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Six of Lyon's best bistro-style 'bouchon' restaurants

The bouchon — a rustic restaurant serving hearty local fare — is a true symbol of Lyon. Loosen your belt and take in some of the city’s best.

Published 5 Jul 2021, 08:00 BST
There are only 22 certified bouchons in Lyon, friendly establishments with unfussy menus and red-and-white chequered tablecloths.

There are only 22 certified bouchons in Lyon, friendly establishments with unfussy menus and red-and-white chequered tablecloths.

Photograph by Getty Images

Lyon may have a flashy reputation for haute cuisine and a cavalcade of famous chefs proudly calling it home, but the true magic of its cuisine lies in its bouchonsfriendly establishments with unfussy menus and red-and-white chequered tablecloths. There are only 22 certified bouchons in this city with a reputed 4,000 restaurants. If this sounds a little exclusive, that’s because it is — these are a cultural cornerstone, unique to the French metropolis.

Less than a year since the opening of the Cité de la Gastronomie — a state-of-the-art cultural centre that celebrates food and dining in all its forms — on the banks of the Rhône, the appetite for the humble bouchon remains as strong as ever. Shunning modern twists and contemporary quirks on traditional dishes, these small, family-owned bistros delight in the authentic. Expect warm welcomes, and handwritten menus featuring classic, indulgent Lyonnaise fare that goes big on meat, offal, onions and butter and generous helpings of local wines like Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône. Diners should leave their worries at the door when entering one of these old-world joints — all that matters is great food and the love of a good time.

1. Daniel et Denise Créqui

Start in the Part-Dieu neighbourhood, where the distinctive red awning of Daniel et Denise Créqui marks one of the finest bouchons in town. There’s a certain homely charm to this restaurant, with its hanging copper warming pans and elegant wood panelling — and, as for the food, Viola’s award-winning pâté en croûte is one of many enticing reasons to stop by.

2. Le Bouchon des Cordeliers

Head across the Rhône on Pont Lafayette to the Presqu’île area and follow your nose to Le Bouchon des Cordeliers. Don’t be fooled by the contemporary interior — a cursory glance at the menu will confirm that this is indeed a bastion of traditional bouchon fare. It’s packed with classics like quenelle lyonnaise au brochet (a pike dumpling drowned in a creamy Nantua sauce made with crayfish) and tarte aux pralines (a decadent tart made with pink praline).

3. Café des Fédérations

Tucked away down an alleyway, this rustic restaurant is something of a local institution, its wood-panelled exterior and white curtains unchanged for decades. Equally timeless is the menu, which features dishes that span generations. The extensive wine list could come in handy when summoning the courage to order the tête de veau (calf’s head).

4. Le Bouchon des Filles

A short walk north, past the jaunty graffiti of Rue Sergent Blandan, lies the female-owned Le Bouchon des Filles, keeping up a centuries-old Lyon tradition of professional kitchens run by women (they were originally known as the Mères Lyonnaises). Having first met while waitressing at the Café des Fédérations, Laura Vildi and Isabelle Comerro teamed up to open a bouchon of their own. The menu is authentic but not as calorie-heavy as those of the more traditional bouchons — although the liberally sized andouillette sausage may suggest otherwise.

5. Les Fines Gueules

Cross the River Saône and amble into the picture-postcard backstreets of Lyon’s old town, Vieux Lyon. Here, you’ll find the sumptuous Les Fine Gueules, the brainchild of chef Joël Salzi, who spent 11 years working under local hero and ‘pope’ of French cuisine Paul Bocuse. The bouchon is a haven of traditional regional cooking in a tourist-centric part of town (it’s next door to an English-style pub); finish off a meal here in style with Salzi’s colourful ice cream and meringue vacherin.

6. Café Comptoir Abel

Follow the Saône south to what might be the city’s most revered bouchon. With its antique wooden furniture, waxed floor and vintage bric-a-brac, the Café Comptoir Abel makes claims it dates back to 1726 seem entirely plausible. Not to be outdone, head chef Alain Vigneron has worked here himself since 1976. Pull back a chair and savour a menu that showcases the best of Lyonnaise cuisine, including some of the finest quenelles to be found in the city.

Did you know?

Although ‘bouchon’ translates as ‘cork’ in English, it also refers to the twisted straw brushes that Lyon’s silk traders used to clean their horses with.

Published in the JulyAug 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK) 

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