Lyon has a promising culinary reputation. Reputed to be the gastronomic heart of France, friends and natives had talked it up and I was worried it may not live up to my increasing expectations.
I quickly secured a reservation at 2* Le Bec, the reviews are exceptional and it looks exciting, but much to my misfortune, they had water damage on the day I was to dine ,and were closed. 3 restaurant La Mere Brazier was also high on my list, but sadly (for me) they were closed for summer holidays. Paul Bocuse was mentioned but I had already decided to save that for my next trip, the prices are lofty, and the reviews mixed. I’ll visit another time with another food obsessive.
So, what to do? In truth, I was always more excited about the Lyonnaise Bouchons, peculiar to Lyon and serving traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. Bouchons were always going to be the heart of the trip and there was a few I wanted to try out.
The highlight of these was a recommendation from a Lyonnaise friend, Le Garet. We popped in on our first night, to discover that they were full so we made a reservation for lunch on our last day. Lesson No 1 – book your bouchons before you leave, the good ones are always booked up. There was one I really wanted to try but it’s so popular with locals that I hadn’t a hope without an advance reservation.
On our return for lunch, just two hours before we were due at the train station to board our train back to London via Lille on the Eurostar, we were greeted with smiles and charm and on seating were presented with pork crackling. A large bowl of caper berries and a jar of cornichons were delivered shortly after. We were going to get on.
Le Garet is enchanting, warm red walls with walls packed with pictures and photographs and French eccentricities. It’s impossible not to be seduced. It’s a joyous place, the diners are enjoying their food and company, and the staff are smiling and friendly.
The wine list is presented in a copybook, specials are writted on a mirror with marker and the menu otherwise, was one I had become very familiar with in other bouchons: Pieds de Veau (calves feet), Cervelles (brains), Rillettes d’Oie (goose rillettes), Grenouilles (frog legs), Tete de Veau (head cheese), Bavette, Saucisson, Foie de Veau (calves liver). A meaty offaly paradise, not for the faint hearted but for those who love flavour and rich food.
By now, I had visited many an eatery and following a visit to the market wanted colour and flavour. I needed something to repair my meat saturated soul and nurture me. I opted for lighter but still traditional dishes, starting with a glorious Tomates Steak et Ornue, Pistou et Parol Blanc – a fantastic tomato salad with large slices of tomato steak, slices from a smaller tomato, both drizzled with pistou and with cured ham on the side, predominantly fat, like lardo, with a little pink meat. A large basket of very good bread was served on the side.
Kat had the Rillettes d’Oie, which she had spotted the diners at the next table eating. We had assumed that they had a healthy portion for two but were gobsmacked when a whole Staub terrine full of Rillettes arrived for Kat alone. My salad was enormous also.
Main courses were Grenouilles Fraiche en Persillade (Fresh Frogs Legs with Persillade) for Kat and for me, a traditional Lyonnaise dish of Quenelle de Brochet a la Lyonnaise – a large set pike mousseline in a seafood broth. The frog legs were as perfect a representation of that dish could be, fiddly but tender and spiked with persillade, I had order envy. My quenelle de brochet was gorgeous, very light and spring served in a light marseillaise-style seafood broth with creamed spinach with nutmeg on the side. A perfect lunch dish.
As is common at the end of a Bouchon meal, we each ordered a demi St Marcelin, a soft small cows milk cheese, perfectly round and like unleashing children from the school gates, the cheese blurted out then oozed from the rind once I put my knife through it. Swoooon.
We accompanied our meal with a Pot (46cl) of White Burgundy (St Veran Bourgogne Blanc), a bargain at €11. The vibe was friendly with perfect friendly service, and nearby tables were chatty too, we seemed to be the only tourists there that lunchtime.
A special mention for the bathrooms, odd I know, but they were great. Decked out like a ladies boudoir, bloomers and old brassieres were hanging out of the drawers and over the lamps. The walls were decked with pictures as the floor below.
The meal came to approx €35 each, including extra service as it was very good and we had such a lovely time. I had an extra glass of wine and we had coffees too.
I would go back to Lyon just to eat here, it was a perfect two hours. I spied the bavette on the next table, it looked divine, and I am – almost – desperate to try it. Lyon is only 5 hours from London on the Eurostar. I think I can figure out an excuse to do it. Wait! I’ve got one: Le Garet.