Emmanuelle Jary - 2010-10-04
While visiting Lyon, we discovered a France of bygone days, a France that still counts its change in Francs. Even the local jargon is old-fashioned: table wine isn’t vin, it’s reginglard; children aren’t les enfants, they are gones; and dandelions aren’t pissenlits, they’re called groins d’âne - donkey muzzles. This is the France of the ‘bouchons lyonnais’.
Bouchons, a word of uncertain etymology which roughly translates as ‘tavern’, used to feed the workers called ‘canuts’ who laboured in the silk factories that made the city so prosperous. They even had their own dish, la cervelle de canut (canut brain!), which was actually curd cheese mixed with garlic and herbs. Today, Lyon’s bouchons continue to serve cuisine centred on the offal and cooked meats which Lyon is famous for, and each establishment has its speciality.
Originally, the husband would watch over the dining room and pour the wine (Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône) from a traditional 46 centilitre jug, while the wife cooked everyday, family-style cuisine. The dishes often called for ingredients such as offal: lowly entrails and other bits which the bourgeoisie turned up their noses at and some of which, paradoxically, have become quite expensive lately! Arlette Hugon, a seasoned chef with merry eyes, still prepares her chicken with crayfish and her gâteau de foie de volaille - chicken liver flan - with the same exacting care every day. You should see her, after dozens of years at the stoves, moving amongst diners with caquelon casserole in hand as she continues to stir the sauce so it stays nice and thick. This basic gesture shows just how much attention Hugon pays to everything she prepares, and lets us know that the food will be excellent before we’ve even tasted it. ‘The bouchon,’ she says, ‘is all about human warmth and plenty of friendship.’ As it happens, there are very different ways to define just what a bouchon is all about. Some proprietors, like Père Chauvin, the former owner of the Café des Fédérations, were notoriously temperamental. In the morning when he opened his tavern, Chauvin used to put out a sign indicating that it was fully booked so that he might decide who was or wasn’t worthy of dining in his establishment!
In the Café du Jura, chef Brigitte Josseran empathizes. She now avoids visiting the dining room because she can’t bear to see customers rocking back and forth on their chairs or eating directly out of the salad bowl. Her son, amused, points to tables at the back of the restaurant which are bolted to the floor. ‘This is where the people who worked on laundry barges which went up and down the Saône and Rhône rivers would meet to eat, as well as the messenger boys who ran messages between barristers and bailiffs - they were known to be short-tempered folk who easily engaged in fisticuffs. So the tables had to be stuck to the floor or the customers would have trashed everything,’ he explains.
True melting pots à la Lyonnaise, bouchons were frequented by both disreputable characters and the policemen who came to glean information about them; politicians would also come in to test the pulse of public opinion. Yet today, public figures and businessmen and women often come to bouchons to share a meal in familiar surroundings and sign contracts over coffee. ‘Traditionally, there’s plenty of elbow room in a bouchon,’ says Benoît Josseran, proprietor of the Café du Jura. But this is not always the case; in Garet, for example, crowded is the norm. Each bouchon has its own ambiance, flavour and history.
It is unclear whether certain establishments are authentic bouchons or not, even while they offer menus which are perfectly representative of the genre. Chez Daniel et Denise is one such restaurant. For the past few years it has been operating under the toque of Joseph Viola, former chef of Léon de Lyon, serving such specialities as omelette du curé (an omelette generally made with chicken livers) with crayfish and Nantua sauce, le tablier de sapeur (breaded tripe), macaroni gratin and sautéed potatoes to die for. So? ‘It’s too perfect, always excellent. In a bouchon, the food should be a bit disappointing sometimes,’ a local journalist tells us. This back-handed compliment flatters an establishment whose pâté en croûte aux ris de veau (veal sweetbreads in pastry crust) is, according to Paul Bocuse, Lyon’s best. It also says a lot about the origins of the bouchon in general. ‘They served housewives’ recipes which sometimes went wrong, just like at home,’ our journalist added. This notion is echoed by the current owner of the Café des Fédérations who states that, ‘a bouchon is just like a family meal, but you have to pay for it.’ But honestly, nowadays how many of us cook flambéed kidneys with Madeira sauce in our own kitchens?
A few new bouchons have appeared on the scene, such as La Tête de Lard run by Yoann Blanc, twenty-something, who wears a beret with panache and continues the tradition assisted by his father in the dining room. Yes, one must live with one’s times, but nothing new can ever really replace the cheeky humour and formidable moustache of the proprietor of La Meunière, nor the quality of Madame Hugon’sgâteau de foie de volaille.
11 Rue Neuve
Tel: (33) 04 78 28 62 91
Lyon-style salads, including celery remoulade, museau vinaigrette (pickled ox muzzle), pied de veau (calf’s feet), lentil salad; oxtail with tomatoes and shallots; Grenoble-style brains with capers and lemon.
Menus at € 26/£ 23; € 31/£ 27. À la carte: approximately € 27/£ 24.
Daniel et Denise
156 Rue de Créqui
Tel: (33) 04 78 60 66 53
Omelettes du curé with crayfish, pâté en croûte ‘légendaire’, lamb’s sweetbread salad, calf’s head with ravigote sauce, cardoon gratin with marrow, tablier de sapeur (breaded tripe) and sautéed potatoes ‘extraordinaire’. Approximately € 30/£ 26. Lyonnais menu at € 26/£ 23.
La Tête de lard
13 Rue Désirée
Tel: (33) 04 78 27 96 80
Onglet (beef steak) en croûte, chicken liver gâteau (a flan, really), pears in red wine…
Menu € 13/£ 11 (lunch); € 18/£15.50; € 23/£ 20; € 27/£23.50.
Café des Fédérations
8-9-10 Rue Major Martin
Tel: (33) 04 78 28 26 00
Œuf en meurette (poached eggs in red wine sauce), boar terrine, chicken liver gâteau with sauce financière, pungent cheeses… Lunch € 19/£16.50, dinner € 24/£ 21.
Au petit Bouchon ’Chez Georges’
8 Rue Garet
Tel: (33) 04 78 28 30 46
Lentil, muzzle, calf’s feet and cervelas (sausage) salads; poached fresh-water fish. Menus from € 10.50/£ 9 (lunch) to € 25/£ 22.
Café du Jura
25 Rue Tupin
Tel: (33) 04 78 42 20 57
Calf’s head, crepinette de pied de porc (pig’s trotter sausage), chicken liver gâteau, calf’s sweetbreads with morels…
Approximately € 25/£ 22.
12 Rue Pizay
Tel: (33) 04 78 28 10 94
Chicken with crayfish, chicken with vinegar, blanquette de veau, chicken liver gâteau, sabodet en civet (pig’s head sausage), calf’s feet.
Menu with starters, entrée, cheese or dessert at € 24/£ 21.
La Mère Jean
5 Rue Marronniers
Tel: (33) 04 78 37 81 27
Breaded pig’s trotters with sauce tartare, assorted Lyonnais salads, andouillette cooked three ways, flambéed veal sweetbreads, tarte à la praline.
From € 11.50/£ 10 (lunch) to € 25/£ 22. À la carte approximately € 20/£ 17.50.
2 Rue des Forces
Tel: (33) 04 78 37 71 54.
Oxtail with red wine, lamb’s tongue, boiled chicken, tripe soup…
Menus at € 20/£ 17.50; € 23/£ 20.
7 Rue du Garet
Tel: (33) 04 78 28 16 94
Cervelle meunière (brains in lemon and butter sauce), hot saucisson, andouillette, calf’s head, tripe gratin…
Menus from € 18/£ 16. À la carte: € 25-30/£ 22-26.