Known as the food capital of France, Lyon is the place to be if you dream of fragrant cheeses, delicious charcuterie and decadent Lyonnaise cuisine. This dreamy city is a blend of Gothic style buildings and opulent landmarks, interspersed with bouchons – traditional restaurants in Lyon.
At the junction of the Rhône and Saône rivers, the city is a prime stop on your river cruise. To help you make the most of your time in Lyon, and to navigate the myriad of restaurants, we’ve created a handy foodie’s guide to Lyon.
Traditional Lyonaisse cuisine
From its mature, gooey cheeses to its decadent confectionary, Lyonnaise cuisine is packed full of flavour. As well as Lyon’s most famous delicacies, including rosette de Lyon, a traditional sausage, and Lyonnaise potatoes, the city is also geared towards the more adventurous foodie.
Lyon doesn’t shy away from its love of tripe (the edible lining of the stomach of cattle), but it does transform what could be potentially intimidating into a delicious, flavoursome meal. To kick off your food adventure, try gras double, a dish made of thin strips of tripe, finely chopped onions, parsley and white wine. If you’re looking for something a little less, tripe-y, quenelle is another popular dish that you’ll find easily in any of Lyon’s bouchons. The dish is made of dumplings, butter, eggs, creamed fish or meat and breadcrumbs.
On most authentic Lyon restaurant menus you’ll find some form of gratin. Whether it’s gratin dauphinois, an indulgent dish of thinly sliced potatoes layered in gruyere cheese, cream, garlic and herbs, or gratin de cardon, made with winter vegetables, don’t miss out on sampling this Lyonnaise dish.
No trip to Lyon would be complete without tucking into some of its most famous cheeses. Lyonnaise cheeses are often soft and made with cows’ milk. Try Tomme du Beaujolais from the north of Lyon or Saint-Marcellin from the region of Dauphiné. If you can’t resist goats cheese, try Rigotte de Condrieu. A popular Lyonnaise cheese speciality, Cervelle de Canut, is made of cheese, chives, garlic, shallots and white wine, and is a must-try for anyone visiting the city.
As well as delicious cured meats such as rosette de Lyon, saucisson de Lyon and Sabodet, the city is very adventurous with meat. The local cuisine is extremely resourceful, using almost any part of any animal and creating a delicious meal from it. Try the Tablier de sapeur, a very popular meal of beef tripe, white wine and potatoes, or saucisson chaud, an indulgent dry cured meat served with potatoes and butter.
Desserts and sweets
Those with a sweet-tooth won’t be disappointed as Lyonnaise cuisine incorporates the likes of decadent praline tarts and cousin de Lyon, confectionary made of chocolate and marzipan. Some of the more traditional desserts include les bugnes, aptly translated to ‘angel wings’, which are sweet, crisp pastries shaped into ribbons, deep fried and dusted with powdered sugar. One of the most popular sweet treats is the marron glacé, a candied chestnut.
Restaurants in Lyon
Bouchons are the best places to enjoy a traditional Lyonnaise meal. Small wooden tables lined with checked cloths and cosy, dimly lit interiors are typical of bouchons, which were traditionally small inns visited by silk workers passing through Lyon in the 17th and 18th centuries. You can’t walk far without stumbling upon a bouchon, and when you do, it’s your duty to stop and indulge.
First things first, you must remember that meal times and eating habits are slightly different in Lyon. For example in the morning, just before lunchtime, you might stop for a mâchon. This is typically a heavy meal of pate to start, a main course of meat and a tasty sauce and cheeses for dessert. Some restaurants begin serving mâchon at 9am.
Dubbed ‘the pope of French cuisine’, Paul Bocuse is a French chef based in Lyon, famous for his institution of high-quality restaurants. Trained by Eugenie Brazier, one of the most prominent chefs associated with nouvelle cuisine (new cuisine), evidence of Bocuse’s iconic food career can be found throughout Lyon. If you’re willing to splash the cash on a fine-dining experience, you can’t go wrong with L’Auberge du Pont de Collognes, Bocuse’s flagship eatery. The chef refers to it as ‘the Sistine Chapel of French cooking’, a bold claim, but it’s difficult to argue with his decadent menu. Expect traditional Lyonnaise and nouvelle cuisine dishes with added flair such as Roquefort mousse with hazelnut, truffle soup, foie gras and apple tatin.
Café des Federations
Recommended time and time again by visitors and chefs in Lyon, Café des Federations is a homely bouchon with a mouth-watering menu. Tuck into Lyonnaise charcuterie while you choose from the menu of traditional dishes. The staff will recommend the perfect local wine to accompany your meal.
Popular with locals, La Garet is a beautiful, traditional bouchon serving rich Lyonnaise dishes. Expect plenty of offal and some more adventurous cuts of meat, but plenty of flavour. If you’re feeling brave, try grenouilles fraîches (frogs legs), a renowned French delicacy. For those seeking a traditional yet more conventional Lyonnaise meal, La Garet serves classics such as quenelle. To round-off your bouchon, experience you can order a small round of local cheese, all for yourself.
Chez Chabert is a cosy family business run by a father and son. Serving tasty Lyonnaise specials such as pike quenelle, sausage with Beaujolais sauce and veal liver with parsley, be prepared to indulge. On top of its authentic main course menu, save some room for dessert as Chez Chabert serves an exceptional flan au caramel, or if you prefer, a selection of local cheeses.
Chocolatiers and patisseries
You can’t explore Lyon without stopping to sample some of its finest chocolates and pastries. Jill Colonna, blogger and author of Mad About Macarons and Teatime in Paris, said: “Lyon is famous for les pralines roses and you’ll see them sold in pretty packets in all bakeries and chocolate shops. My favourite way of enjoying them is in the bright pink filled tarts and in buttery brioches. The best is from Pralus – try the award-winning Praluline (invented by August Pralus in 1955). Made with Piemont hazelnuts and almonds from Valence, you’ll want to take some home.
“I particularly love the vanilla flan, financiers and chestnut and rum crumble tart at Sebastien Bouillet’s ‘Gouter’ shop in Place de la Croix-Rousse – many cakes (try the Tarte Tatin) are even sold by the metre! And if you love macarons, Richard Seve also makes some pretty incredible savoury versions too.”
Recommended by chefs and foodies all over the world, Bernachon is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth. Bernachon’s silky chocolates are made from the cocoa bean on the premises, meaning they’re difficult to find outside of their tiny Lyon shop. One of their most famous chocolates is the palats d’Or – rich, ganache-filled chocolates flecked with real gold. These beautiful chocolates make the perfect gift, but don’t forget to buy some for yourself to indulge on during your river cruise.
It’s impossible to walk by Sebastien Bouillet without stepping inside. This boutique patisserie showcases a vibrant display of chocolates and sweets in all forms – elegant chocolate lipsticks, chocolate caviar and decadent rows of pastries. Striking colours and oozing caramels feature in many of the shop’s pastries, including their delectable macarons.
“No foodie trip to Lyon is complete without a visit to Sebastien Bouillet, the chocolatier and pastry star of the region,” said Jill. “Not only are his pastries scrumptiously picture-perfect, his chocolate shop, Chokola, will mesmerise you with a chocolate fountain and chocolate-coated macarons. His new shop, Goûter, will have you craving for the more traditional French cakes at teatime.”
Founded by Leon Voisin, this shop creates truly opulent chocolates. Jill shared her thoughts on this iconic Lyon chocolatier: “Since 1897, Voisin has been roasting not only chocolate beans but also coffee beans. Renowned for inventing the bright green Coussin de Lyon, a soft cushion of chocolate ganache covered in Curacao marzipan, it was made a patrimonial French speciality in 1960. So you can’t leave without tasting one.”
The French way is to take your time over a meal and savour every last morsel of food on your plate. The only difficulty you might face is keeping room for the mouth-watering entrees, main courses and desserts. If you have any recommendations for foodies visiting Lyon on their river cruise holiday, get in touch!
Image credit: Jean-Marc Albert, JohnPickenPhoto, Guillaume Baviere, Connie Ma, Ricardo, Etlenne Gerard