Lyon, ‘the gut’ of France, is a city built on food. Almost every street is lined with boulangeries and bouchons; the air rife with the pungent stink of andouille sausage, of yeast, and the sweet perfume of praline. The culture of gastronomy lies embedded in every shelf lined with foie de canard, or gooey St Marcelin cheese. The Lyonnais understand food because they live it. It all makes for remarkable viewing. No one embodied the ethics of this city more than Paul Bocuse, the sadly departed leader of Nouvelle cuisine whose footprint can be seen everywhere. His three star restaurant sits on the outskirts of the city, whilst in the centre you’ll find his face painted onto a wall near Les Halles Bocusse, as well as a handful of restaurants, brasseries, and comptoirs bearing his name. He built this city. He built this city on Coq and bread rolls.
We have dinner at one of those brasseries on Bastille Day, a move that was forced when the terrace at Christian Têtedoie cancelled our reservation at the last second when the clouds rumbled louder than my gut. We head to de l’Est, conveniently near our accommodation in a now defunct Metro station. The initial signs are great; the place is buzzing with an open kitchen showcasing the brigade at work with their tall hats skimming the ceiling. We order a bottle of Morgon 2013 for a very fair 49 euro from a front of house team running between tables. If there is one thing I love about Lyon more than any other it is the price of wine from it’s surrounding areas.
It would be unfair of me to criticise any element of the meal without pointing out the positives, which are the ingredients, for which obvious care has been taken in the sourcing of. Both of the starters have parts that shine; the dark and sweet jamon on the pasta, and the parmesan and lettuce on the Caesar salad, but they are ultimately dull renditions. The pasta on the former is slightly overdone and lacking any texture, the chicken on the latter bland in comparison to the brilliant poultry we ate otherwise. When both of these are a fraction under 15 Euros these become unacceptable errors.
With dishes sold out quicker than a Tory government NHS, I end up with a vegetable tart for main. It feels like an afterthought, and knowing the French attitude to dietary needs it probably is. The proportions are out; too much of the too thick courgette, not enough of the rest. The delicate flavours of vegetables strangled by a massive pesto. The other main is the pluma cut of Iberico pork. The meat is medium rare and a little under-rested, but the big problem lies with the risotto which is underdone. That pork dish is 30 Euros, a price I mention because there is not much to love. We have two desserts; an assault on chocolate which is too much to finish and a rum baba that we do. The baba is very good, though not as delicate as one we had two nights prior for half the price.
The bill comes in at over 150 Euros, a price that is a third more than our favourite meal in Lyon and probably double what it was worth. As an aside, Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse is less than a kilometre away and where we found ourselves each morning. Here you will find the very best of the local produce; perfect cheese from Mère Richard, the best in bread, handmade chocolates and macaroons, wines of the Côtes du Rhone and Beaujolais, and tricolour of Bresse chicken. It is a culinary heaven. It is here that the true legacy of Monsieur Bocuse lives, not in a very average brasserie trading off his name.
Pictures by Nosh and Breks