamps – an organic bakery where the hazelnut croissants, olive flutes and linseed crackers where my favourites. Open 7 days a week. A blessing for a French city. Good music. Very friendly staff.
- Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse – Still worth a visit, but since 2016 it has turned into a gastro hub rather than a food market. I had wanted to go back to Maison Merle for a dozen Fine de Claires oysters with a glass of Macon, but they were closed for summer holidays, even before 14 July.
And then for a welcome evening breathing spot during the canicules of summer: the Tête d’Or Park – a 105-hectare park, which is why so many people choose to live in the 6th.
Final spin on Lyon
Have I done gastronomic Lyon justice? Hardly. One place I wanted to get to, but I extended my stay in Marseille, and cut back my time in Lyon, was Sapnà, which means ‘dream’ in Hindi, very close to the Place Sathonay. This is the new, Asian-inspired restaurant of Arnaud Laverdin and his gang who, when I was in Lyon in 2016, ran the hugely popular La Bijouterie, just round the corner, and now closed.
The good thing about visiting Lyon during a canacule is that the locals have fled the city, and – if it is open – you might just get a table.