Thursday, November 29, 2018

La Mere Brazier - Lyon France **

No visit to Lyon should be without a meal at one of the high-end restaurants in and around Lyon. The most famous is, of course, L'Auberge du Pont de Collonges, the restaurant with 3 stars in Michelin owned by the Late Paul Bocuse. In addition, there are 4 with 2 stars in Michelin. We chose Mere Brazier. This place has some serious history.

I had written about the Mothers of Lyon. Eugenie Brazier was one such mother. She was born in 1895 in a farming family. In 1921 she established La Mere Brazier and in 1933 she was the first female chef ever to be given 3 stars in Michelin. A few years later, she earned another 3 stars in Michelin for her other restaurant Le Col de la Luere. She must have been a formidable personality, a force of nature. The legendary Paul Bocuse began his career at her restaurant in 1946. Her cookbook and autobiography were translated into English and published in 1977 shortly after her death. Two French Presidents Charles de Gaulle and Valèry Giscard d’Estaing were amongst her many regular customers and admirers. Film stars like Marlene Dietrich ate at her restaurants. She was offered lucrative employments by the Aga Khan and the Waldorf Astoria in New York. But she remained in Lyon. After her death the restaurant ran for a few years and then shut.

In October 2008, Mathieu Viannay, himself a rather extraordinary Chef, took the place over and today it holds 2 stars in Michelin. Mathieu Viannay is the holder of the very prestigious MOF award (Meilleurs Ouvrier de France). Wikipedia tells us about MOF:

The title of Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (shortened to MOF) is a unique and prestigious award in France according to category of trades in a contest among professionals. The awarding of medals occurs at the Sorbonne in Paris, during a large reunion followed by a ceremony in the presence of the President of the French Republic.
This award for special abilities is unique in the world. Created in 1924, initially between the best workers of the era aged 23 and over, this contest was given the title of Un Des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (One of the Best Craftsmen of France). Today, by the diversity of specialities, the list of which is regularly updated, the award has also been awarded to more modern trades and high technology fields.
The candidate is given a certain amount of time and basic materials not only to create a masterpiece, but to do so with a goal of approaching perfection. The chosen method, the organization, the act, the speed, the knowhow and the respect for the rules of the trade are verified by a jury just as much as is the final result. The winning candidates retain their title for life, with the indication of the specialty, the year following the one in which they obtain the title. This prestigious title is equally recognized by professionals and the greater public in France, particularly among artisan-merchants such as pastry makers, hairdressers, butchers, jewellers, and others whose trades are recognized, particularly those for more luxurious goods.
This competition requires months, sometimes years, of preparation. Technical skills, innovation, respect for traditions and other aspects are all practiced repeatedly to a level of refinement and excellence, effectiveness and quickness to succeed and be crowned by the jury, which makes its decision according to the distribution of points awarded during the entire process

The filmmaker D A Pennebaker whose films were mostly quasi-documentaries on various music stars [Dylan, Bowie, Alice Cooper & Jimi Hendrix] made a film in 2009 on the MOF called “Kings of Pastry”. I believe the film is quite something. I have not seen it though would love to.

With this kind of background, we were expecting good things from La Mere Brazier. We had made our bookings from Mumbai. So, when we arrived in Lyon, as a matter of precaution, we requested our Concierge to reconfirm our reservation. When we mentioned La Mere Brazier, much to our surprise and amusement, the Concierge responded with, and I kid you not, “Oh la la”. Yes, they really do say that in France.

As we entered thru a longish passage, our coats were whisked away, our names confirmed and we were escorted to our table. There were two rooms, we were seated in the outer room, tables well spaced, well lit and one did not feel at all claustrophobic despite the fact the room had no windows. Menus were handed out, aperitifs ordered and meal decided.

An amuse bouche was served comprising of a typical Lyon dish, Pate En Croute. It was this first dish, an amuse bouche at that, which showed the kitchen’s skill. The pastry on the En Croute was light and crisp. The Pate inside deeply flavored. It is difficult to see in the photo, but the jelly between the crust and the Pate on the left of the slice was rich and meaty. The Cherries that garnished were the best I have eaten. Well begun.

Above: Pate En Croute

We were not done yet. Another amuse bouche turned up, this was a dish with Pasta and Mushrooms. It was served lukewarm. I do not know if that was intentional. This was nice, nowhere as good as the En Croute.

Above: The second Amuse Bouche

HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered “Sea Spider with Condiments, Celery Emulsion and Caviar” – a Sea Spider being a poor translation of a Crab. Beautifully served cool and refreshing.

Above: Sea Spider with Condiments, Celery Emulsion and Caviar

I ordered Artichoke and Foie Gras. Here an Artichoke Heart is encased with Foie Gras also served cold, with an Oven or Sun-Dried Tomato and shaved Fennel. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish.

Above: Artichoke and Foie Gras

For the main course we decided to share a Roast Chicken. This was no ordinary chicken but a Poulet Bresse the famous French chicken, renowned for its taste and colours – the red head, white feathers and blue legs – very patriotic, the colours of the French flag. This was to be served in tow courses, breast and leg. Good tableside action. Excellent Breast and sauce. Unfortunately, the second service of legs was overcooked.

Above: Roast Chicken. Table side action and the superb Breast 

 Above: Second service. Overcooked legs. Looked good though

One dessert was ordered, the Paris Brest. This is a very traditional dessert named after the Paris to Brest cycle race. The dish comprises of a circular Choux Pastry representing the wheel of a bicycle, which is cut horizontally and filled with a Hazelnut Cream. What I got was a very modern version. Really beautiful to look at and delicious to eat. I was a happy bunny.

Above: Paris Brest

Another dessert was ordered by HRH the Queen of Kutch. With fruit. She said it was delicious.

Above: Royal Gala with Hibiscus Juice, Tahitian Vanilla Mascarpone Cream, Caramelized Pecan Ice Cream, Blackcurrant Crisp 

All in all, I was very happy with the meal and the evening in general. There was some stiffness with the staff, I believe on account of the language problem. I did get a smile or two from the Sommelier when I asked him, in jest, why a French restaurant was serving Italian water [San Pellegrino]. He had a go at me, also in jest, when I ordered a bottle of Pinot Noir which is a light wine, which he said was “like fruit juice”. Possibly he was bashing me for not ordering a pricier wine. But who cares. We liked the wine.

Service was good all throughout. One odd thing. Once we finished a course, our plates were not cleared. They remained on the table. Then once the next course was to be served, there would be a flurry of activity when our plates would be cleared, fresh cutlery set and the next course served. This was odd. You don’t leave the diner with dirty plates in front of him. Possibly this system is what is used in France. I don’t believe we were singled out or discriminated as I could see this happening all around us.

Personally, I had a good evening and a wonderful meal. HRH the Queen of Kutch was a bit disappointed. The uncleared plates and the overcooked second service of chicken did her in.

Would I recommend this place? Oh yes.


Thursday, November 22, 2018

Lyon - The Bouchons & the food

The most significant contribution Lyon has made to the Western world is food, glorious food. The reasons for this are not hard to see.

Lyon’s location blesses it with some of France’s finest produce. The streams and rivers nearby – in fact two rivers flow through Lyon, the Soane and the Rhone – provide the best Pike, Trout and Crayfish. The areas to the North provide the legendary Bresse Chicken, bearing the colours of the French flag, Red combs, white feathers and incredible blue legs. The wonderful vineyards of Beaujolais and the Rhone Valley adjoin. The Charolis breed of cattle are from here supplying quality beef. With cattle you have dairy and consequently excellent cheeses. And, of course the humble Pig is celebrated here with quality charcuterie products, all manner of sausage, salamis and terrines. Pork is everywhere.

With this depth of food, it was natural for Lyon to produce exceptional chefs. However, at first, it was the “Mothers of Lyon” or “Mere”, simple lady home cooks who were the leaders in this regard. These humble cooks formed the backbone of Lyonnais cuisine. The famous Bouchons of Lyon grew out of this. Even today, the classic Bouchons are family owned and run. Following the Mere’s you had the great Paul Bocuse who came from Lyon. He was hugely influential, and passed away this year [2018]. Daniel Boulud also grew up in Lyon. Frankly, there are several chefs from this region. You can read about our meal at Paul Bocuse Restaurant here.

Some of the classic Lyon dishes are eaten even today around the world, yes, even in our humble Bharat. The Pommes Dauphinois which is simple sliced potato cooked in milk and cream and baked. Gratins are big in Lyon and find themselves on menus in restaurants and homes everywhere. If you go to the Willingdon, Yacht Club or Bombay Gym, often on the menu you will find Potato Lyonnaise which is sauté potato with onion. Almonds coated with pink candied sugar are typical of Lyon.

Bouchons are absolutely typical classic Lyon restaurants. I do not think I could give you an exact example of what a Bouchon could be from a Mumbai context, but, I would imagine, a classic Gomantak restaurant could be a rough equivalent. By Gomantak I mean Saayba at Bandra, or Hotel Sandeep at Dadar or Sindhudurg also at Dadar [not Gajalee]. These serve somewhat local food [I know Gomantak/Malwan is not Mumbai but close] are family owned and serve only Gomantak food by and large. No Chinese and Kebabs.  A Bouchon is normally small, people sit cheek by jowl, often on shared tables, water is shared in as much as a huge jug is placed on the table for the entire table. Most bouchons have checked red and white tablecloths, are reasonably cheap and serve good wholesome non fine dine food. The wines are local and offered by the glass or carafe. The menus are limited and generally standard offering standard hearty Lyon food.  

Because of the huge brand value, the word “Bouchon” has, this has resulted in many in-authentic places calling themselves Bouchons and decorating themselves like the authentic. This led to a sort of reform movement in the late 1990’s. L'Association de défense des bouchons lyonnais (The Association for the Preservation of Lyonnais Bouchons) was formed and this Association grants certifications to "authentic" bouchons. These receive the title Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais and are identified with a sign showing the cartoon character Gnafron, a Lyonnais symbol of the pleasures of dining, with a glass of wine in one hand and a napkin bearing the Lyon crest in the other. Needless to say, in-authentic Bouchons often have touts or as the Australians say “Spruikers” outside, menus in hand, imploring you to enter. Stay away. A classic authentic Bouchon, on the contrary, will be impossible to get into without a reservation. They will simply have a sign outside saying “Complet”.

We ate at two Bouchons. The first was Le Meuniere. 

Above: HRH the Queen of Kutch studying the menu at Le Muniere

The walls were decorated with all types of kitchen implements. In the centre of the dining room was a long table laden with salads on top of which was a ceramic Pig. In a Bouchon you have an option of asking for salads. You are presented with the 4 or 5 salads of the day, all of which you can eat as much as you like. The bowls are simply placed on the table.

I of course was delighted with the fact that every table had a basket of deep-fried pork fat or Scratching as it’s called in the UK. This was free for you to nibble on. Much like getting wafers or “chana” at a bar in Mumbai. Lovely. I am not describing every dish. Do have a look at the photos.

Above: The deep fried pork morsels

Above: Salad Lyonnaise. Greens, Poached Egg and Bacon

Above: Eggs Meurette. Eggs, Red Wine Sauce, Crutons, Mushroom, Bacon

Above: Local Sausage with Buttered Potato

Above: Day special. Frogs Legs

Above: Macaroni & Cheese with the Frogs Legs

Above: 1/2 Saint Marcellin for dessert

The second meal, was much better. It was at Au Petit Bouchon Chez Georges. We were seated at probably the worst table in as much as it was next to the Kitchen. I did not mind, I got to see the action. Just two chefs in the kitchen so no swearing and violence. We were on a table for 4 occupying 2 seats and the other two were occupied by a French couple, who were tourists in Lyon themselves. Very charming and good food.  

Above: Pork fried.

Above: French Onion Soup. My all time favourite

Above: Eggs baked with Saint Marcellin

Above: Pike Brochettes with Sauce Nantua

Above: Andouillette Sausage with Mustard Sauce

Above: Some Pilaf & Macaroni & Cheese again as accompaniment

Above: Praline Tart

Another meal that we thoroughly enjoyed was lunch at the central market in Lyon. This is called the Les Halles Paul Bocuse after the great man. As you will know, lunch is not something we do, neither do we drink at lunchtime. This afternoon was a departure. We had a glass of white wine each, and, a platter of meat and cheese at an Italian delicatessen in the market. It was beautiful food. I must confess, we were really not happy after that meal. We felt heavy, sluggish and lazy. In balance we are glad we did the lunch. Such fun and just so civilized to be able to have a meal like this in a market.

The food in Lyon is exceptional. I would say it’s better, more sophisticated and with a greater depth than at Bologna. Lyon is also a bigger city than Bologna so your options are more. Food is not at all expensive if you eat in a Bistro or Bouchon (which is obviously what you should be doing), a full meal will cost you 40 to 50.

We did like Lyon. As I have written in my previous post, this was our second visit. Thoroughly recommend Lyon and if you like food this is really the place to be. 

A few more photos of the great food.

Above: Snails with Parsley & Garlic Butter

Above: Pork Chop grilled

Above: Magical Mashed Potato. Not butter but olive oil

Above: Fish Grilled with a Raspberry Sauce.

Above: Another St Marcellin cheese

Above: Pate En Croute.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Lyon & Perouges

Lyon was our city of choice to visit.

We had been to Lyon in December 2011. At that time, it was the dead of winter. The idea was to visit the Christmas Markets and spend Christmas in London. The cold was not an issue as such, but, we were less experienced, less informed and, in retrospect, believed we had not fully appreciated Lyon. We had travelled by train, and on the return leg the snowfall had disrupted the train schedules. I remember waiting with throngs of passengers at Paris. I also remember looking out of the train window and seeing piles of snow alongside the tracks. The moment we exited the Chunnel and entered the UK the snow simply disappeared. This time, we had planned a short 4 night stay in Lyon, flying in and back.

Lyon is France’s third largest city by population after Paris and Marseille. From what we saw in our 4 nights, Lyon is not terribly affected by ‘immigrants”. Yes, a lot of the cabbies were immigrants – read Black and/or Muslim – but on the whole, in the areas we visited, relatively immigrant free. For some reason, on the street where we had our hotel, there were several Pakistani restaurants and Indian shops.

Silk is what made Lyon rich. There was a huge silk industry in the 18 and 19th Century. Lyon has the headquarters of the Interpol. Lyon is where the Lumiere Brothers Auguste and Louis invented the Cinematograph i.e. the movie projector. But most of all, Lyon is famous for its massive influence on gastronomy. That in a later post.

Getting from Lyon airport to the city is neither easy nor cheap. The simplest and most painless way is by taxi. This however will cost you about 80 Euro. You could do the bus train and tram way, depending of course where your hotel is located, but that will cost you about 50 Euro for two, plus a hernia as you will have to lug your suitcases and a bonus of your wife [and children] calling you a blithering fool in sotto voice and a ‘Chutiya’ in their minds. If you get in by train, the stations are far more conveniently located to simply take a taxi.

Lyon is located a mere hour away from Geneva in the foot of the Alps. Several famous ski resorts are 2 to 3 hour drives away – Chamonix, Meribel, Courchevel, to name a few. I did not realise how close it is to Geneva. Thinking about this, I am equally shocked as to how poor the food is in Geneva despite its proximity to Lyon.  

Lyon, has an “Old Town” or Alt Stad or the Vieux Lyon. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This adjoins the Fourviere or the Hill atop which is the beautiful Basilica Notre Dame De Fourviere. Which is honestly stunningly beautiful especially from inside. Our Hotel was located in the Vieux Lyon area. The Hotel – Cour Des Loges – was stunning, really beautiful, full of charm and character with a 1 Star in Michelin restaurant, good bar and Café. Truth be told, while the Hotel was knock your socks off, I believe it was not in the best location. Vieux Lyon is not the best Alt Stad in the World, several European cities have better. Anyway, we had no complaints with the Hotel itself.

Above: the inside of the Cour Des Loges

Below: Basilica Notre Dame De Fourviere

On an aside. Our Hotel was located on a street called Roux De Boeuf. No Hindoos would stay on this road. One evening, i got the shock of my life. I saw several very blond children, aged say 5, running around with what were Trishul. I thought they were after me! I turned in panic to HRH the Queen of Kutch who looked at me as if I was nuts and said no, they were children with Tridents dressed as Devils for Haloween. I was indeed relieved.   

From Vieux Lyon, a short 6 minute walk leads you to the first set of bridges that span the Soane River and connect Vieux Lyon to the central island with Palace Bellecour. This area is largely pedestrianized and has all the trendy shops and restaurants. Great place to walk around. If in Lyon, my advise is try and stay in this area. You will get a characterless hotel but will be staying where all the action is. A further 10 minute walk will take you to bridges that span the Rhone and onto the Part Dieu area that has the Central Station and the great Le Halles Paul Bocuse, the main market.

When in Lyon, you must keep a day aside to make a trip to a nearby Perouges. Perouges is regarded by many as the prettiest Medieval village in France. Medieval is regarded as the period AD 476 to 1500. Perouges is also very well preserved. Perouges is located some 30 kms away on a hill top. It was full of craftsmen, linen weavers and farmers. Then with a change in the local roads the population fell dramatically. In recent times Perouges has been used for films and TV, the local authorities have encouraged locals to move to Perouges, and now it has restaurants, hotels, Christmas markets, music concerts.

To get to Perouges you catch a train from the Part Dieu station and a mere 25 or less minutes later you are in Meximieux. Exit the station and a 20 minute walk will get you to Perouges. Perouges is small, very small, but very pretty. Its best to go there late morning, have a walk about and have lunch at one of the restaurants there. The Hostellerie du Vieux Perouges is the best. Their specialty is the Perouges Galette which is a Pizza like tart made with Sugar. Quite nice despite its very simple ingredients. Post lunch you could head back to Lyon. Perouges was very pretty.

There was a magic moment as I went into the Church at Perouges. The sun shone thru the stained glass and the coloured light fell on the floor. Almost supernatural.

If you are visiting France, Lyon is a nice place to go to. 3 days including the ½ day trip to Perouges is enough time. If you are a manic eater, plan for 1 more day. Lyon is nice. We have been to two really big gastronomy centres this year – Bologna and Lyon. The gastronomy in Lyon is far better and deeper and richer. Bologna is smaller and prettier and has several brilliant attractions nearby – Ferrari, Lamborgini and Ducati and several cities. Choosing between the two is difficult. You will not go hungry in either.