Lyon — Paul Bocuse Restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, June 10
Tonight, dinner at Paul Bocuse’s flagship restaurant!
In the meantime, I took the opportunity to stroll along the east bank of the Saône and get to know Lyon a little better. My hotel is in a district often referred to as Presqu’ile. This is the peninsula resting at the confluence where he Saône River to the west kisses the mighty Rhône to the east. Looking across the Saône is Vieux Lyon, the old town were original Roman settlements were established on Fourvière hill.
One block off the Saône near the Place des Jacobins is Rue Mercière, a well known pedestrian street lined with cafes, bars and restaurants. It was noon on Friday. I settled at a small pizza restaurant that seemed to draw a clientele.
Mediocre pizza has become ubiquitous in France and I’ve often been disappointed in the offerings. But, we are in Lyon and the small restaurant I was seated at served an excellent Neapolitan pie. One of the best I have enjoyed in fact. Feeling quite satisfied, I wandered back to the hotel for a rest before dinner later in the evening.
Just before 8 PM, I met my driver in the hotel lobby and we set off for the restaurant. About 20 minutes later, we arrived at L’Auberge du Pont de Collognes —the ostentatious and brightly painted, temple that celebrates Paul Bocuse’s Lyonnaise gastronomy. Here the food is rich, even decadent and from a bygone era. The menu has undergone little change over the years. And, that is the charm of Paul Bocuse.
Three menus are offered, though only two are suited for the solo dinner. An à la carte menu is available and I considered this option before choosing one of the well composed set menus. I decided on three courses plus cheese and dessert. It was an excellent choice as one would expect.
After a glass of champagne and bread service with exceptional butter, the meal began with a first course of Lobster salad à la Française. This preparation, like many, has been on Bocuse’s menu for a long time. It is both a refined and perfected dish made with sweet, smaller lobsters from Maine. A great beginning for the progression that was to follow.
For a second course, I chose a filet of turbot served over english peas with champagne sauce and topped with light, airy potato soufflés. Perfectly cooked and presented, this was a brilliant preparation of the bright, white turbot filet.
After a refreshing Beaujolais sorbet, my main course of braised Ris de Veau with Sauce Ivoire was served. This is a dish of veal sweetbreads (thymus gland) in a variation of a traditional velouté, one of the five mother sauces of French cooking. Fearing disappointment, I don’t usually order Ris de Veau in most restaurants, but prepared in a Michelin stared restaurant, well that is a totally different thing. The dish was excellent.
Through the first three courses, my meal had progressed nicely. I ordered and enjoyed two different wines by the glass. I had just ordered another and settled back in my chair.
But, relaxation was short lived as I was about to begin the craziness of the Paul Bocuse cheese and dessert courses. Both are elaborate displays that attracted noticed across the dining room — though not necessarily in a bad way.
My reservation was for 8:30 and I arrived promptly on time thanks to punctuality of my driver. Now, this is early for dining in France. Tables were being seated as late as 10 PM when I was finishing my main course. Since I was the first to be seated in the dining room, I was also the first to be served the cheese course.
I was seated at my little two-top table when the cheese course started arriving. I say started because at Paul Bocuse the wait staff make use of tables that slide effortlessly around the dining room. The cheese course began with one of these tables positioned beside my dining table. Then as if one table was not enough, two more tables were brought alongside. Now, I was surrounded by cheese and the spectacle of this ostentatious display was not lost on those who now filled the dining room. I feared I might be the center of attention. Not exactly what a solo diner wants.
I selected four samples from the well curated cheese tables and was enjoying these when the tables were removed and my little corner of the dining room was back to normal. For a while anyway.
When I finished the cheese course it was only a few minutes before an even more elaborate display of “delicacies and temptations” arrived consisting of not three, but four tables of dessert choices. At this point I had to surrender by indulging in only a small serving of excellent fresh fruit salad. After, dinner moved to a close, my driver arrived on time and I returned satiated to Lyon.
Paul Bocuse has held 3 Michelin stars since 1965, longer than any other restaurant. According to Michelin, a 3 star restaurant serves “exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey”. In this sense Bocuse’s L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges certainly warrants the high rating.
Others have said that the cuisine is of another time, the menu unchanging and that it s not really in the same league as some of the newer 3 star establishments. For these reasons it has been suggested that Bocuse’s 3 stars are more of a life time achievement award.
To me, Bocuse set the standard for a timeless cuisine that elevates Lyonnaise cooking to a true art form. The 3 stars are well deserved. I found my visit to his restaurant very worthwhile and dare I say, excellent value. Worth the trip.
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