After our Eastern European adventures we were off to France, the culinary epicenter.
Our first destination in the land of fine wine, baguettes, and cheese, was Lyon which is the third largest city in the country. What interested me in Lyon was their gastronomy and cuisine and I knew it was a city I had to visit.
Our Airbnb was located off a cute square near the hip Vieux Lyon district.
Since we arrived in the late afternoon, we only had an hour to walk around the city before our dinner reservation. The Temple du Change, the former stock exchange built in the 17th century, was in the square near our apartment. We walked across the Saône river to Place des Jacobins, one of the most popular squares in the city with a beautiful fountain dating back to the 1500’s. A few minutes away is Place Bellecour, the biggest square within the city center and the third largest in the country.
Our first dinner in Lyon was at La Mère Jean, a traditional Lyonnaise restaurant. This place is tiny, holding about 25-30 seats so reservations are a must. The menu is only in French, of course, and the waiters didn’t translate the menu so we spent a good 15 minutes googling all the items.
Tiny restaurant down a cute alleyway.
La cervelle de canut, a traditional Lyonnaise dish, is a spreadable Formage Blanc cheese dip flavored with herbs. It was slightly tangy and quite delicious with the boiled carrots and potatoes served on the side.
Of course we had to get a Lyonnaise salad…it’s a classic! With crunchy buttery croutons, large lardons of fatty bacon, fresh herbs, and of course a runny egg on top, it’s hard not to like this salad.
The French people definitely like their meat cooked less compared to what we’re accustomed to in the states. This hanger steak was cooked “medium rare” but it was quite rare in the middle but it didn’t bother me. It was smothered in a cheese sauce and served with the best potatoes au gratin.
Quenelle de Brochet is without a doubt one of the most iconic Lyonnaise dishes. Made with pike fish, the quenelle is basically a delicate fish mousse that’s airy and luscious. The fish dumpling is wrapped with puff pastry and served with a creamy crawfish sauce. Divine!
I love any type of potato preparation but this might be the best potato au gratin I’ve ever had. The layers of potato were so flavorful and tender and had those crispy bits from broiling the top.
I wanted to love their traditional dessert since they are so proud of it but it was so cloyingly sweet. Tarte aux praline is basically just caramelized sugar that’s so sticky and sweet with a pastry crust.
The next day we visited Fromagerie Didier Galland, a beautiful shop with a plethora of cheeses…my heaven. We asked the cheesemonger to pick a few cheeses (sheep, goat, and cow cheeses) that we could sample. We ended up buying five types of cheese, all superb, that we enjoyed with a loaf of bread and some salami for lunch.
Lyon has several gorgeous colorful murals throughout the city and the Mur de Canuts is one of the largest frescos. After admiring the artwork, we walked to Cour des Voraces known for its six floor stairway facade and the ruins at the Amphitheater of the Three Gauls. Another well-known fresco is Fresque des Lyonnais where chef Paul Bocuse is even depicted! Lastly, we went to the 16th century Saint Nitizer Church along the river.
The following day we went to Bernachon, a well known pastry shop to sample a few treats. We ended up trying an apricot pastry, a chocolate éclair, and a croissant.
On our hike up we passed by the Lyon Cathedral and finally made it to La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière which overlooks the city. By far the best viewpoint! Nearby is the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière, a Roman amphitheater that dates back to 15 BC that’s in great shape. We also ran into the cutest little puppy so we had to take a photo of course.
Our final night in Lyon we dined at Takao Takano, a two Michelin starred restaurant with a Japanese chef. The cuisine is modern French but with a Japanese approach where they offer two tasting menus at 65€ or 100€. The table doesn’t need to order the same menu so we ordered one of each to try more dishes.
The restaurant itself is quite small, probably less than 30 seats.
What a fantastic way to start the meal. Reminiscent of a Japanese dish called chawanmushi, this silky custard had a thin veil of rich beef broth and topped with smoked mackerel and fresh aromatic herbs such as shiso. Since the mackerel was lightly smoked, it didn’t have that overpowering fish flavor that mackerel can have.
A crudo of sweet tender langoustines with perfectly diced fried potato pieces, a bright citrus dressing, and a little dollop of briny caviar.
Asparagus season is upon us! Perfectly cooked with tender cubes of octopus with grated bottarga (dried mullet roe) and a creamy orange sauce. The flavors scream springtime.
The most tender part of a chicken lies on the backbone where this oyster shaped little morsels are divine. Paired with morel mushrooms and a creamy rich foie gras emulsion underneath, this was a favorite amongst the dishes.
Fresh water char fish was swimming in a smoked milk foam with herb gnocchi that had a wonderful crust and creamy soft interior. The succulent crawfish were tender and the salmon roe added a nice pop of salinity.
While the sole fish was expertly cooked, I wanted more flavor from the sauce which was a little on the thin side. I did try a new ingredient in this dish, goose barnacles which are filter feeding crustaceans that didn’t necessarily have that much flavor.
While the beef was beautifully cooked, medium rare, the dish was slightly boring compared to everything else we had.
Surprisingly I really enjoyed this dish. Typically I’m not crazy about sweetbreads, the thymus gland, but this was prepared so well. The outside had a beautiful golden crust and the sweetbreads were soft like butter. With the tart kumquat and a little bit of date purée, this was delicious.
Of course no meal in France is complete without a cheese course.
I’m a lover of fruit desserts and this pineapple tart was superb. With vanilla flavored cream on top, caramelized popcorn, and Fromage Blanc ice cream, it definitely hit the spot.
A refreshing dessert with tart juicy grapefruit segments, rhubarb slices, and a rose flavored jelly encasing all the fruit.
The chocolate earl grey tartelette was warm and oozing and went perfectly with the cooling tonka bean ice cream. Tonka beans are originally from Central or South America and are actually banned in the states since they contains coumarin and could be toxic in large doses. However, the ice cream was wonderful with almost a vanilla flavor with caramel notes.
Couldn’t ask for a better way to end a meal than with warm madeleines and peanut butter cookies!
Takao Takano was an excellent meal to end our time in Lyon. The well executed food was delectable and quite affordable for a fine dining restaurant so my rating is a 8.5-9/10.
Lyon has been one of my favorite cities to visit! It has a big city feel yet everything is within walking distance. Of course the highlight of my Lyon trip was the incredible food whether it was traditional Lyonnaise or modern French cuisine. This city is not to be missed when visiting France and without a doubt it’s a city I will visit again.