Sunday lunchtime, just before leaving the city, I finally finally finally got to do the one thing that everyone had told me I should do in Lyon, and which I had been looking forward to all weekend. I went to a bonafide Lyonnais bouchon.
Bouchons are a type of restaurant which serve typical Lyonnais food and are pretty much everywhere in Lyon. In fact, some streets seem to be comprised of nothing but Bouchons. They are quite different from how I expected, having a real relaxed, almost cluttered feel to them. The emphasis is on traditional Lyonnais food, which means lots of meat and lots of heavy, creamy sauces. Basically, it’s not for anyone following a diet. But as a treat, it’s definitely worth doing. The one we opted for on Sunday was called Chabert et Fils.
As bouchons go, this one was pretty typical – bustling, full of life, and a menu very much centred around charcuterie. Typical dishes on the menu included; black pudding with apples; sausage and lentils; a variety of meat dishes (including tripe, which I really didn’t have the stomach for, if you’ll pardon the pun) and quenelle Lyonnaise – more on that later. Essentially, a bouchon is most certainly not the place to go if you’re a vegetarian. Or if you have heart disease.
We sat inside, near the kitchen, in itself an experience because we got to see all of the waiters and chefs running around, shouting at each other, cutting up bread and serving up dessert – definitely a good way to get the appetite going. The interior was pretty typical for a bouchon. It looked fairly old fashioned but relaxed, vaguely like a very cluttered tea room, albeit one with what appeared to be train seats making up the booths. You could even put your handbag up on the luggage racks, should you so desire.
Just choosing what to eat from the menu was agonising in itself, as there was so much good food. But for my starter, I went for baked Camembert. And wow, was that ever a good choice. Although it was a lot of cheese to be eating in one go. But never one to walk away from a challenge, I made a pretty good go of it.
It was delicious, served with toasted bread which was used to scoop up the melting, oozy cheese. And then, once the bread was finished, I just used the spoon to finish it off. And that was just the starter – like I say, really not for anyone on a diet.
For my main course, I went for a very typical Lyonnais dish – la quenelle de brochet au coulis de écrevisses – a pike quenelle served with a crayfish sauce. It’s pretty difficult to describe a quenelle Lyonnaise, as there aren’t many things it can be compared to (though this post from Lucy’s Kitchen Notebook is excellent and very informative). It’s almost like eating a souffléd batter, in that it’s usually made with eggs, butter, milk and breadcrumbs as well as the pike. But the consistency is very light and airy, a little like a soufflé. Although when you’ve already eaten a whole block of Camembert, it does feel fairly heavy. Especially when it’s this big and served with rice.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have an extraordinary capacity to eat a lot. Really. But on this occasion, I had to eat strategically, because I was already pretty full from the Camembert and I knew that I still had my pudding to go. So I forewent the rice and just focused my attention on the quenelle, which I pretty much drowned in the crayfish sauce. Oh, my God, the sauce. It was just so so good, delicately flavoured, creamy and perfectly complementing the taste and texture of the quenelle. I literally smothered every forkful of quenelle in that sauce.
Somehow, I’m really not quite sure exactly how, I managed to finish the whole thing, even though it was giant-sized. I even managed to eat the whole of my dessert – a chocolate fondant cake, which was, as was to be expected, delicious. But definitely, the star of the meal for me was the quenelle with its beautiful rich sauce, and no dessert, no matter how good, could ever live up to that main dish.
So my visit to the bouchon was an unforgettable, perfect end to my trip. It wasn’t a balanced meal, not by any stretch of the imagination. But it was definitely a good one.