N.B. Be aware that this restaurant was taken over by its head chef Takao Takano in 2010 and became "Le Bec and Taka". In the Michelin 2011 Nicolas Le Bec lost both its stars. In due course it closed, and the chef now has his own place: Restaurant Takao Takano.
The Nicolas Le Bec restaurant in central Lyon has modern, simple décor, while the food sticks to sensible taste combinations rather than ultra-modern excesses. Tasting menus were EUR 98 and EUR 148; starters were EUR 27-33, mains EUR 32-40, desserts around EUR 17. There was a cheap lunch menu only on Tuesday to Friday at EUR 58.
Nibbles consisted of warm goat cheese tart, onion tart and salt cod, the tarts having excellent pastry and being carefully made (18/20). A starter of terrine of foie gras “au torchon” (i.e. cooked in a towel) was presented initially as two large slabs, then sliced and topped with a few salad leaves and toasted brioche. It had excellent texture and full, liver taste, though I think a little more salad or something with acidity would have been a good idea, as this was a generous portion of a rich terrine (18/20).
My wife had Matjes herring and a slab of salmon that had been smoked, served with red onion and ravigote sauce (i.e. eggs, mustard, vinegar, cornichons and herbs) and warm Grenailles potatoes. This was a simple and yet perfectly balanced dish. The salmon was superb, its flavour a world apart from the kind of salmon we are now all too used to in the UK, while the herrings in themselves were also terrific. Yet it was the flavours of the onions and the sauce in combination with the fish that really brought it all together so well, the elements really well working well with one another (20/20). Line-caught sea bass from the Mediterranean was served with fish jus, saffron potatoes, mild Spanish chorizo and Taggiasche olives and a few clams and yellow tomatoes. The fish was carefully timed and tasted really fresh, the potatoes were very good and the olives gave a Mediterranean feel to the dish (19/20).
I had steamed langoustines served with Chinese-style ravioli with leeks and ginger, with basil leaves as garnish. The langoustines were cooked very lightly indeed, and while I certainly prefer this to the alternative, I think that even for me they could have been cooked a little longer; the pasta with its light spices was a good foil to the delicate langoustines (17/20). On the side was a generous portion of ultra-creamy mash with olive oil and chives, that tasted lovely provided one switched off all thoughts of the calories within (19/20 mash).
Cheese is from three separate suppliers, one each for goat cheese (Ferme du Puy in the Ardeche), ewe cheese (Mons Brothers from Marechal) and cow cheese (Renée Richard). All those sampled were in excellent condition (19/20). Chocolate soufflé was very good, made with high quality chocolate, and having a light interior, though the outside was a fraction harder than ideal; this was served with superb coffee ice cream and light biscuit tuiles (19/20). I had poached pink grapefruits on which rested a tube of caramel biscuit filled with lemon cream, a sauce of tea-flavoured jelly and cardamom that was admirably restrained, and superb mango sorbet with deep mango flavour (19/20).
Coffee was good and strong, and I was so full by now I could not do justice to a final offering of lemon baba with uzu sorbet, which tasted lovely (19/20). I am not known for my fragile appetitive, yet I found it hard to finish the dishes today. I think they could halve the starter portions and still not be accused of being mean with the portions. The bill was EUR 144 per person, including wine. Our waitress (Mireille) was superb, which was good since we had a rather frosty reception of the “do you really have a reservation?” style beloved of certain French meet-and-greet staff when presented with a foreigner. The young sommelier also managed to whip away a bottle of water before we had quite finished but seemed happy to sell another one, and when I selected the Cuvee Frederich Emile wine his initial challenge of “but that is a sweet wine” (it is most assuredly not) did not inspire confidence and hinted of arrogance rather than a genuine attempt to make sure we had a wine that suited us.
Le Bec trained at Arpege and others, but is seen as the rising star of Lyon cuisine; he is apparently in the process of opening a further large venue, and it is to be hoped that he does not overstretch himself. He was not in the kitchen when we visited, but his sous-chef Tabatha seemed to be eminently capable.