I was instantly in love with Lyon.
Wait, I take that back. It might have been a couple minutes later, but it was pretty close to instant love. We arrived in Lyon and hopped in a cab. From the start, there was nothing special about Lyon and it looked like any European city. How could this be the gastronomical capital of France? Our cab driver was charming and though we barely understood him and he wanted to talk a lot, he sang along loudly to an Otis Redding song. The sun was warm as we crossed a bridge. And that's when Lyon opened up into a beautiful city that we were instantly drawn to. So this is what all the fuss is about. We were staying in an apartment that was actually a building from the 1400's that was made modern and converted to apartments but still had a lot of very ancient accents, like a giant, warn spiral staircase. Right next door was a little convenience store, similar to a 7-11, that sold the most beautiful produce and gourmet cheeses. We were staying in the old part of town and charm was just oozing out of the ancient buildings and uneven cobblestone streets.
The first meal that we had was simple and probably nothing the average person from Lyon would even look twice at. It had all of the signs of a bad restaurant. It looked a little tacky, the waiters were trying to recruit people into the restaurant, and the menu looked like a cartoon. But it was an odd time and not much else was open and were starving. We ordered a half bottle of local wine and I selected a Lyonnaise salad while Richard has a lentil salad. We weren't expecting to get blown away but, I'm happy to report, we did. The lentils were large and cooked in a way that they still had great texture to them but were soft and seasoned simply but generously with salt. Fresh tomato wedges and cubes of cured meat were also present and then the whole thing was doused with a pungent, mustardy vinaigrette. It was so simple yet so outstanding. The salad, on the other hand, oh my god that salad. The lettuce was left in large, whole pieces and was showered with lardons. But it wasn't like bacon I had ever had. This was less fatty and so full of pork flavor that it was more like a ham, granted, the best ham I've ever tasted. The whole thing was topped off with a delicately poached egg that had an exterior that was firmer that most poached eggs I've had and with a bright, runny yellow center that oozed everywhere and created the most beautiful vinaigrette. We were in heaven.
We spent the rest of the day just walking around and taking it all in before we had champagne (yes, real champagne.) in a gorgeous courtyard. We ate fancy French pastries and sipped coffee. We popped into every store, including convenience stores because we didn't want to miss a thing. We had the classic Lyonnaise Praline Tart, which is a shockingly electric pink tart that is everywhere. It was sugary and very sweet and I've never seen anything like it before. We stumbled upon another giant farmer's market that was even bigger than the one we saw in Paris. Everything was so impossibly fresh. There were even feathers still attached to the eggs! We met a wine maker who let us sample his wines and we bought little bite size pieces of goat cheese that made me think about milk and the process of making cheese in a whole new light.
On our last night in Lyon, we settled into this wine bar that I could have lived out of. It was ancient looking with stone walls and tucked away on the basement level. It had modern touches and brightly colored metal chairs. We ordered a sampling of wine that was outstanding. It was vibrant and light, yet full of rich personality. We also ordered the charcuterie plate with was a rectangular plate completely covered with ribbon thin truffled hams, peppery salamis and herb rubbed cheeses sliced so thin the could be seen through.
I would go back to Lyon in a heartbeat, in a minute! I loved it. It had so much charm and warmth and the food was even better than in Paris. It had such a casualness to it but the food was flawless, respected and memorable.
After we left Lyon, we traveled back to London for one last night. We drank more gin and tonics and split a steak and ale pie and had some Tikka Masala at a place that claims to be one of the oldest Indian restaurants in London. In the morning, we walked around the neighborhood one last time before we headed to the airport.