It was only a short 3-night trip to Burgundy but my friends Di and Tam filled it with some wonderful outings, always with an eye to good food and wine, and so it felt like a really good break. My flight home from Lyon on Friday wasn’t until late afternoon and so the plan was to look round Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) in the morning, take a trip up the funicular for a view, have lunch, and then they’d drop me at the airport.
Well, as we know, ‘the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry’ (Robert Burns, translated from Scottish). A bouchon – traffic jam – doubled our journey time into Lyon from their home further north, past Macon, and thus by the time we’d parked in Lyon, the funicular ride and various other plans had to be dropped. Instead we just took a short stroll round Vieux Lyon near the restaurant where a table had been booked for lunch. It was however a lovely little walk. This was a different part of Lyon to where they took me last year and I loved it. I even contemplated that another time I should spend a couple of days in Lyon and combine it with a visit to them.
Vieux Lyon is the largest Renaissance district of Lyon and one of the most extensive Renaissance districts in Europe. It was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. The 5th arrondissement – where we were – was created in 1852 as one of five inaugural districts of Lyon and today is the most iconic and a major tourist attraction. Situated on the west side of the city, the 5th arrondissement lies at the base of the Fourvière Hill.
Lyon was established as Lugdunum in 43BC, a Roman colony built as a strategic location at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers, and four major roads were built around 20C leading out to important destinations, including the English Channel. Lugdunum became a prosperous economic centre of Gaul (later France) and the most inhabited area was around Fourvière Hill. Despite this important history, the area was almost demolished to make way for new roads and concrete buildings in the sixties, partly due to its sad state following a partial collapse of the Fourvière Hill in 1930, which killed 40 people. However, local inhabitants fought the mayor’s plans and the 5th arrondissement was saved. Which today visitors to Lyon can also be grateful for, as it’s a beautiful area.
It is, of course, given the city’s and Burgundy’s rich history of food and wine, a great place for the gourmand. Lyon is sometimes called the food capital of the world. Its traditional food is quite heavy and rich and definitely for meat lovers: andouillette (a sausage made from coarsely cut tripe), lots of things made from parts of pig, including their intestines; tête de veau – braised calf’s head. It you want to go native Lyonnais, eat in a Bouchon – no, not a traffic jam! But an informal restaurant serving typical, simple Lyonnais food, traditionally cooked by ‘mothers’ – les Mères Lyonnaises.
To be honest, this kind of cooking is not really my thing – especially in the middle of a heatwave! Thus Di and Tam suggested we go to Les Adrets, which they’d discovered by chance one day and liked a lot. It offers traditional Lyonnais food but of a ‘milder’ kind.
Where would you find a more typical French restaurant-brasserie? Just one look and if you love French food then you have to go in. Of course, this area of Lyon is full of similar restaurants and no doubt some are wonderful and some very disappointing. How do you choose? I was glad I had experts as my guide!
There is just one menu at lunchtime – Menu du Jour – at a bargain €18.50 for 3 courses including wine (25cl) and coffee. When my friends first discovered it in winter months, there was no choice at all – you just ate what was put before you. But now there was a choice – though only 2 starters, 2 main courses and then fromage blanc, cheese (a soft cheese speciality of Lyon – Cervelle de Canut – fromage blanc flavoured with herbs, shallots, olive oil and vinegar) or dessert. Saying it was a limited choice isn’t a complaint! How can you argue with such a bargain and I was happy to eat any of the dishes.
We were given a table close to the open windows which was perfect in the warm weather. There was no air con but in the long old building with wide open doors and windows, it was cool enough to be comfortable. The local wine – no label – was put on the table and we were told the menu – no written one, though I had photographed the day’s menu outside.
While we waited for food we sought out the toilets. Not something I usually bother to mention but when you have to ascend a stone medieval spiral staircase to go to the loo, then it must be worth a photo!
I chose a Salade Lyonnaise for my starter – bitter leaves like frisée, lardons, croûtons, a poached egg and vinaigrette. This is my kind of Lyonnaise cooking and I really enjoyed it. Di and Tam meanwhile went for Tarte au Veau et aux Cèpes – a tart of veal and porcini mushrooms, which they also liked a lot.
My main was Dos de Cabillard, Sauce, Safran, Fragola de Blé – cod in a gorgeous saffron cream sauce with fragola – a kind of small cubed pasta. It was wonderful. I’d had fish for lunch (through choice) three days in a row and although all had been good, this was the best. Di and Tam meanwhile tucked into Filet Mignon de Cochon, Sauce Miel et Curry, Mousseline de Patates Douces – pig filet mignon with a honey and curry sauce served with puréed sweet potato. They said this was exceptionally good. It also prompted a conversation with an American couple at the next table who’d ordered the same and we had a good chat for a while.
There was a slight mix-up over dessert due to the waitress trying out her English which was mixed with our less than perfect French. But no matter. My ice cream was delicious and a nice way to end the meal. The coffee was very good too.
It was an excellent meal and just a perfect place to head to in Lyon for a traditional but not too rich Lyonnais meal. In the evening, they offer a couple more menus and more choice. Anytime I’m in Lyon again I’m definitely going back!
It was a great way to end the holiday. We made our way back to the car over the Saône.
Then it was time to get to the airport and my flight home – another kind of traffic jam bouchon due to the thunderstorms raging over London, which caused a 2-hour delay. But after such a nice break, I managed to remain calm and philosophical about it and was merely content to have spent three lovely days in beautiful Burgundy with nice friends.