Straight out of a Renoir Painting
This past weekend was a short trip to Lyon – only 2 days, and relatively short in distance (about 4.5 hours by car from Zürich) – but what felt like a long trip back in time. From last week’s visits to Paris’ pastry shops with colorful macarons and beautiful, precious pastries, we left the modern and refined for the traditional, more laid back cuisine of Lyon’s typical restaurants, called bouchons. We saw heavier dishes like quenelles (fish dumplings), many varieties of offal and sausage, coq au vin, duck pâté, hearty salads with meat and platters of charcuterie. True Lyonnaise cuisine is not for those watching their diets, and especially their cholesterol! Following the obligatory cheese plate with Saint-Marcellin, dessert menus will almost always include: ile flottante, baba au rhum, tarte aux pralines, nougat glacé, profiteroles and bugnes de Lyon (small rounds of fried dough).
My father-in-law was searching for a particular atmosphere for Sunday lunch. He wanted to find a small, charming restaurant on the Saône, the tranquil river flowing through Lyon. He wasn’t looking for haute cuisine, but rather a convivial atmosphere and good traditional cooking. With a name like La Guinguette, we could not have found a place more suited to his cravings. Reminiscent of the paintings of the Impressionists, guinguettes depicted scenes with food, drink and music. Usually open-air restaurants with an area for dancing, guinguettes were popular with the urban working class who wanted to relax on a Sunday in a pastoral setting. Found along the banks of the Seine, in Paris suburbs or other cities throughout France, they were all about the simple pleasures of life at affordable prices. In mid-November I have to admit that the ambience was a bit more subdued, but I could imagine all the restaurants lined up along the water just filled with people, eating outside and drinking wine late into the summer nights.
On a side note, a guinguette is a true subject of nostalgia in France, as not many survive today. Many were closed down by the Germans during France’s Occupation, and the final decline came with the invention of television, and the ban on bathing in the rivers in 1960.
Ordering a prix fixe menu (always the best option in France), we had the choice of a Salade Lyonnaise (poached egg, lardons, croutons), Salade Pêcheur (baby shrimp, crevettes, cooked salmon), Salade Landaise (smoked duck breast, croutons) or a plate of charcuterie (sausage, terrine, confit, pâté, rillettes, ham) as a starter. Not one of us bothered to read the options for the main course however – it was Cuisses de Grenouilles à la provençale for us all – frog legs! A large platter filled the center of our table, with small, fried frog legs swimming in the typical sauce of butter, garlic and parsley. Forget a fork and knife, this is food you eat with your hands.
for 4 people
- 2 duck gizzards (gésier de canard)
- 1 smoked duck breast (magret de canard fumé)
- 1 head of lettuce or assortment of mesclun leaves
- 2 tomatoes, sliced
- White bread croutons cooked in butter
- Handful of pine nuts
- Handful of chopped chives
La Guinguette, chez la Rose 539 chemin de la plage 69270 Rochetaillé/Saône +220.127.116.11.05.26
Culture Guinguette – Great website in French all about guinguettes, their history, addresses in France, etc.