It’s a sunny September morning in Lyon, France’s capital of gastronomy and home to 20 Michelin-star restaurants. Upon arriving I found a local restaurant located in the depths of the city and received a warm welcome from a waiter who seats me at a table where I’m served homemade lemonade and munch on falafel with hummus and baba ghanoush. It’s a meal of confidence, character and dismisses the culinary clichés.
Long ignored by tourists, but held in the hearts of chefs internationally, Lyon became known for its food in 1935 by food critic Curnonsky. It’s a city which creates a fragrant love affair between butchers, bakers, fish mongers, cheese mongers and cooks alike. All of whom neighbour side by side between the Rhone and Saone rivers.
There’s something cinematic about traveling down these rivers by boat with the wind in your hair, while sipping champagne and nibbling on delicately made sweet macarons. You can look beyond high trees towards the Fourvière hill, aka the ‘praying hill’, and see the tips of the Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourvière cathedral, Lyon’s emblem. Or people watch, catching a moment’s glimpse at people riding scooters along the riverside or sitting on a bench soaking up statues including Weight of Oneself designed by Elmgreen & Dragset.
Lyon is a city where culture doesn’t sleep. The evening sees French locals at the nearest watering hole, filling the air with voices like a mini Paris. Strolling through the streets I make my way to dinner, in Lyon’s 3rd district. I arrive at the venue to dim lighting and surprisingly empty seats. By the time I’m sat at a small table, the restaurant comes to life with couples having date night and old friends catching up. I ordered Lyon’s most popular, famous and traditional dish, Quenelles. It’s made of minced and creamed pike fish, sometimes combined with breadcrumbs with a light egg binding and Lyonnaise sauce. This dish is both delicate and delicious. It’s also incredibly challenging to make, as the quenelles need to be shaped into an oval and then poached. It sounds easy enough, but not poached for long enough and the quenelle loses its shape, poached for too long and the fish is dry. However, when it’s just right the rich flavours sing like a quartet and glide across the palette before lightly resting in the stomach. I end my evening with one of my favourite dishes, a cheese board, and played card games.
My second and final day in Lyon was welcomed with more warm weather and a traditional French breakfast banquet – coffee, juice, fruit, freshly baked bread and soft, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth croissants. With such little time left and what felt like so much still to see, I rented a Lime Scooter to see everything Lyon had left to offer. Swerving in and out of side streets, across seamless pavements through the modern city, I ride over the Passerelle Saint-Vincent bridge towards the La Basilique Notre-dame de Fourvière cathedral. Going across the bridge gives a sense of time travel. Long gone are the wide, open pavements, but welcoming narrow cobbled side streets and medieval buildings.
I take a pit stop at one of Lyon’s most renowned ice cream and sorbet parlours, Terre Adélice. Set up by brothers Bertrand and Xavier in 1996, their Parlour now has over 150 flavours to choose from. Much like most of the culinary culture in Lyon, the flavours are divine and daring. You can play it safe with staple classics such as vanilla and salted caramel or take a walk on the wild side and try caramelised red onion or tomato-basil. I opt for one scoop of limoncello and a scoop of silky raspberry sorbet, which like all its flavours, is made with fresh regional fruit. The taste of citrus and sweet raspberry is a combination that never disappoints. It’s the childhood sweethearts of ice cream and sorbet. The dish is light and refined, but the strong flavours leave you feeling refreshed and wanting to try more.
After reaching the cathedral, I take in the sun and picturesque town, with red roofs as far as the eye can see before making my way to the airport. Lyon is an age-old town with a passion for food, attracting culinary enthusiasts year on year. It’s unapologetically daring and pushes boundaries that excite the taste buds of anyone who visits.