Leon de Lyon

1 Rue Pleney, Lyon, 69001, France

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This family-run restaurant opened in 1904. It is not the oldest in the city (that would be Brasserie George, established in 1836) but is a Lyon institution. Jean-Paul Lacombe is the current owner, and features on the menu some recipes of his father. At one time Leon de Lyon held two Michelin stars but these days is intended to be very much a brasserie rather than a fine dining restaurant.

The restaurant is in the centre of the city, the decor featuring wood panelling and stained glass. Tables were quite small but comfortable spaced, and noise levels were moderate. The menu is very traditional these days. There was a three course offering at just €28.50, as well as a full carte menu.

The wine list was quite strange, though supposedly the wine cellar is very large, with over 40,000 bottles. The list leapt from a few basic wines by the glass straight up to a lengthy list of prestige wines with hardly anything in between, understandably majoring in the wines of the nearby Rhone valley. Thus you could either order a glass of wine at about €5 a glass or a bottle at €100 and up, with virtually no choice in between those extremes. There was a whole page of top Guigal wines, such as La Mouline 2003 at €650 compared to its current market value of €623. Essentially there were hardly many bottles priced between €30 and €100, yet a wide selection in the multiple hundreds of euros bracket. Sample references were Etienne Sauzet Puligny Montrachet 2007 at €108 compared to its retail price of €41, Cornas Les Eygats 1999 at €152 for a title that you can find for €62 in the high street, and Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage La Chapelle 2000 at €192 for a wine whose current market price is €86. There was not a single sweet wine on the list by either the half bottle or bottle, though there were three basic ones by the glass. 

A very pleasant tapenade on slightly stale bread was the amuse-bouche (13/20 if I ignore the bread). The sourdough bread had quite good flavour, though some pieces tasted a little stale while others were fine. My starter was pate en croute with a green salad. This is a traditional local dish and was very good, the pastry having good texture and the veal and chicken filling full of flavour and laced with pistachios. The simple salad had a suitably sharp dressing to cut through the richness of the pate (14/20). "Gravlax" was also nicely made, tasting more like smoked salmon with dill rather than the dish merely having been cured with salt, sugar and dill, which is what you would expect with gravlax. Whatever the menu description, the salmon was good, served with toasted country bread and creme fraiche (14/20). 

Chicken was nicely cooked and came with an excellent rich, reduced sauce, alongside macaroni of Parmesan and some entirely unnecessary fromage blanc. The bird had good flavour and the macaroni had pleasant texture, but the star was undoubtedly the sauce, an old-fashioned example of proper French sauce technique (15/20). Risotto of black truffle had good texture, the truffle having good aroma and the stock plenty of flavour. The only technical flaw was a rather limp Parmesan crisp (14/20).

For dessert, chocolate fondant came with vanilla ice cream and exotic fruit coulis as well as whipped cream with toasted almond garnish (14/20). Apple tatin came with sable Breton shortbread and caramel. The apple rather lacked flavour though the shortbread was fine (13/20).

Service was dismal. When dishes arrived it was "who ordered what?" for each course, a basic element of service that even cheap high street chains manage to deal with. Getting attention was difficult, not just for us but for the French customers around us, and when we ordered a taxi the promised "ten minutes" became 25 minutes before we gave up, walked out and picked one up on the street. One waiter was at least friendly but another could not resist sneering at times, for reasons that eluded me other than perhaps my dismal French language skills. The bill, with a bottle of the basic but entirely drinkable Guigal Cotes du Rhone at €28 compared to its shop price of €9, came to €67 (£58) each for three courses but with no coffee. 

Overall the evening was a rather odd experience. The menu was quite appealing and the room was attractive. The cooking was really quite good, but the terrible service detracted significantly from the overall experience. Talking to a local later it seems that our service experience may be worryingly typical. 

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User comments

  • Bob Hynsoni

    Dinner and service were if graded 8/10. At €220 for 2, I felt the evening good value. We were served €50 of truffles alone. The wine list was superb with a large selection of €30-50 bottles. My 2015 Cahor’s was priced under €50 and very good value. I felt guilty not having a Rhône, however there were no shortage of Rhône bottlings under €40.