“The Lyonnais: they like their food, they eat it, they talk about it all day long. They don’t care what you think about it. They don’t care if you like it, if you eat it, if you never even try it. They don’t care about you at all.” Bill Buford
The 2019 Michelin guide was published this week and for the city of Lyon, it was nothing to celebrate. A single new star for La Sommeliere, and two restaurants, Guy Lassaussarie and Pierre Orsi downgraded. Bummer. What to do? – Guy confessed his confusion and promised to redouble his efforts after quizzing the inspectors for their reasons. That should be a fun chat. Pierre was more sanguine, he would carry on regardless.
I’ve not eaten at either restaurant, or Paul Bocuse for that matter, but I think it does point to a sort of identity crises in a city that puts gastronomy front and centre of its self-image. We know the history, but where is Lyonnaise cuisine actually going?
London and New York it is not. As they go merrily and expensively picking their way through global influences, hauling in shipments of artisan produce wherever they can find them, draining France of its natural wines and adapting their menus to encompass the two trends in dining that seem to me to be the most striking, lighter options and vegetarian food, so the Lyonnaise mostly plough on with their quenelles de brochet, andouillette and so forth, sitting in cream, or my personal antifavourite, foam, with a galic shrug towards the new.
As for wine, well, in many places, the towering influences of Georges Duboef and Maison Guigal hold sway. There are honourable exceptions for sure, but not that many. Yet maybe the Lyonnaise like it this way. History runs deep here. After all, the heartland of France, a country that has gifted the world with a treasure chest like no other of wine and food, are perhaps operating on a level of gastronomic appreciation that I just cannot wrap my small brain around. It’s not just possible, its likely. Maybe the secret to life actually is cheap Cote de Rhone and tripe?
So, whilst I started writing this heading towards making some dining recommendations, I suddenly felt like I was drawn into a black hole of uncertainty. Feeling totally inadequate to the task of evaluating classic Lyonnaise cuisine versus International or French modernity, my small brain just exploded with the enormity of the subject. Therefore, I thought I would pivot, and merely describe briefly some of the greatest wine lists in Lyon, after all, with a glass of Rayas in hand, well, you should be game for anything.
One of my favourite spots, and as close to a local restaurant as my partner and I have at the moment. The wine list is a great blend of natural and classic stuff. They get good allocations from Dutraive, Labet, Bernard Moreau, DRC and plenty more. Cracking prices, a 2014 Grand Echezeaux from ‘The Domaine’ was a tad under 500 Euro, CF £1,500 or so in the UK. Pretty remorselessly young though if you’re tempted.
L’Ame de Soeur
Name after the Ogier Cote-Rotie cuvee – this fine restaurant has superb stocks of Ramonet at great prices and some rare Rhone from Allemand and others.
The very serious, but utterly devoted Sebastien is a questor and always has a good eye around the next corner and the next domaine. As well as good stocks of wines like Dard and Ribo that he sources direct, he has great recommendations. Why not try something new? Forget about Instagram for a second – you’ll get something really good. Also, super simple, but incredibly good food.
After loading up at Cafe Terroirs, cross the Place des Jacobins towards MurAAto. Cutting edge wines in this newish wine shop / bar, including a bottle of Gentaz I’ve got my eye on in the bar. No word yet as to if AA stands for Alcoholics Anonymous – which now I think about it, would be quite a good name for a wine bar..
If you can survive standing up in Antic Wine, the omnipresent Lyonnaise institution of a shop whilst George barks various orders at you as you struggle to input various invoices and purchases orders into the single laptop in store, then you can graduate with hard-earned knowledge of Georges’ extensive contacts and incredible wine expertise. This is what Sylvie has managed and used that experience to help open L’Ivresse, a wine bar on Rue General Plessier. Excellent wine selection of over 500 listings, and basic, well-done food. Strong on the Loire with names like Sylvain Dittiere and Richard Leroy will represented.
En mets fais ce qu’il te plaît
Somewhat idiosyncratic place in the 7th but has a great, very natural list. Katsume Ischida worked with Robuchon, Chapel and Ducasse and he turns out some great French food. Lots of Pacalet, Selosse and naturally-aspired juice.
If you’re looking to drop some serious coin on Grand Cru Burgundy, enjoy a nice view over the Saone and dig a fine-dining vibe, this may be your place. Casual it is not, but perhaps worth ironing a shirt, if you know someone who wants to crack open some Coche-Dury. Give me a shout if you need someone to drink it with a late notice – I’m just around the corner.
Would have made it and perhaps was the best restaurant in Lyon but now closed. RIP and hope to see you again although I think one of the owners has moved back to the Auvergne. Cheque please!