A Fine-Dining Surprise in Lyon

A Fine-Dining Surprise in Lyon

From its popular Bouchons to internationally revered local chef Paul Bocuse, Lyon is a city that takes its cuisine seriously. Nowhere is it more obvious than at the little known Restaurant Vatel.

A Legendary Namesake

What first piques my interest in this teaching restaurant of the Groupe Vatel, a worldwide education group specialized in the various aspect of the hospitality industry, is its choice of patronym.

Lyon-Vatel table setting

The subdued elegance of the table setting annonces a fine-dining experience.

Granted, Francois Vatel (1631-1671) rose from pastry cook apprentice to becoming the most famous event planner at the court of French King Louis XIV (the monarch who left us Versailles). Yet history remembers him only as the man who skewered himself with his own sword because the fish delivery for a royal banquet was late. Hardly a motivating role model for aspiring hospitality business professionals! However, my musings about this long-ago case of professional burnout end at the door of Restaurant Vatel. It’s clear at first sight that its namesake would approve.

A Timeless Temple of Gastronomy

Lyon-Vatel kir royal.

A generous amuse-bouche enhances our spectacular Kir Royal à la Framboise.

The dining room has the understated elegance of a space dedicated to the appreciation of Haute Cuisine. The pale amber walls are enhanced with burled walnut wainscoting and paneling. Spotlights discretely recessed into the white plaster coffered ceilings softly light the tabletops. Dark blue wall-to-wall carpeting muffles any service noise. The generously sized, white linen-clad tables are spaced far enough apart for privacy, and the medallion-back chairs upholstered in goldenrod velvet ensure seating comfort through a multi-course meal. Add gleaming silver and stemware, monogrammed china and delicate centerpieces of fresh flowers, and you have a relaxed setting staged to fade from awareness, so guests can focus their attention on the works of culinary art on their plate.

A Memorable Dining Experience

After a day spent tracking down the famous frescoed walls throughout the city, a cocktail is in order. We start out with a Kir Royal à la Framboise (Champagne with raspberry liqueur). A generous amuse-bouche materializes along with it. It includes a verrine (miniature glass tumbler) of chilled cucumber cream, a tiny savory pound cake with an herbed crumble topping and a pair of fresh anchovy filets in a tangy marinade on a mound of cold quinoa risotto.

Lyon-Vatel guinea fowl.

Roasted breast of guinea fowl on a Gorgonzola glaze.

For our first course, both my dining companion and I opt for a refreshing salad of al dente spring vegetables. It is served on a bed of baby arugula, with dollops of light tapenade and this traditional Lyon specialty, the cervelle de canut (silk-worker’s brain; a creamy fresh cheese blended with herbs, shallots and a touch of garlic). Just the right start for an early summer’s meal.

My main course is a roasted breast of guinea fowl with tiny potatoes and whole garlic cloves, served on a creamy glaze of Gorgonzola sauce and garnished with a marinated sundried tomato. The simple dish is flawlessly executed, with the cheese glaze adding an interesting, delicately tangy note.

Lyon-Vatel stuffed squid.

Squid stuffed with haddock mousse on a coulis of shellfish.

My friend declares her squid stuffed with haddock mousse also a success. It is served with wilted baby spinach and saffron rice, on a coulis of shellfish. I have a discrete taste of the coulis. Ambrosia! Whoever is teaching the sauces class to these soon-to-be chefs deserves a medal.

The wine list offers a comprehensive sampling of the main wine growing areas of France, with a concentration on Burgundy and Côtes du Rhone. These are, after all, considered local wines here. When asked for suggestions, our student sommelier points us to a little known Mâcon vintage, a 2013 Saint Véran Chardonnay from Pierre Ferraud et Fils. The dry, pale golden wine with a faint fruity aroma is a perfect foil for the seafood, but has enough clout to hold up to my roasted fowl as well.

A Dessert Nirvana

Lyon-Vatel dessert.

It is a struggle to restrain myself to just a few options.

A look at the dessert cart convinces us to pass on the cheese course. Three trolleys are wheeled to our table, laden with most of sumptuous classics ever bequeathed to the world by French pastry chefs. There are multi-layered chocolate cakes, showing off several intriguing textures under their veil of lustrous ganache. I spot a Saint Honoré, its high peaks of whipped cream contained within a ring of creampuffs glossy with brittle caramel. Then there is a perfect strawberry cream cake, a Baba au Rhum, and a crunchy Dacquoise with its thick praline butter cream filling sandwiched between two layers of hazelnut meringue. And several varieties of fruit and chocolate tarts, and bowls filled with various flavors of mousses.

Lyon-Vatel petits fours.

An extravagant tray of petits fours closes the meal.

Lest this dessert Nirvana failed to satisfy, our post-dinner espresso arrives with an extravagant tray of petits fours: macaroons, pistachio and chocolate tarts, various miniature cookies, and even a cube of homemade marshmallow.

 

 

 

Well-choreographed Service

Lyon-Vatel wine.

Our sommerlier introduces us to the little-known Saint-Véran Chardonnay.

We are attended by a veritable chorus line of black-suited, eager young servers and sommeliers, about twice the number that would be customary in a luxury restaurant. Yet, the service is unobtrusive and rigorously synchronized. Many of the students are already quite poised; a few are still a bit tense. Understandably so since the entire evening unfolds under the eagle eye of a majordomo who, from a discrete vantage point at the back of the room, clearly doesn’t miss even the smallest detail. But neither does the dining room staff. Everybody is gracious and attentive. The courses are precisely timed and the dishes served with just the right touch of flourish. Glasses are refilled promptly and not a single crumb is ever allowed to linger on the crisp tablecloth as soon as plates are removed.

If you ever yearn to feel like visiting royalty, this is a great place to dine in Lyon. But do plan ahead. Advanced reservations are a must.

Good to Know

  • Restaurant Vatel, 8, Rue Duhamel, Lyon, 69002, is open Tuesday through Saturday, Noon to 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm. It is closed on Sunday and Monday. Contact: e-mail lyon@restaurantvatel.fr, tel. +33 (0) 4 78 38 21 92.
  • Getting there – Located in the heart of the Presqu’Ile neighborhood, it is easy to reach on foot from anywhere in central Lyon, or via Métro: station Perrache (line A) or Tram: also station Perrache (lines T1 and T2).
  • Amazing value – Restaurant Vatel is a training facility where students get hands-on experience in their chosen field. The prices, therefore, are considerably lower those of a conventional restaurant of comparable standing. There are two three-course menus at the very friendly fixed prices of 29 and 34 Euros respectively, excluding beverages. Both offer two choices per course, plus a com[limentary amuse-bouche that is a course in itself, as well as an optional cheese course. The wines and bar beverages are equally well priced.

Location, location, location!

Restaurant Vatel

Notable Museums of Lyon

Notable Museums of Lyon

First a major Gallo-Roman center of trade, then a financial and industrial powerhouse of the Renaissance Lyon has long been a fertile ground for museums. From fine arts to the history of silk, and from Gallo-Roman civilization to the invention of the cinema, there are over 20 museums in Lyon to satisfy the most diverse interests.

Musée des Beaux Arts

France- Lyon Fine Arts Veronese.

Bathsheba at her Bath, by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)

Created in 1803 in a magnificent seventeenth century abbey in the heart of the central Presqu’Ile neighborhood, it is one of the premier regional museums of fine arts in France. Think of it as a human-size version of the Louvre without the crowds. With 70 galleries of exhibit space, it woos visitors with rich collections that offer an outstanding view of the evolution of art, from ancient Egypt to contemporary times. The paintings section alone section occupies 35 galleries where all the great European Schools from the Renaissance to the twentieth century are represented.

 

France-Lyon Fine Arts Chavannes.

The Sacred Forest Beloved by the Arts and Muses by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898).

While the museum is justifiably proud of its masterpieces by the likes of Tintoretto, Veronese, Rembrandt, Rubens and Poussin, the stairway murals by Lyon native Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, a forbearer of the Symbolism movement, are also well worth a second look. His murals, by the way, also grace the grand staircase of the Boston Public Library as well as the main amphitheatre of the Sorbonne in Paris.

 

Democritus meditating on the seat of the soul by Léon-Alexandre Delhomme (1841-1895).

Democritus Meditating on the Seat of the Soul by Léon-Alexandre Delhomme (1841-1895).

At the heart of the abbey, the former cloister is now a public garden with a central fountain created from an antique sarcophagus. This serene space shaded by ancient trees also serves as a sculpture garden, with works by nineteenth century French masters Rodin, Bourdelle, Maillol and Delhomme.

 

 

Musées des Tissus

France-Lyon Textile Museum.

Housed in a gracious eighteenth century mansion, the Musée des Tissus holds one of the richest textile collection in the world.

This unique Museum of Textiles has its genesis in the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the first in a series Universal Exhibitions of culture and industry that would become popular in the nineteenth century. It inspired the visiting Lyonnais manufacturers to create a museum to showcase the superior technical and artistic capabilities of the city’s silk industry. Opened in 1864, it originally offered an encyclopedic view of samples and drawings, until the 1890’s when its scope broadened to cover the history of textiles.

 

Lyon-Textile Museum Fashion.

Entire galleries illustrate the synergy between Lyon silk and Paris fashion.

Today, the museum holds one of the most important collections of textiles in the world, with close to two-and-a-half million pieces covering four millennia of production, housed in the lovely eighteenth century Hôtel de Villeroy, in the center the Presqu’Ile. From rare third century Coptic caftans to magnificent twelfth century Sicilian silk tapestries woven with gold threads made from intestine membranes coated with gold leaf, each unique item has its own fascinating story.

 

 

Lyon-Pompadour fashion.

Mid-eighteenth century court gown in the “à la Pompadour” style.

There is a doublet worn by famous historic figure Charles de Blois, Duke of Brittany (1318-1364). Made of rare Persian silk, this ceremonial quilted jacket was intended to fit under a suit of armor, so the Duke could just shed the metal garment and go straight from battle to festivities.  Stunning Lyon silks especially created for Marie Antoinette’s gowns are here, along with the rose and green tapestries she left behind in her bedroom during her ill-fated escape attempt from Versailles. Entire rooms of gowns and other ceremonial attire spanning several centuries illustrate the synergy between the development of the silk and French fashion. I could lose myself for days in here!

 

Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Lyon - Applied Arts Regny.

Original period rooms are preserved intact at the Museum of Applied Arts.

Originally part of the Museum of Textiles, this applied arts institution was spun off as a distinct collection in the adjoining Hôtel de Lacroix-Lavalle in 1925. In addition to its wealth of decorative objects from the late Middle Ages and Renaissance to contemporary times, the museum also offers the opportunity to walk through a number of period rooms, mainly from the eighteenth century, donated with their entire contents, including wall paneling, with the provision that they remain intact. Here, it is possible to appreciate in situ the artistry of furniture and textile craftsmen of the period.

Musée Lumière

Lyon-Lumière Archive.

Archive frame from the first film: “La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon” (Workers leaving the Lumiere Factory)

For movie buffs, this is where is all began, the birthplace of le cinématographe, the nineteenth century ancestor of the camcorder invented by two brothers, Auguste and Louis Lumière. Here, on March 19,1895, they recorded a 46 second film of employees leaving their family’s photo-plate business. Next door, the grand Art Nouveau mansion where the family lived is now a museum that features their famous cinématographe, along with a number of early film-making devices, including Edison’s boxy wooden kinetoscope. In the garden, a hangar is all that remains of the factory. It is now a movie theater with a dynamic program of international film classics.

Musée Gallo-Romain de Lyon-Fourvière

Lyon-Fourviere Gallo-Roman Mosaics.

The permanent collections feature fine Roman mosaics.

Partially buried into the Fourvière hillside next to the Roman Theatre archeological site, the museum offers a journey back into ancient history with its concrete spiral ramp descending and branching out into display galleries. The permanent collections feature Roman, Celtic and pre-Roman artifacts, including fine mosaics, sculptures, jewelry, ceramics and everyday objects as well as an enigmatic Celtic calendar. There is also a relief map of the ancient town as well as scale models of its major monuments, including the Theatre and the Odeon.

Musée des Confluences

Lyon-Confluences

The futuristic Musée des Confluences is Lyon’s latest.

Built at the very southern tip of the Presqu’Ile, on a peninsula that was artificially extended a century ago at the confluence of the Saône and the Rhône rivers, the sprawling glass and steel structure brings to mind a spaceship that has just gone through a hard landing. Opened in December 2014 with the ambitious mission to “tell the story of man from its origins to modern days,” this new anthropology and science museum left me a bit dazed. Going from the skeleton of a 155 million year old Camarasaurus from Wyoming to the smart phone, and from the vision of after-life in indigenous cultures around the world to the exploration of Antarctica in a couple of hours can feel a tad disorienting.

Good to Know

  • Musée des Beaux Arts20 Place des Terreaux, Lyon, 69001. Open Wednesday through Monday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Open until 10:00 on the first Friday of the month except August. Closed on Tuesday and national holidays. Contact: Tel. + 33 (0) 4 72 10 17 40.
  • Musée des Tissus et des Arts Décoratifs 34 Rue de la Charité, Lyon, 69002. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm. Closed on Monday and national holidays. Contact: +33 (0) 4 78 38 42 02
  • Musee Lumière – 25 rue du Premier-Film, place Ambroise Courtois, Lyon, 69008. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:30 pm. Closed Monday. Open all holidays except January 1, May 1 and December 25. Contact: Tel. +33 (0) 4 78 78 18 95.
  • Musée Gallo-Romain de Lyon-Fourvière17 Rue Cléberg, Lyon, 69005. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed Monday and national holidays. Contact: Tel. + 33(0) 4 72 38 49 30
  • Musée des Confluences – 86 quai Perrache 69002 Lyon, 60002. Open every day and most national holidays – schedule varies throughout the week. For exact opening hours, check their website or contact: Tel. +33 (0) 4 28 38 11 90.

Location, location, location!

Musée des Beaux Arts

Not Just Another Paris Bistro – L’Accolade

Not Just Another Paris Bistro – L’Accolade

There are literally thousands of neighborhood bistros all over Paris, dishing out meals that go from banal to “can’t-wait-to-tell-my-friends”. It’s a French thing, the telling. When you discover a new swoon-worthy eatery, you are honor-bound to tell your friends. L’Accolade, the newly opened restaurant of Chef Nicolas Tardivel is a clear winner in the “tell” category.

Paris-L'accolade lamb.

The caramelized lamb shoulder is vacuum cooked at low temperature for twenty hours.

This latest stroke of gastronomic good fortune begins with a timing setback, when the place I had in mind turns out to be closed for a private event. At the suggestion of a friend who “hasn’t eaten there yet but has heard good things about it,” I make a short notice reservation at L’Accolade.

 

 

 

An Omen of Delights to Come

Paris-L'arcolade menu

Our server, Malik, discusses the blackboard menu with the gusto of one who has tasted and loved it all.

I know at Bonjour that I am onto a good thing. The instantaneous welcome is cordial and attentive. Then come the olives, promptly, with our drink order. Olives? I refrain the urge to turn my nose. Not that I actively dislike this ubiquitous Mediterranean staple, but I tend to dismiss it as the food equivalent of Muzak. These olives, however, play a much different tune. Speckled with herbs and glistening in their white porcelain ramekin, these little black nuggets, somehow, beckon. The first tentative bite reveals a sweet, mildly exotic taste I can’t quite identify. My dining companion and I enthusiastically polish off the dish. “The chef makes his own marinade,” our server volunteers when he comes back to discuss the menu, which I now peruse with added eagerness. A man who can do this to olives has to be a culinary wizard.

The Market’s Seasonal Best

No printed menu here. The blackboard changes every couple of months, but can be tweaked any time to take full advantage the market’s seasonal best. It is kept to five appetizers, five main courses, three desserts and a cheese board. But with every single item oh so intriguing, choice is still a dilemma.

Paris-L'Accolade tomato salad.

Heirloom tomato salad with basil ice cream.

My tomato salad starter is a platter of juicy slices of heirloom tomatoes (I identify at least five varieties), drizzled with Sauce Vierge, and enhanced by a scoop of basil ice cream. My friend’s large black tiger prawns are thinly wrapped in a sheet of crunchy phyllo dough and served with a spicy tomato mayonnaise. Alas, choosing also means renouncing. I can only hope the salad of girolles (golden chanterelles) with garden pea ice cream will still on the menu on my next visit.

Paris-L'Accolade cod.

Poached cod with passion fruit and coriander sauce.

Because my friend has her heart set on the slow-cooked caramelized lamb shoulder on a bed of mini-ratatouille, also my main course first choice, I opt for the cabillaud instead. The flaky slab of delicate cod is served with an al-dente stir-fried medley of seasonal vegetable and a tangy passion fruit sauce. An unusual harmony where tradition meets creativity for dazzling results.

The Sublime Mille-Feuille

Paris-L'Accolade mille-feuille.

Chef Nicholas’ signature mille-feuille.

By the time we reach dessert, we are both approaching the euphoric state of the blissfully satiated. It matters not that there are only three options, since one of them combines two of my guiltiest pleasures, mille-feuille and caramel au beurre salé (Napoleon and sea salt butterscotch). The portion is generous enough that it can be shared without afterthought, and so high and flaky that it can’t be done without making a finger-licking mess. In the process, I notice a thin layer of meringue within the layers, a new twist on the puff pastry classic that makes it extra light and crunchy.

Passion fruit Bavarois ravioli with sautéed pineaple and mango.

Passion fruit Bavarois ravioli with sautéed pineaple and mango.

The elegant passion fruit Bavarois ravioli with diced sautéed pineapple and mango on my friend’s plate is a delicate and refreshing creation. But it will always be the mille-feuille for me, as long as Chef Nicolas cares to keep it on the menu.

 

 

 

 

The Man Behind the Magic

Paris-L'Accolade Tardivel.

Chef Nicolas Tardivel.

Nicolas Tardivel is a man with two passions: rugby and cooking. He follows the former first. But after an early career as a wingman with the major league PUC (Paris Université Club) rugby team, he decides in his late twenties to pursue a culinary career. For the next decade, he hones his skills by assuming ever-increasing responsibilities in several noted Parisian restaurants. Along the way, he finds his mentor in Chef Christian Etchebest, one of the pillars of Bistronomie, the culinary movement started a quarter of a century ago by young classically trained Parisian chefs who wanted to bring haute cuisine down to earth. Applying their own creative talent to the highest quality products from the French heartland, they created simple dishes that brought bistro fare to new heights.

Chef Nicolas has mastered the lesson well. Now that the barely forty-something chef is at the helm of his own restaurant, he personally selects his local artisan suppliers. Then, using only the best of their seasonal bounty, he develops his own imaginative creations, juxtaposing flavors and textures in unconventional dishes that surprise and delight the palate.

L’Accolade’s wine list follows the same mindset: just over thirty labels, favoring handpicked small producers, with an emphasis on Burgundy, Chef Nicolas’ native region. Nine wines, well paired to the menu, are also available by the glass.

I look forward to a return visit to L’Accolade on my next stopover in Paris. I have already invited the friend who “hasn’t gone yet” to join me, as my thanks for steering me to this gem.

Good to Know

  • L’Accolade, 208, Rue de la Croix Nivert, Paris, 75015, is open Tuesday through Friday from 12:00 noon to 2:30 pm and 7:00 pm to 10:30 pm. It is open for dinner-only on Saturday from 7:00 pm to 10:30 pm, and for lunch-only on Monday from 12:00 noon to 2:30 pm. It is closed on Sunday. Contact: e-mail laccolade2016@gmail.com, tel.  +33 (0) 1 45 57 73 20.
  • Getting there – Located on a side street of a residential neighborhood near the convention center of the Porte de Versailles, at the southern end of Paris’ fifteenth arrondissement, L’Accolade is easy to reach by Métro from anywhere in Paris: stations Convention or Porte de Versailles (line 12) or Boucicaut (line 8).
  • In addition to its a-la-carte menu (average € 35 to € 50 per person excluding beverages), there is a fixed-menu lunch option (two courses for €19.5 or three courses for € 24.5 excluding beverages). Every night except Saturday, there is a table d’hôte four-course fixed-menu option at € 35 per person.
  • This cozy bistro with a relaxing contemporary flair can accommodate up to 35 guests. While it is still a word-of-mouth kind of place at the time of this writing, the word is deservedly getting around fast. Reservations are strongly recommended any time and are a must on weekends.

Location, location, location!

L'Accolade