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Culinary capital

Lyon, the culinary capital of France

Giles Milton revels in a gastronomic extravaganza (except perhaps for the cow's foot) in a city that has the finest food in France

Lyon makes you fat - or can do if you don't follow the advice of celebrity chef Raymond Blanc. I happen to be travelling on the inaugural Eurostar service from London to Lyons in the company of the Michelin-starred owner of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons.

He's a passionate ambassador for Lyonnais cooking, with good reason.

France's third largest city has a staggering 16 Michelin-starred restaurants and stupendous food markets - as well as Paul Bocuse, France's most celebrated chef, who is still - at 89 - turning out the very finest quenelles de brochet, a delicate mousseline of local freshwater pike.

But how to avoid getting fat? 'Never eat the whole head of a cow,' says M Blanc. 'Concentrate on a few parts, like the ears.' 

I soon find myself dining on food cooked by a master of Michelin cuisine, Anthony Bonnet, head chef at my hotel, the Cour des Loges.

In the candlelit courtyard restaurant M Bonnet suggests a menu de dégustation. Fresh asparagus accompanied by a buttery oyster broth. Then exquisite cod, infused with cinnamon. The pink lamb and rosemary is swirled with wild hazelnut oil.

Cheese follows - including cellar-aged tomme from the nearby mountains, and a sticky Burgundian epoisses.

Gastronomic rendezvous in Lyon

The next day I visit Les Halles Paul Bocuse, the food market. I've come to have a cooking lesson with chef Philippe Lechat, but first he offers me a tour of the various stands. Stallholders here are sages whose advice is received with as much reverence as if dispensed by an Old Testament prophet.

Back at Philippe's class, he sets me to work on a fresh tuna and mango timbale, showing me how to chop, de-seed and then rub the vanilla into the tuna until we have a mixture that tastes like some heavenly Pacific island. 

There's more to Lyon than food. There's the cobble-and-clock-tower old town; the city art gallery (with Picassos and Matisses) and the startling new Confluence Museum. There are boat trips along the city's two rivers, and trendy rooftop nightclub Sucre.

The city also has homespun bistros, where Lyonnais cuisine was born.

There's blood sausage, cow's feet and pig muzzle, terrines, pickled herrings and flageolet bean salads.

Tomorrow I've booked myself into another Michelin-starred restaurant. Lunch is unlikely to be cow's feet or even cow's ears. But if it is, they'll doubtless be carefully balanced with Chablis, cream and an artful twirl of citrus.

First published in the Mail Online - October 2015

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