Lyon

A Lazy Gourmet Visit to Yvoire – one of France’s Prettiest Villages

Summer this year was all pretty much last-minute.  On return from our New York visit,  the French parents-in-law were disappointed that us ‘Parisiens‘ hadn’t yet thought of visiting them in Provence in August.  So, with that said, we threw a few bags in the car, leaving plenty of space for eventual goodies from the local Provençal market (my list was longer than a happy sunflower), and headed down the Autoroute de Soleil to Avignon.

As our plans were so last-minute it meant we could aim to follow the sunshine, hoping that the good people at the méteo weather centre hadn’t gone on holiday too.  You see, curiously, the normally radiant August sun in France was playing hard to get and the so-called Autoroute de ‘Soleil‘ was sulking under thick rain-clouds.  As we drove south, our goal was to leave the steely skies in the back mirror and so ended up taking a sunny detour via Haute-Savoie and the fresh air in the mountains of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.

Medieval Town of Yvoire in France

One of the highlights of Haute-Savoie has to be the medieval village of Yvoire.  It’s right on Lake Léman, which separates France from Switzerland. “Make sure you reserve a table at Les Jardins du Léman and order the local catch”, advised Hervé, a wonderful gastronomic connaisseur and bon vivant friend.  So, not to disappoint him, we parked the car on the outskirts of the town and headed straight to our table.

Lake view from the top terrace of the Jardins du Leman restaurant Yvoire

Our table was on the top terrace where this secret ambience was hiding excited chattering, chilled rosé being poured and long platters of homemade frites.  Such a view was already enticing but the top terrace overlooks the lake and dominant Château d’Yvoire.  (Incidentally, you can’t visit it unless you know the owners: I need to work at networking, as my Mum has already placed her order for a Granny flat.) Back to the lake.  No wonder fish is what to order here.

Lake Leman between France and Switzerland

What a menu!  Julie, who isn’t as fond as white fish as ourselves, changed her mind that afternoon.  With perch fillets sautéd in a creamy basil sauce and served with the thinnest, crispiest, homemade frites, what was not to love?  I took Hervé’s advice and was in seventh heaven with the Féra du Léman, the local freshwater fish with the most exquisitely-cooked vegetables and the best risotto I’ve tasted in a while.

The best fish restaurant in Yvoire France

Dare I say I couldn’t even manage dessert?  I mean, who could resist choux cream puffs, une Réligieuse in her iced crowning glory hiding a light vanilla pastry cream or the freshest of raspberry tarts?  The portions were so ample that I had to pass – but it just means that we’ll need to return to taste them!  Instead, we needed a walk to merit something at 4 o’clock goûter teatime.

Boats in the harbour of Yvoire in France

The views and fresh air from the lake would surely work up a sweeter appetite.

The harbour in Yvoire, France

Classy passenger boats on the jetty go to and fro the Swiss town of Nyon, on the other side of the lake.  I was content just gazing at the sailing boats.  In any case, there were too many clouds on the Swiss side…

View of Switzerland on Lake Leman

The castle certainly dominates the landscape.  Imagine having your home on a restaurant’s business card?

Yvoire castle on Lake Leman

Nicolas here, also dominated this street with his giant gingerbread rounds, or Pain d’Epices.

Gingerbread or Pain d'epices stall

It didn’t need much to spice up my afternoon when I saw this macaron sign on the Grande Rue – with even more exclamation marks than Mad About Macarons!

French macaron tasting sign

The girls and I tasted their chocolate and passion fruit macarons.  Delicious.  Apparently they produced the biggest macaron pyramid last year. On return home, I looked up their website but it doesn’t exist.  And I’ve looked everywhere on Facebook for them in vain.  Never mind.  If you can’t get to Yvoire, you’ll just have to make your own macarons like the French.  Just saying.

bright coloured rows of macarons

rows and rose of macarons!

Back to street meanderings, the girls couldn’t help looking into Crêperies and ice cream boutiques.

pedestrian streets village of Yvoire France

This boutique confirmed the latest trend: mixing alcoholic drinks with Red Bull.  Now there’s an idea for your macarons, my friends – mind-blowing!

French ice cream flavours - fashionable or à la mode

Incidentally, have you tried my Pistachio, green tea and wasabi ice cream recipe yet?  It goes deliciously well with the same flavour of macaron (recipe is in the book).

As we sat under the shade of a giant fig tree, we watched others do like us: exchange ice creams.  Do you do that too?  We also reminisced that over the space of just a few hours, we’d had the most lazy yet gourmet and sunny afternoon.

Fig tree at the church in Yvoire

Speaking of lazy gourmet, have you tried this ridiculously easy recipe of roasted figs with honey and lavender?  As we’re smack bang in the middle of the short fig season in France, go for it!

roasted figs in honey and lavender

A quick fig dessert


Note: We were not guests anywhere here and all opinions are my own, as usual.  I’m just sharing our family holiday highlights.

A Gourmet Weekend in Lyon

Well that took forever to post something: my kids are suddenly using this computer so much for their homework that my minutes are counted! Where was I?  Ah yes, my weekend in Lyon: it was a real treat. After experiencing Chez Hugon, a fabulously friendly Lyonnais bouchon with its traditional sausages, poulet au vinaigre and quenelles de brochet, it was time to venture out next day to discover Lyon’s sweet side.

market in Lyon

No trip to Lyon is complete without visiting Sebastien Bouillet.  I’d already seen his chocolate and macaron artistry at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris and had previously heard of his ‘MacaLyon‘, which provided inspiration for a half-dipped macaron in chocolate which is in the book.

Silk museum in Lyon

First – since we wanted a girlie weekend with a bit of culture thrown in too – we headed to La Maison des Canuts. The Canuts were the Lyonnais silk weavers who mainly worked in this hilly area of the Croix Rousse. The museum takes about 50 minutes to visit (if you do the guided tour in French) otherwise you can stroll around willy nilly while you’re left imagining the poor conditions these weavers had to work in, as if out of a scene of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

Sebastien Bouillet is only a ten minute walk away from the museum to the market square, at Place de la Croix-Rousse.

Sebastien Bouillet Patisserie Lyon

With the bellowing of an accordion nearby to get us into the French pâtisserie spirit, the boutique’s front was more like a make-up stand in a Parfumerie.

Chocolate lipstick by Sebastian Bouillet Lyon

Don’t be fooled: these are chocolate lipsticks from his ‘Chokola’ collection! What about some lip-smacking milk chocolate and passion fruit to hide in a handbag along with some chocolate lips, chocolate caviar… and some candied chestnuts (perhaps the latter would be messy)?

best chocolate and patisserie Sebastien Bouillet Lyon

His pastries were so inviting and at a fraction of the cost of the same kind of elegant, creative combinations you find in Paris. With only a 2 hour ride from Paris Gare de Lyon (surprise!),  I need to pop on that TGV train more often. He also runs a prestigious pastry school, Gâteau Ecole.

Best pastries at Sebastien Bouillet Lyon

His colourful array of macarons are just as tempting with inspiring flavours such as quince, chestnut, gianduja with green tea, chocolate, praline, salted caramel…. what would you choose?

macarons Sebastien Bouillet Lyon

Another culture break down the hill is well worth the visit to the Musée des Beaux-Arts, the second biggest art gallery in France after the Louvre. I love seeing the impressionists paintings of scenes taken along the river Seine.  This Sisley landscape is just up the road from us, in Marly-le-Roi. Nothing much has changed.

Alfred Sisley Marly le Roi France painting

Just next door to the Gallery is a welcome sweet neighbour, Chocolatier Voisin. Léon Voisin’s chocolate shop’s doors have been open since 1897. He created the Lyon speciality, Le Coussin de Lyon: a bright green cushion of chocolate ganache, almond paste and a hint of Curaçao. If you love marzipan like I do, this is a must!

Voisin chocolate shop in Lyon

The friendly staff at the art gallery told us to try Voisin’s delicious praline quenellesThey’re officially classed as a national delicacy as the patrimoine nationale de la confiserie.  Again nutty, they’re made with grilled hazelnuts and almonds and covered in white chocolate.

Les Coussins chocolates speciality from Lyon

I felt like a bit of Opera coming on but we’d missed the guided tour (Saturdays at 1pm) so instead we headed to rue de la République.  Or rather, we tried to.  What is it with these Smartphone map apps?  I always get lost with them.

Lyon Opera House

Instead, we found it the old-fashioned way by asking a friendly Lyonnaise the direction. Walking in Lyon is like being in Glasgow but chatting in French: the Lyonnais are so friendly they even ask where you’re heading and how they can help. It’s a long way from Paris!

Lyon pastry shops and tea salons

At 4 o’clock, it was time for another kind of Opéra, with a cup of tea. Bingo! We found our recommended Salon de Thé or tea salon at La Maison Debeaux. 

best Tea salon Maison Debaux Lyon

Their traditional pink praline tart and brioches were tempting enough but I surprised even myself by pouncing on a giant coffee macaron with mascarpone cream, the ‘Maccarpone‘. Well, macarons are gluten free, after all.

Our particularly adorable server, on the other hand, wasn’t quite in agreement with my tea order: I’d asked for one of their gastronomic teas with a petit nuage or cloud of milk. But Madame, this kind of tea shouldn’t be taken with milk. Instead he brought me some Earl Grey, or Thé à la Bergamote, and offered me the most dinkiest looking teapots filled with blue flower and jasmine tea, just for me to try.  Now that was class in a glass teapot. I missed my milk, though!

Maison Debaux best Tea Salon Lyon

When most gastronomes think of Lyon, they think of Paul Bocuse.  This time around I wanted to try the Tetedoie restaurant, run by the brilliant chef and President of the Maîtres Cuisiners de France, Christian Tetedoie. His menu, Découverte et Gourmandise, merits a post by itself but a glimpse of his sweet treats will hopefully give you an idea why I’d love to return.  This sublime dessert, caramelised pastry with green apple compôte and Granny Smith sorbet was light enough to enjoy his surprise plate of mignardises to finish off the evening – all with the most spectacular views of Lyon.

Christian Tetedoie restaurant Lyon

It was the cherry on the cake – or meringue on the macaron? – of the weekend.  This coming weekend is Lyon’s annual festival, la Fête des Lumières (5-9 December – check out their fun video on this site).  Next year we’ll need to organise another trip and discover more of Lyon’s sweet side. What do you think?

You’ll see for yourself in Lyon – it’s a treat!

 


 

Disclaimer: All tastings and financial indulgences were purely my own. Ridiculous!

Mastering the Art of French Eating in Lyon: Chez Hugon

When I met my journalist friend, Ann Mah, for a chocolat chaud and macarons in Paris this summer, she was radiant with the prospect of ‘twins’ on the horizon: a baby girl soon to be born in New York and her new book, Mastering the Art of French Eating, which has just recently been published by Penguin Viking. Had I known Ann at the time, all alone in Paris for a year as a diplomat’s wife – not unlike Julia Child, as the title suggests – while her husband was assigned a post in Iraq, I would have loved to have joined her. You see, in order to combat loneliness in the City of Light (and I know what that’s like at first – not easy), she embarked on a gastronomic adventure around Paris and the rest of France.

As David Lebovitz says on the back cover, “Her personal culinary tale will have you packing your bags”. I didn’t think that before I’d even got to the Salade Lyonnaise recipe at the end of Chapter 4, I would have booked a weekend in Lyon! It was about time, after a long haul of being stuck in the house with back problems and builders. Besides, in over twenty years I’ve lived here, I’ve only passed through Lyon en route to visit my French parents-in-law in Provence. As France’s gastronomic capital, how could I have just gone through its tunnels under the Saône and Rhône?

One of Ann’s favourite addresses in Lyon is a typical bouchon eatery, Chez Hugon. I’m not going to give you all the gastronomic history here, as she beautifully documents it in her book but, as a first introduction to Lyon, I can tell you the ambience was contagiously uplifting.

chez Hugon Lyon

Opening the Bouchon door and seeing the long, communal packed tables with diners in full conversational swing, one diner must have seen my panic-stricken face at the lack of space. ‘Mais, you’re too late – there are no seats left’, he teased. Sensing the Lyonnais sense of humour, just as his friend got up to go to the toilet, I grabbed his seat.  Luckily, two wooden chairs were waiting for my friend and I at the end of a table, just cosily next to the kitchen, so we could relish the lively banter from both sides of the restaurant.

As an ex-vegetarian, I didn’t quite make it to the traditional Andouillette tripe sausage but instead went for the lentils with bacon and a Quenelle de brochet, just as Ann had tasted, “served in a puddle of langoustine sauce”.

Just as we were studying the traditional dessert menu, glistening in the fluorescent lights that Ann had mentioned, a couple entered with guitars. My first reaction was, och – there are really no tables left but they took their coats off, opened their cases and started strumming and humming until there was a marked crescendo with Brassens’ songs; to Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie en Rose‘; to Renaud’s ‘Tel qu’il est’…Ce qui n’est pas marrant c’est qu’il ronfle, on dirait un pneu qui se dégonfle…. (Trans: It’s not funny but when he snores, it sounds like a deflating tyre’.) 

Chez Hugon Bouchon Lyonnais

Suddenly the chef, Eric, joined his mother in the front and burst into full song, with “Mexico, M – e – x – i – c – o….!” As I downed another glass of Fleury wine (one of my preferred Beaujolais Crus which I prefer on a day like today) accompanied by pears in wine (when in Lyon…), the neighbour at my table was handed the key to the toilet; on a marrow bone.

Chez Hugon Lyon Bouchon

Ann hopes that readers of her book feel encouraged to travel and explore, to ask lots of questions, to embrace their curiosity and be flexible and open to new experiences. Well, Ann, chapeau to you! I’ll definitely be returning to Lyon to discover more traditional bouchon eateries and join in the friendly banter. With ten chapter/regions in the book, from Paris to l’Aveyron, you’ll be ready to pack your bags for a delicious adventure, too.

Don’t forget to devour a copy of Ann Mah’s book, Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris. As a companion to her book, Ann is currently posting a series on her blog, ‘Where to Eat in France‘.

Traditionally today, on the third Thursday of November, let’s give a toast to Beaujolais Nouveau Day!  Chez Hugon is usually open Mondays to Fridays but, exceptionally this weekend, they’re open to celebrate with a few pots of Beaujolais Nouveau.


P.S. Have you tried my favourite caramelised red onion tarte tatin recipe yet?