Eating Lyon (Part 2)
The aim of visiting Lyon was to eat; let’s make no bones about it. I went equipped with a list of dishes that I had to eat at least once. It included Andouillettes (chitterling sausages), Tete de Veau (calves head), Boudin Noir (French black pudding), Tablier de Sapeur (breaded tripe), Quenelles de Brochet (pike quenelles) and a host of other local dishes. I’d eaten many of them before, but never in Lyon. It was, if you like, a part of the whole ethos of the trip. That and to buy sauccisson off an old woman at the side of the road!
We visited some fantastic Bouchons, and our first meal at Bouchon Chez Paul set the scene. In typical Bouchon style we were put onto a table with someone else – an Albanian couple – and that turned out to be hysterical move, especially as the wine flowed. They were there for his missus’ birthday, so she had something in common with Mrs IG!
The starter was ludicrous. The smiling and happy waitress ferried bowls of tongue, salad with cow heel, bacon salad, beetroot, steamed potatoes, pickles, herring, charcuterie and bread between tables, and you ate as much or little as you wanted before passing them on. In truth, the four of us could have given up eating after that point. There was no rush, no fuss, no lack of tasty morsels to graze upon. The starters were only withdrawn when we insisted on it! What followed was the main course (I had the calf’s head) before a cheese course of four cheeses, plus a desert, all washed down with carafes of Cotes du Rhone. It was everything that the Bouchon experience was famous for.
Bouchon Chez Paul is right across the road from Cafe Des Federations. This is touted as a ‘must visit’ place, and is much loved (and promoted on TV) by Raymond Blanc. We tried to get a table but it was fully booked. Instead, we reserved a table for Mrs IG’s birthday night!
My favourite meal was at Cafe Abel in the South of town. I’ll talk about that – and the many better places we visited – in another post. Instead, let’s fast forward to Mrs IG’s birthday. We had lunch at Aux Trois Cochons. I’ll go into more detail in another post, but I did have the Boudin Noir with apple. It was a whole apple, scooped out and filled with boudin noir, smoked lardons, crushed beans and a splash of calvados. It was then gently baked and served on a Brioche crouton. I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much…
So, we arrive at Cafe Des Federations, excited about the way Raymond Blanc couldn’t praise his friend’s establishment too highly. If he’ll put his name on the line, it has to be good, yeah?
The sullen waitress showed us to our table. Then a woman behind the bar, with a face like a smacked arse, shouted at her and we were ushered into a dingy back room. No convivial atmosphere for us! Old Sullen Chops headed off and returned with an English menu. I asked, in French, for a French menu. I like to practice. She rolled her eyes and continued talking in English. She told us to pick a main course. The starter was set. She seemed quite pissed off, probably because she’d been slapped down by the ugly bint, and partly because we had the audacity to be there.
We understood the set-up with the starter after Chez Paul, and vowed not to eat too much. For the main I selected the Quenelles de Brochet. I checked with Mrs IG first, as quenelles require a 25 minute wait for proper cooking. She was fine because quenelles must be freshly made, and because of my lunch she opted for the boudin noir with apples.
The waitress stomped off, and returned thirty seconds later with two plates. One had four (yes, just four) slices of sauccisson and three rather withered looking cornichons. The other had two thin slices of bread. We waited for her to laugh, but no. It wasn’t a joke. The slices of sauccisson were old, old enough to curl at the edges. Now, I make sauccisson, so I could see straight away what it was. They were leftovers. I tried to ask why they had curled, but she was off like a farmer with the shits. Then a surly man arrived, hands behind back, and asked where we were from. Maybe he’d inject the missing welcome and fun factor? I told him, in French, that we were English. He frowned, produced a small bowl of a brown substance from behind his back, chucked it onto the table and walked away with a sigh.
I sniffed the bowl. I was sure it was rabbit terrine. Sour rabbit terrine. About enough for a single slice of bread, which was all we had anyway. It wasn’t a good sour, a fermented sour. No, it was just old.
We laughed. We had to. There wasn’t a lot else to do. It took a few seconds to eat the dried up cornichons, and that was that. It was lucky, because suddenly – not more than four minutes after ordering, the quenelle arrived, as did the boudin noir. They wanted us out of there quickly.
The quenelle was clearly old and had been kept under the heat. It was flat, rubbery and the sauce was crusty and burned on the side of the dish. The sauce had a skin, like pig skin, think and wrinkled, aged. A langoustine that lay in the sauce was so hard if I could have found a way to project it, it would have killed a horse. It had probably been served a dozen times, and been reheated as many again.
Talking of a horse, imagine a very sick horse that had been fed nothing but manky apples for a month, whilst it had a cork shoved up its arse. Now, imaging removing that cork and catching what exploded out with a plate. That’s what Mrs IG’s dish looked like, as if a pile of manky apple had been shat onto a plate, and been topped off with one (yes, one) piece of overcooked boudin noir.
I called old sulky face back and explained to her that the meal wasn’t right. She responded with more arrogance that an arrogant person in an arrogance competition in Arrogant Town.
“Do you know what these dishes are? Do you? It is pig blood. It is pike.”
I calmly explained that yes, I did know what they were, which was how I knew they were overcooked leftovers and general crap.
She then left, and hid for the rest of the time we were there … which wasn’t very long. I paid for our wine. They seemed happy about that. They knew what they’d tried to do, and seemingly didn’t want a fuss made.
We headed straight to Cafe du Soliel, which was near the appartment we’d rented, and which the lady we rented it off had recommended. The pike quenelles there took 30 minutes, were light, fluffy, tasteful and had a depth of flavour that was exceptional. They were, basically, fresh. Also, the staff were pleasant and the ambience was unsurpassed.
If you are going to Lyon, or know anyone heading that way, tell them to avoid the Cafe Des Federations. Avoid it like you’d avoid a leper with a shitty stick.
And as for Raymond Blanc, if he can recommend and promote places like that, and praise their food, then he’s probably had his taste buds blunted by the cheques he receives.