Lyon – where to stay and eat

Lyon is France’s third largest city and gastronomic capital. Four hours by train from Nice, we travelled in first class for just an extra 2 Euro – a special that SNCF had for the 7.25am train. Ah, first class. Love that.

Stay

We stayed at the Grand Hotel Boscolo, a four star hotel situated between the Rhône and the Saône rivers, a short walk to the old town and a few steps away from the main shopping precinct. We got a ‘value deal’ from Booking.com and paid 262 Euro for two nights, about A$385 – which was good value. The hotel was comfortable enough, but quite dated.  After we showered, we discovered that our toilet leaked quite badly. The smell was not pleasant, as you can imagine.  Lucky for us, we were moved and upgraded to a suite that didn’t have a toilet that leaked – a much bigger and nicer room.

Eat

Being the gastromonic capital of France, I had read that the bistros in Lyon, known as bouchons, were not all created equal. Like in Nice, care must be taken when choosing where to eat.Lyon_Les Fines Gueules_1

The old town has several great paved streets filled with cafes, bouchons and brassieres spilling out onto the pavement. Locals and visitors packed these places enjoying an al fresco lunch.  Zorba, who is now becoming a bit of a master and finding great places to eat, kept us walking – turning down one lane way after another, past many appealing looking cafes.  When we were out of the thick of the old town epicentre, he stopped, in front of Les Fines Gueules. There was one free table for two out the front, recently vacated by the previous diners. The rest of the tables were packed and I could hear a lot of French being spoken by the seated patrons. Casting my eye on the door, I saw accreditation sticker from Only Lyon, the city’s tourism body, French Gastronomie Assoc, Michelin Guide, and an award of excellence from Trip Advisor. We took a seat.

Les Fines Gueules 

We decided to dive straight into mains to save an appetite for dinner. Our general rule is to only eat one meal out per day to try and save our waistlines (our first trip to Italy in 2010, Zorba put on 9kg in 7 weeks, and me 4kg. Not doing that again).

I had to try the Lyonaisse speciality quenelle, a light whipped flour, egg and cream dumpling – much like a giant gnocchi. It is sometimes whipped with fish, and almost always served with a shell fish bisque sauce with mushrooms. It was very tasty, the sauce was made with crab and mushroom, and the quenelle itself was soft and light.

Lyon_Les Fines Gueules_2Zorba had sirloin steak with potato dauphinoise – his steak was cooked beautifully and perfect medium rare. The demi-glaze was rich, and the potatoes were to die for. The best ‘potato bake’ I’ve ever had.

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We had a ‘pot’ of house rosé wine, 500ml (11.50 euro)

Given the food was good, we, or, decided we had to have dessert – the chocolate fondant was too tempting to resist. It was crisp on the outside and gooey and chocolately inside. Perfect.

 

Our total bill came to 56 euro, for two mains, one dessert, wine and water.

Our waiter Joël said confirmed what I had read and said that in the old town, about 80 per cent of bouchons bring in their food that is prepared in factories and that dishes are not made in house or on site.  He then gave us several recommendations of places to eat during our stay in Lyon.

Verdict: 9.5 / 10. Sensational bistro style food that is made on site and  good value for money

FACT FILE

Grand Hotel Boscolo B4
11, rue Grolée, 69002 Lyon
Tel: +33 (0)472 404545
http://www.boscolograndhotellyon.com/en

 Les Files Gueules 
16, rue Lainerie, 69005 Lyon
Tel: +33 (0)4 78289914
www.fines-gueules.fr

 

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Post cards from Nice, France

Pretty Nice in the South of France, about as pretty as a postcard. Everything is clean and organised – white marble statues sparkle, scooters are parked in neat rows, and everywhere you turn there is a pot of coloured flowers brightening up the space.

NicePostcards_20Walkers, joggers, cyclist and families on a day out enjoy the seaside promenade that overlooks Nice’s stony beach. The azure colours of the sea really set the holiday scene.

Antique markets on Monday, and a famous flower and produce market every other day sees the Old Town of Nice teeming with life. Cafes and restaurants flank each side of the market as tourists snap away and bright potted flowers, scented soaps, neatly stacked oranges, tomatoes, and zucchini, as well as cherries, strawberries, blueberries and fresh red currents in little punnets, designed to eat now.  Locals scurry past to buy their daily provisions and leave the bustle as quickly as they can. Socca, a chickpea flour pancake, is famous and some say a must try in Nice – the most famous is Chez Theresa. We didn’t try it as the queue was too long and a Bistro lunch was calling.

NicePostcards_02Nice is a very appealing tourist town. But because it is a tourist town, eating out can be a disaster, as we discovered on our first two meals out. You can read about how to choose a good restaurant in my previous post – or click here. There are so many visitors in Nice that it’s hard to spot the locals.

NicePostcards_05Nice is an easy city to navigate, and a great base for exploring the Cot’é Azure with day trips to Monaco, Cannes, Grasse and a myriad of pretty little towns in-between close by.

We visited Monaco, Cannes, and Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. All are beautiful and worth a visit if you have time. We didn’t get to Grasse or to Saint Paul – a horrid cold prevented us for venturing too far for a few days during our stay.

Saint Jean Cap Ferrat

This very pretty teeny town is only about 20 minutes by bus (catch bus 81 from Place Garibaldi, 1.50 euro each way). There is a gorgeous 2km walk around the cape that is easy, as in paved walkway and relatively flat, and offers stunning views. The Captain Cook restaurant was recommended to us, but it seems to only be open for dinner. We opted for a gelato instead.

Monaco

We visited Monaco twice – once for the F1 Grand Prix, and a few days later to have a better look at the little principality. We walked around where the race pits were, part way through the famous tunnel, and right around the port to the end, then for 2 euro, caught the harbour crossing boat to get to the other side. The Casino is where all the action is.  The most unbelievable cars you’ll ever see are either parked out the front, or drive by. Lamborghinis, Ferriaris, Maserattis, Bugattis, Aston Martins, Rolls Royces, you name it, you’ll see it there.  We had a very expensive pint of beer at the Cafe de Paris (16 euro each, A$24) and watched how the other half live.  Monaco is just 25 minutes by train from Nice.

Cannes

The Cannes Film Festival had just finished when we visited Cannes. As such, we couldn’t get into the original cinema that Cannes is famous for. We walked through the town, admiring the gorgeous buildings, cute flower pots, and stunning shops. Around the harbour, we gawked in amazement at some of the biggest boats I have ever seen – most were bigger than our townhouse in Perth, much, much bigger. We had a fabulous lunch at Five Hotel, Sea Sens Restaurant, before catching the train back to Nice (30 minutes).

Verdict: Nice is a great base to explore the area, but it is touristy. In hindsight, we wished we’d moved on earlier and stayed in a little town nearby.

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Hurrah! A fantastic meal in Nice at Comptoir Du Marché

Finally, we had a fabulous meal in Nice worth blogging about. Dining at Comptoir Du Marché in the old town in Nice felt like we hit the jackpot. The sister restaurant to the popular and eternally booked out Bistro d’Antione, Comptoir Du Marché has redeemed Nice. We were starting to think that eating out in Nice was never, ever, going to be anything other than mediocre.  Like all tourist towns, research is required to eat well, and in Nice’s case, reservations are also required.Nice_ComptoirDuMarche_02

Comptoir Du Marché is a classic French Bistro setting with exceptional service. Be sure to ring and book a table, even if it the day you wish to dine. This place books out and for good reason. Aussies: ask for waitress Josephine – she lived in Sydney for a year and loves Australia.

Nice_ComptoirDuMarche_01A little tasting h’ors dovres were placed on our table as soon as we sat down – bread, olive oil, tiny olives, and a tomato and garlic compote.

The very reasonable wine list still baffled me – only because I have little idea about French wines. I opted for a 2012 Pinot Noir for 22 Euro that was the best wine we’ve had in France to date.

Entre of cooked veal tartare and homemade mayonnaise was very tasty. Zorba’s vitello tonnato salad was the pick – to die for.  Everything was executed well, the presentation felt five-star, yet the prices were of the friendly bistro sort.

 

Nice_ComptoirDuMarche_03

Main course of scallops with potato puree and lobster stock emulsion was sublime. Perfectly cooked scallops, creamy smooth mash and a delicate opaque stock was luscious. Zorba’s duck breast with roast vegetables and jus was also perfectly pink and cooked wonderfully. He loved it.

Nice_ComptoirDuMarche_05 Nice_ComptoirDuMarche_06

Dessert: I chose the floating island in creme anglaise with caramel, and Zorba had the chocolate mousse, which was whipped so airy and very light, yet rich. My dessert was nice, but Zorba’s was really the pick.

Nice_ComptoirDuMarche_09 Nice_ComptoirDuMarche_08

With a glass of champagne to start, and a digestive to end our meal,  and three courses our bill came to 115 Euro, or about A$170 for two, including wine and water.  For the quality of food, service and the a great night out, it was reasonably priced.

Compare that to 60 Euro we paid last night at Le Bistro du Fromager for one entree (shared), two mains, and just two glasses of wine, for a meal and experience that was an utter disappointment. I mean, how is cognac and parmesan (not true parmesan, but locally made by a farmer that prides himself on the floral scents and taste, without the bite or saltiness of true parmesan) a good sauce combination for pasta? It is not.  And risotto with asparagus and apple sounded okay, and after adding 2 teaspoons of salt and pepper, it tasted kind of okay too. Le Bistro du Fromager is trying too hard and it didn’t deliver.  Comptoir Du Marché on the other hand, did. It was a wonderful night meal and great night out.

Verdict: 9/10. Excellent choice – book ahead

FACT FILE

Comptoir Du Marché 
8 r. du Marché 06000 Nice

+33493134501

Have you eaten in Nice? Where did you eat and what was your experience?

 

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Postcards from Cannes, France

What a pretty place Cannes is. It’s so clean, and so stunning. Beautiful buildings, litter-free streets, designer shops, beautiful patisseries, cute cafes, gastronomic restaurants, long stretch of beach with beach club after beach club, well-dressed locals walking teeny dogs, and colourful potted flowers everywhere. The French really do this well. It’s very easy to fall in love with the French Riviera. Here are some photos of our day there.

Cannes04

Nutella nougat. OMG

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The famous cinema steps – that we couldn’t get near because they were still packing down after the Cannes Film Festival

Cannes01 Cannes02 Cannes03 Cannes05 Cannes06 Cannes07 Cannes08 Cannes09 Cannes10 Cannes11 Cannes12 Cannes13

The marina is packed full of boats that are bigger than our house, in fact, bigger than most people’s houses. Cannes14 Cannes15 Cannes16

To put the size of these boats into perspective, you can just see a man standing on the tip of the bow in the photo above – the boat on the far left. Cannes18 Cannes19

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Cannes: Sea Sens restaurant

Lunching at Sea Sens restaurant in the stunning French Riviera town of Cannes was our first Michelin Star restaurant experience, well, sort of.  Serving French fusion food, it is a one-star restaurant – for dinner. At lunch time however, they have a more economical set menu for lunch, prepared by the same executive chef Arnaud Tabarec and his team.  For 29 Euro, we were treated to a three-course lunch and had a choice of two entrees, two mains, and four desserts. Great value for food of this calibre.

Gorgeous mini-baguettes

Gorgeous mini-baguettes

Set on the top floor of the beautiful five-star boutique Five Hotel, the restaurant affords views of Cannes roof tops and out to the harbour. The fit out is tres chic. I love dining at places like this – it’s the little details like quality salt, house-churned butter wrapped like sweets, and a bottomless breadbasket filled with crunchy mini-baguettes. Add exceptional service, the stunning surrounds and faultless food and we have an unforgettable experience.

Curly lettuce with slow cooked egg and pancetta

Curly lettuce with slow cooked egg and pancetta

The entree of curly lettuce, pancetta and poached egg was as pretty as it was satisfying. The slow-cooked egg was cooked to perfection and once broken, became a silky sauce over the salad. Little croutons added texture, and the flavour balance was perfect. I could eat that dish every single day.

Sea bream with tomato and basil salsa

Sea bream with tomato and basil salsa

Main course was sea bream with a tomato and basil salsa. It was much more than tomato and basil, it also had olive, eggplant, capsicum and onion. I know this because I asked Chef Arnaud when he came to our table to see if we were happy with our meals – a lovely touch. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist and flakey. The salsa was a gorgeous accompaniment, slightly salty yet balanced beautifully with the fish.

Dessert was a difficult choice.

The dessert choices

The dessert choices

I chose the cheesecake served in a mini asian steam basket. Passionfruit zing in the smooth cheese filling was really gorgeous. Once I tasted Zorba’s creme patisserie, I had food envy.  It was silky and packed with smooth hazelnut flavour, with some crushed nuts for a surprise texture, and a gorgeous outer pasty.  I should have listened to the waiter when he said it was his favourite dessert.

Cheesecake

Cheesecake

It’s worth going to Sea Sens for dessert alone – they are all created by the World Pastry Champion, Jérôme De Oliveira.

Accompanied by a couple of glasses of French Chablis, it was a decadent lunch that has given me a taste of Michelin star quality. Don’t miss this place if you are lucky enough to visit Cannes.

Creme patisserie

Creme patisserie

FACT FILE

Sea Sens
Five Hotel
1 rue Notre Dame, Cannes, 06400, France
Tel: +33 (0)4 6336 0506

Bookings not required for lunch.

Thanks Lonely Planet for the great tip!

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