Guts And Glory
Photography Laura Stevens
For the bouchons of Lyon, eating the whole animal is nothing new. Salade de museau (beef muzzle salad) has been on the menu for over two centuries, as has oxtail, gently braised with tomatoes and shallots. They're the kind of dishes around which every self-respecting bouchon's menu revolves: solid, honest and immune to the vagaries of passing foodie fads.
The bouchons started up in the 18th century, when they catered to hungry travellers waiting for their horses to be rubbed down (bouchonné) in the stables. Often presided over by women, who became known as les mères lyonaisses, they were cramped and convivial places, serving up unfussy but often excellent home-cooking; in 1933, Eugénie Brazier of La Mère Brazier became the first woman to be awarded three Michelin stars.
These days, bar a few honourable exceptions, it's mostly men in the kitchen - though little else seems to have changed over the years. Communal tables, red-and-white checked tablecloths and minimal elbow-room are de rigueur, as is a comfortable clutter of copper pans and dubious bric-a-brac. Menus revolve around offal, just as they've always done, from tête de veau (calf's head) to tablier du sapeur (literally "fireman's apron"), a workmanlike slab of fried, breaded tripe. Quenelles are another local speciality: a triumph of culinary ingenuity, whereby almost inedibly bony pike are transformed into ethereal, mousse-like dumplings, served with rich, crayfish-infused sauce.
Lunch in such establishments proceeds along time-honoured lines. The proprietor chides the regulars, delivers heaped plates of charcuterie and dispenses squat pots lyonnais of wine, while regulars keep up a hum of conversation and purposeful clatter of cutlery. They're not shy about dispensing advice to out-of-towners, either, from the merits of various digestifs to vociferous recommendations of other vrai bouchons: we leave one lunch with a 12-strong list, scrawled on a torn-off strip of paper tablecloth.
Locals who eat at the bouchons generally harbour fiercely partisan preferences, although there is some consensus. Most would concur that Comptoir Abel has the lightest quenelles in town, while over at Daniel et Denise, Joseph Viola's award-winning pâté en croûte is considered beyond reproach. There's broad agreement, too, on the fact that a lot of the tourist traps that call themselves bouchons are nothing of the sort - an increasing problem, as tourist numbers rise. Although a new scheme to identify and label 'authentic' bouchons is afoot, not everyone's keen on signing up. "We know we're a bouchon Lyonnais," says one indignant owner. "And we don't need to pay a committee to tell us so."
Owner Of La Meunière
A bouchon must be simple: no embellishment, no sommelier, no little decorations on the plates. It's no good having a big golden sign: what matters most is that a bouchon has soul. What qualities do you need, as an owner? Charisma. And you have to love people: it's not just a matter of carrying plates, handing over the bill and saying thank you and goodbye. You have to interact. If you don't, you might as well open a brasserie.
With the Lyonnais, there's always an element of attack. If a regular's late, you might say "T'a cassé ta montre?": have you broken your watch? We always joke around.
The décor helps to create a certain ambiance, and I try to preserve it exactly as it is. It's a bit of a problem as things get older, actually - like the patch of wallpaper that needs redoing. I've got a plan for that, though: we're going to get some identical paper made, which will match the patina perfectly. It really wouldn't do to get new paper!
If I even mention replacing the old panelling, the regulars get upset. "'Everything's been newly done," I tell people. "Forty-five years ago." Nothing's been altered over the years, and that's not easy to maintain.
The menu hasn't changed either; it's a simple cuisine, a generous cuisine, centred on tripe and offal. Every bouchon has its own way of making the classics, but they're not wildly different. For me, the mark of an authentic bouchon is to find the same dishes, made the way they always have been.
We're one of the only places that still serves salads in big bowls so that people can help themselves: EU legislation has made it hard to keep to the old ways. Everything's becoming more sterile, more homogenised; it's a shame.
11 rue Neuve, +33 (0)4 7828 6291, www.la.meuniere.free.fr
Chef At The Café Des Fédérations
People take their time over lunch at Les Fédés. Last December, when the city was full of visitors for the Fête des Lumières, we refused to do a double lunch sitting. We wanted to do right by our regulars, who come here day-in day-out, and it also meant that the tourists who came in weren't hurried along. It's really a nice way of working.
I've cooked in other places before, but a bouchon lyonnais is something special. It's very friendly, like one big family, and there are some real characters among the owners.
We serve a lot of offal; if you're not used to that, quenelles are a good dish to try. Here, we serve them with a sauce of tiny green crabs, which are cooked alive: you have to crush them. It's a bit disgusting, I suppose, but that's cooking for you! Each place has little things they do differently; when I started here, the owner took me to one side and showed me their recipes.
Gras-double à la lyonnaise is a local speciality: tripe, cut in thin slices and cooked with white wine, onions, garlic and parsley, finished with a dash of raspberry or balsamic vinegar. Tablier de sapeur is similar, but cut into squares and breaded.
Personally, I really like tête de veau (calf's head), though it takes a long time to prepare and cook. You have to simmer it softly for hours, keeping it just below boiling point - and if you don't wait for it to cool properly, it can explode. Me, I like to eat everything; I am Lyonnais, after all.
8-10 rue Major Martin, +33 (0)4 7828 2600, www.lesfedeslyon.com
Co-owner Of Le Bouchon Des Filles
Isabelle [Comerro] and I opened Le Bouchon des Filles in 2007. Before that, we'd both worked at the Café des Fédérations for years - though we were there at different times, and only met later.
We both felt that if Lyonnais cuisine was going to survive, it needed to be updated and made a bit lighter. The idea was to appeal to younger people, and to women: even in the days of the mères lyonnaisses, the bouchons attracted a very male clientele. At the same time, we've tried to keep the spirit and culture alive: the closeness of the tables, which encourages people to chat, and the convivial atmosphere. The prices are affordable, but you eat a proper meal: an entrée of three salads, a main, cheese and dessert.
Our dishes often have a twist. There's a smoked herring and warm potato salad that's very well known here; our version is to make a herring rillette, with carrot and a little coriander. If we serve tripe, we might cook it Spanish-style, with chorizo and peppers. We're known for our boudin aux pommes (black pudding with apples), which has been on the menu since the start; we serve it in a filo parcel, with an aromatic herb salad.
People here can be quite conservative. If anyone calls up and asks if we have tablier du sapeur or tête de veau, I explain that while our menu is based on Lyonnais ingredients and cuisine, it's not completely traditional. Even so, some people would never eat here, because they're looking for a "vrai bouchon": that's too bad.
Was it difficult to choose a name for the bouchon? Not at all. We wanted the name to reflect the personality of the place: we're two girls, and this is our bouchon. Here, we can do things our way.
20 Rue Sergent Blandan, +33 (0)4 7830 4044
Owner Of Daniel Et Denise
When my wife and I bought this place, we decided to keep the name. Daniel and Denise, the previous owners, had been here for 40 years and it was a name everyone knew. The Lyonnais are conservative by nature, so we wanted to preserve that history.
Back in 2004, I became a Meilleur Ouvrier de France. The competition is held once every four years, and it was such an honour to get through; of the 800 or so chefs that take part, only about 15 reach the final stage. A few months after that, we bought the bouchon. People said I was crazy, but I wanted to cook food that everyone could taste - not just people with money, eating in the most expensive restaurants.
Our suppliers come every day; we don't have cold storage in my kitchen. The fridge contains the ingredients we'll use that day, not in three days' time. I've worked in a lot of Michelin-starred kitchens, so I have a certain way of doing things. The mise en place is key: everything is apportioned and calculated, nothing left to chance. Here, we make traditional bouchon dishes using the methods of a starred restaurant, so you'll always find exactly 15 lardons in our salad lyonnais. Everything is made in-house, too, from the sorbet to the quenelles. If I can't make something myself, I won't put it on the menu.
It's been nine years now, and we've been very lucky: for the last four years, we've been full every day, lunch and dinner, and we've just opened a second outpost in Vieux Lyon. Times have changed, and offering value for money is key; the people who thought I was mad to buy a bouchon back in 2004 now say I had the right idea.
156 rue de Créqui, +33 (0)4 7860 6653, www.daniel-et-denise.fr
FR Le Ventre De Lyon
Elizabeth Winding savoure un week-end dégustation dans les bouchons de la ville
C'est bien connu, dans les bouchons on mange tout - du museau à la queue. Dans ces établissements typiques de Lyon, qui existent depuis le 18e siècle, les abats trônent en bonne place au menu. Au départ, c'était des lieux populaires, bon marché, souvent dirigés par des femmes appelées les mères lyonnaises.
La plupart des Lyonnais défendent fièrement leurs bouchons, mais ils reconnaissent que de nombreux pièges à touristes existent. Et bien qu'il existe un label authentique bouchon , tous les établissements n'y adhèrent pas. Nous savons que nous sommes un véritable bouchon lyonnais, dit un propriétaire indigné. Nous n'avons pas besoin de payer un comité pour nous le confirmer.
Jean-Louis Gelin, propriétaire de La Meunière Dans un bouchon, il est important de nouer des contacts avec les clients. Avec les Lyonnais, on trouve toujours un angle d'attaque. Si un habitué est en retard, vous lui lancez : t'as cassé ta montre ? On aime bien blaguer. www.la.meuniere.free.fr Denis Buisson, chef au Café des Fédérations Personnellement, j'adore la tête de veau, quoique cela prenne du temps à préparer. Vous devez la laisser mijoter à feu doux durant des heures. Pour ma part, j'aime manger de tout ; je suis Lyonnais, après tout. www.lesfedeslyon.com Laura Vildi, co-propriétaire du Bouchon des Filles
Cet établissement est plus féminin que les autres. Nous pensons que pour survivre, la cuisine lyonnaise doit s'adapter et opter pour plus de légèreté. Notre boudin aux pommes, par exemple, est cuisiné en croûte et accompagné d'une salade aromatisée aux herbes. Délicieux !
Joseph Viola, propriétaire de Daniel et Denise J'ai toujours travaillé dans des restaurants étoilés, mais je voulais faire une cuisine accessible - et non pas réservée aux seuls clients fortunés. Lorsque j'ai acheté cet endroit, tout le monde disait que j'étais fou ; aujourd'hui, ils trouvent que c'était une bonne idée. www.daniel-et-denise.fr
NL Het Gastronomische Hart Van Lyon
Elizabeth Winding geniet een weekendje van de beste bouchon eetgelegenheden van de stad
In de bouchons slachtafval staat er al sinds de 18de eeuw op het hoofdmenu. Sinds hun begindagen zijn dit goedkope, gezellige eetplekjes die vaak worden uitgebaat door vrouwen, de zogeheten mères lyonnaises. Jean-Louis Gelin, eigenaar van La Meunière
Wie een bouchon uitbaat, moet leren communiceren. De inwoners van Lyon vinden altijd wel een manier om je te "bekritiseren". Tegen vaste klanten die te laat komen, zeggen we bijvoorbeeld: 't'as cassé ta montre?' (is je horloge kapot). We zijn altijd wel te vinden voor een grapje. www.la.meuniere.free.fr Denis Buisson, chef-kok van Café des Fédérations Ik hou enorm van tête de veau, hoewel het lang moet opstaan. U moet het een aantal uren zachtjes laten sudderen. Ikzelf eet echt alles graag. Ik ben dan ook een echte Lyonnais. www.lesfedeslyon.com Laura Vildi, mede-eigenaar van Le Bouchon des Filles Dit plekje is vrouwelijker dan de andere. We waren ervan overtuigd dat de lokale gastronomie een nieuwe impuls en iets minder zware gerechten nodig had om te kunnen overleven. Zo bereiden wij onze boudin aux pommes in papillot en wordt het opgediend met een aromatische kruidensalade.
Joseph Viola, eigenaar Daniel et Denise Ik heb altijd voor Michelin restaurants gewerkt, maar ik wilde gerechten bereiden voor het grote publiek. Toen ik deze zaak kocht, zei iedereen me dat ik gek was. Nu geven ze toe dat ik het bij het rechte eind had. www.daniel-et-denise.fr