Much like pintxos is the Basque equivalent of tapas, the bouchon is the bistro which belongs to Lyon. Sure there is an emphasis on offal and meat in general, and the twenty or so officially listed as bouchons mark out their territory with red and white chequered tablecloths, but there happens to be no rules, no criteria to call your own restaurant one. We knew we wanted a bouchon experience, one that encapsulated it to full effect, and I turned to many articles and Twitter for help. One place stood out; Daniel et Denise, the micro-chain of bouchons by Joseph Viola. Viola has pedigree far beyond home style cooking; in 2004 he won the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France – an award for Frances best craftsmen – and followed this up in 2009 by becoming World Champion at pastry.
We have that winning pastry dish as a starter, but not before we dredge shards of toasted bread through a soft cheese dip, and munch on some excellent bread with cornichons and tiny pickled onions. And a quick word on the wine; why aren’t there more places in the world like here? We take two carafes, served chilled in branded bottles and equivalent to two-thirds of a full bottle. One, a beaujolais from Brouilly, the other a Provencal rose. Both are ten euros each, a steal for the quality.
Now, back to that pastry, which if you have a Greggs steak bake as your standard bearer is going to be a shock to the system. A 2cm slice of heaven, the pastry being the structure on the plate that dissolves in the mouth. No soggy arse. The filling is an unashamedly decadent blend of foie gras and sweetbreads, protected by a dark jelly only achieved by cooking out the collagen in bones. It is the perfect slab of pate en croute that shows up many others over a long five days, needing only a quenelle of quince in a jam-like state and a well dressed salad to stop it careering over the edge. The other starter is eggs meurette, a classic in French country cooking. Two eggs are poached in red wine before the cooking liquor is reduced down with onions, button mushrooms, and bacon lardons. The eggs are then reintroduced with croutons and a parsley garnish. The mixture of runny yolk and slightly aromatic reduced wine is gloriously rich, the kind of dish that I could eat repeatedly if it were always this good.
I was only ever going to have the Bressé chicken for main, given that you hardly see them in the UK and when you do, it is at a price I simply can’t afford. The chicken is the only one to be protected by AOC, a control on appellations, with Bressé being one of only two meats to be awarded it. Having never eaten it before I was curious to see if it is worthy of the money. Short answer: massively. It tastes like the chicken that your nan claimed she used to eat, even though you know she is lying through those false teeth of hers. The breast meat flavour punches through the creamy mushroom sauce and morels, whilst the leg meat is dark and almost gamey. A joy, and one I felt lucky to eat. Across from me is a rolled veal shoulder, in a sauce of thickened cooking liquor and mushrooms. The knife has no part to play in this scene, the meat folding away like creased paper sheets. With these we get the chips of all chips. Thin, circular discs fried thrice in goose fat. I should also mention the sides of carrots, and macaroni gratin, but those chips! We genuinely fight over them. I win of course, because I am physically stronger.
Dessert course features both the meal highlight and lowlight. A clafoutis tart of sorts is nice enough, but, in a meal that stands out because of quality produce and care, the cherries don’t really taste of anything. But then there is the rhum baba, a favourite dessert of mine. The bastard hybrid of cake and bread is soaked in am aromatic syrup, split down the centre and drenched in rum. When done right, it is one of life’s great things. This is the best one I’ve tried; light and full of flavour. It is better than the revered Ducasse version.
So good was the meal here that we considered coming back the following day, before deciding we should probably try and see what the rest of Lyon was like. What we did agree on was that this is the kind of bistro cooking that totally evades us in the UK for some reason. That needs to change. Daniel et Denise is an oddity; a truly memorable restaurant experience that doesn’t break the bank. Our dinner, with three courses and a carafe of wine each, tips in at £115.00, though with a 33 euro set menu on offer you could easily shave a third from that. We loved it, because it’s honest and the team are passionate and friendly. I gather that Joseph Viola once came to Birmingham to cook in a park at a food festival. I’d give my right arm to have his little group open up in my city on a more permanent basis.