Mere Brazier

12 Rue Royale, Lyon, 69001, France

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This is a restaurant with history dating back to 1921, and a 1933 copy of the Michelin Guide to France in a cabinet in the bar is a gentle reminder of this. The restaurant closed in 2004 and has now been revived by chef Matthieu Viannay, who has almost immediately brought it back to the level of glory that it once knew. The décor is charmingly old-fashioned, with mushroom-coloured walls and mauve upholstery, the dining room split into two downstairs sections, with a further level upstairs.

The tasting menu was EUR 95, or there was a menu of the day at EUR 55. Starters were EUR 28-40, fish courses EUR 38-60, mains EUR 40-50, with desserts and cheese at EUR 14. The wine list had some fine French growers, while mark-ups appeared inconsistent. Ostertag Rielsing 2006 was listed at EUR 71 for a wine that costs about EUR 15 in the shops, yet Didier Dagenau Silex 2003 was just EUR 140 but this will set you back at least EUR 88 in the shops, so must be the bargain of the list. At the more rarefied end, Guigal La Mouline 2000 was EUR 350, but this costs around EUR 190, while Etienne Sauzet le Montrachet 2001 is EUR 550 for a wine that could cost you over EUR 300 to buy retail.

A cream of asparagus soup began the meal, topped with a little piece of Spanish beef (16/20). Bread consisted of simply slices of brown bread, but it was very good, with airy texture and good crust (18/20). My starter of a tartelette of four large langoustines reminded me of why I like to come to France to eat. The pastry base at the bottom, with a little caramelised onion, was lovely, the green beans and asparagus as garnish having wonderful flavour, the salad leaves dressed with a passion fruit dressing giving just a little sweet acidity. But the stars were the langoustines, perfectly cooked and having dazzling flavour, the texture perfect, seasoning subtle but just right (easily 19/20). Langoustines are, after all, Dublin Bay prawns, but what do we do in England? We put them into scampi and then send the good ones here. 

My wife had excellent morels, which again were a world apart from the gritty, tasteless things which so often masquerade as morels in London restaurants. These were simply pan-fried and served with excellent asparagus and also some raw asparagus, with a single fried egg. This dish is so simple it relies utterly on fine ingredients and perfect timing, both of which were on display here (18/20 at least).

John Dory was served with razor clams and cannolata, and more of the tasty strips of raw asparagus. The fish itself was well timed, but this was merely excellent compared to the other dishes (17/20). I had Bresse chicken breast with classic sauce supreme, alongside an ultra-tender piece of lobster resting in a wonderful reduced meat jus, served with superb spinach and a few potatoes. The chicken had great taste, the lobster was terrific, the meat jus remarkably intense, bursting with flavour and yet not over-reduced (19/20 seems almost a mean score). 

Cheese was from local supplier Mere Richard, with some cheeses also from Didier Lassagne, served with Poilane bread and lovely walnut and raisin slices. The cheeses we tried, such as Comte, Camembert, Epoisses and Langres, were in very good condition (18/20). As mignardise was a beautiful soft Madeleine with fromage frais ice cream (19/20). For dessert my wife had a sphere of dark chocolate with excellent wild cherries and a cocoa sorbet. Cherries and chocolate are such a natural combination and the dish worked very well, a rich cream with cherries inside the chocolate sphere (18/20). 

I had a lime soufflé with lime sorbet, which may not sound much on its own but is worth reflecting on. A soufflé is not a trivial thing to get right, and at some top restaurants they actually make two each time one is ordered, and throw away the less good one. This soufflé was, in a word, perfect; the best I have ever eaten. It is so easy for the centre of a soufflé to be too eggy, to be too squishy or, worse, over-firm, while the outside can often be like cardboard in less than skilled hands. Here the centre was as light and fluffy as any soufflé I have ever tasted, the lime adding a controlled but lovely acidic balance to the richness of the soufflé. The lime sorbet was served on the side, which I think is better than being poured into the soufflé as often occurs. This was a heavenly dessert, and I just sat there in silence admiring it for some time after I had licked my spoon clean (20/20 seems inadequate). 

Coffee was rich and strong, served with excellent salted caramel chocolate, remarkably good nougat with halzelnuts, a raspberry jelly and a light, crisp tuile (19/20). The bill was EUR 153 including wine. Let’s face it, at a London two star you would be struggling to eat for near to this price, and yet the cooking here, simple though it appears, soars above any food that can be eaten in London. For me this is the essence of French food: fine ingredients, treated with care, cooked simply and allowed to speak for themselves. 

Further reviews: 17th Nov 2014

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