Paul Bocuse has done more for the evolution of French Cuisine than any other living person. Now considered classic food Paul Bocuse was actually the pioneer of the Nouvelle Cuisine, the new cuisine. The term was coined by Henri Gault, one of the critics who started the prestigious Gault Millau guide, describing food that Bocuse was making. When he was at the height of his game he was pushing the envelope of using lighter sauces and emphasizing highest quality ingredients. Paul Bocuse’s flagship restaurant just outside Lyon was first awarded the coveted 3rd Michelin Star in 1965 and has maintained it ever since! That is an astonishing feat that no other chef has been able to do or even come close. Paul Bocuse was the inspiration for the Disney character Chef Gusteau from Ratatouille. And the restaurant is also modeled after Paul Bocuse in Lyon. All that to say that Bocuse is a legend in the field and when the opportunity arose to dine at this restaurant I didn’t let it pass me by.
I realized that on my last trip to Europe it would be possible to go to Lyon I changed my itinerary and added a night in Lyon just to eat at this storied and historic restaurant. After arriving in Lyon and going for a much needed run I was very excited to dine at what I expected to be my best meal of my trip. Or at least the most memorable.
Upon arriving to the restaurant we were greeted and shown to our table. There are two options on the menu. First is the a la carte option and then the Grand Tradition Classique. We of course choose the latter. As I was about to find out the tasting menu was less a tasting menu and more of a showcase of Bocuse’s most famous dishes through the years. That is to say the portion sizes were not akin to what is typically served on a tasting menu and more resembled full entree portions.
The first dish was a delicious seared foie gras served with a passion fruit sauce. Foie gras is an achilles heel of mine and especially when it’s seared. I find it completely irresistible. This one was no exception as it was perfectly executed.
The following dish is hands down Bocuse’s most famous dish. One that has been replicated and continues to be replicated since it’s inception in 1975. Black truffle beef soup baked with pastry dough. It was amazing. The amount of freshly shaved black truffles in the soup was astounding too. This is such a simple dish really but it’s amazing to come and enjoy it where it was created for the first time. Bocuse created the dish for the president of France back in 1975.
To accompany these dishes I choose a Pichon-Longueville 1996. Although not a particularly good vintage I always enjoy an older Bordeaux and from the more challenging vintages there is always better value to be found.
After the soup we were served a filet of sole au Fernand Point. Again these dishes are very simple by today’s standard yet all executed perfectly. From the fish being cooked perfectly to the fresh pasta underneath to the cream sauce that enveloped it all. Needless to say I almost licked the plate clean.
Then came a little palate cleanser with was a Beaujolais Granita. It was very good and the wine came through very pronounced.
After the granita came the ‘main’ course. With was a poulet de bresse en vessie. Which is a chicken cooked in a pig bladder. A poulet de bresse is the most coveted chicken in the world. They are raised in the provence of Bresse in Eastern France and are a AOC controlled product.
The dish is presented and plated table side. For two people you get a whole chicken and the server asked us if we prefer dark or white meat. We both responded that we prefer dark meat although since there was a whole bird why not both as we kinda wanted to try both and kinda felt bad about them just throwing away two perfectly good chicken breasts without us even trying them. The server said of course you can have both but we will start with the dark. We were served a plate of chicken, vegetables and rice with beans. The cream based sauce had so many morel mushrooms that I thought I had gone to heaven. The dish was truly spectacular. The server in the meantime cleared the tray with the leftover chicken breasts, which I assumed he had forgotten about us potentially wanting them. Upon clearing our plates he then asked us if we would like to have the kitchen make another chicken for us so we could try the white meat. As this would have not only defeated, but also compounded, the waste problem which prompted us to ask for both in the first place we said no thank you. Also we had seen the amount of desserts that we were about to be assulted by that we decided to try and save (well to late for that really) some room.
Next came the best cheese course I’ve ever been lucky enough to eat. The amount of cheese alone would have made a full meal. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t know how to choose 3 or 4 cheeses among 30. The cheeses were spread out in 3 different trays. So I choose 6 and my friend choose another 6 so we had 12 to eat from. As was becoming the new norm my favorite cheese was the Camembert, which is a cheese that isn’t extremely poorly represented in the US. I’ve never had a Camembert that even comes close to the ones I had in France. Compared to an amazing Parmigiano-Reggiano or Mozzarella di Bufala that I’ve had equally good in the US compared to what I’ve had in Italy.
After the cheese and again not knowing if I can possible eat anything else we were served a small sampling of pre-desserts. All very good.
For dessert they roll out cart after cart of desserts to choose from. They ran the gamut from eclairs, to fruit tarts, to meringues, to crème brûlée, to house made ice cream with different toppings and everything in-between. It’s seriously torturous to be half way around the globe eating at a restaurant that I know I’ll probably never eat at again, at least not while Paul Bocuse is still alive, and to be so entirely stuffed before dessert. Then to have all these amazing desserts rolled out in front of your table. At least on a menu you’re mentally trained to make 1 selection. But when it’s set up like this where it’s almost like a buffet you are trained to want to sample as many as possible. So I made the decision that one night of stomach pains and that not so good feeling of eating more than triple what you know you should’ve eaten was a small price to pay. So I went all in.
So we decided to just start pointing to each appetizing option. And before we knew it we had 8 plates of dessert in front of us and a couple plates had more than one thing on them. The desserts were truly amazing. Everything was terrific. The strawberry tart, apricot tart, crème brûlée, ice cream with berries, eclair, chocolate cake, strawberry cake. Needless to say after eating desert I was ready to enter the biggest food coma of my life.
I always comment about the quantity of food that a 3 michelin starred restaurant serves on a tasting menu becasue I think that it’s one of the hardest things to nail. At this restaurant they give you more control over how much you eat. Part of it was my knowing that I only had one shot at this restaurant and wanted to experience as much as possible. If I lived in Lyon I would surely come dine here on the regular and always dine a la carte and wouldn’t run into the problem I did. The tasting menu alone, however, does over serve in my opinion and leaves you too full before the cheese course and then the famed desserts. So, although, my stomach ache was definitely self inflicted, I don’t see any way around it if you start with the tasting menu and fully plan on having a full plate of cheese followed by deserts.
That being said this restaurant was Awesome! If you are in Southern France and have never dined here it is well worth the side trip. Heck it’s worth the whole trip. From a historical standpoint alone to dine at Paul Bocuse’s flagship restaurant is amazing. No other living chef has had such an effect on cuisine as Paul Bocuse.