Located in the western outskirts of Lyon in a casino and hotel, La Rotonde restaurant opened in 1993. It gained a Michelin star in 1994 and a second in 2000, which it has retained ever since. The head chef is Jean Francois Malle, who took over from previous chef Philippe Gavreau in February 2014. Mr Malle was previously chef de cuisine here, and prior to that was executive chef at a hotel called Metropolis, after having been the sous chef at Michelin starred restaurant Villa Florentine in Lyon. Amongst his culinary achievements was being crowned the world champion at pie-crust pastry in 2013, a competition judged by several 3 star Michelin chefs.
Rotonde is on the first floor of the casino. You walk past the jangling slot machines and upstairs to the calm of the carpeted dining room, with its large and well-spaced tables. The room seats up to 40 diners at any one time, the window tables looking out over the surrounding countryside. As well as the à la carte menu there were tasting menus varying from three courses (€95) to five courses (€135).
The mostly French wine list was slanted heavily towards the pricier end of the market, with a good selection of local Rhone labels as well as the usual suspects from Burgundy and Bordeaux. Darnaud Crozes Hermitage 2012 was €50 for a bottle that you can find in a shop for around €32, Vega Sicilia Alion 2005 was €185 for a wine that retails at €97, and Guigal La Mouline 2004 was €790 for a bottle that will set you back €346 in a shop if you can find it.
Canapes comprised anchovies with tapenade on a delicate Parmesan crisp, Scottish salmon with cucumber and caviar, foie gras terrine with cardamom and, best of all, croquette of lightly spiced oxtail with lemon chutney (average 16/20). A final nibble was crayfish in jelly with carrots and passion fruit, which was made well but seemed to me a slightly odd set of flavours, the passion fruit's sweetness jarring somewhat with the shellfish (15/20). White crusty bread was bought in from a local bakery called Le Chalet and had superb texture (18/20).
Pâté en croute showed the award winning skills of the chef, the dish that won him the pie-crust world championship. The pastry case was superbly delicate as well as intricate, containing a lovely terrine of Bresse chicken, pork from Comtal, mushrooms, duck foie gras, pig feet, Bresse poultry gizzard and pistachios, with panacotta of fennel and a chicken gelee on the side. The terrine was smooth and rich in flavour, the pastry beautiful to taste as well as to look at (20/20).
Soft boiled egg and crayfish came with artichoke sauce, the shellfish tender and the balance of the richness of the egg with the earthiness of the artichokes working well with the crayfish (17/20).
A 4 kg turbot was shown to us before cooking, and from this a fillet was prepared served with mustard sauce, sun dried tomatoes and roast potatoes, The fish was precisely cooked, the potatoes had good flavour and the subtle level of mustard in the sauce just lifted the dish without overwhelming the turbot (17/20).
Scallop risotto was made from carnaroli rice from northern Italy, the rice mixed in with girolles and trompette de mort mushrooms and garnished with white truffle, served with a seafood sauce on the side. The Brittany scallops were sweet and lightly cooked, the rice having superb texture and having absorbed a rich stock, the mushrooms and sauce excellent. This was a glorious dish, the fragrance of the truffles taking the dish to an even higher level (19/20).
Cheese was from top Lyon affineur Mere Richard and was in excellent condition. A pre-dessert of puff pastry with citrus jus and mandarin sorbet was lovely (18/20). Millefeuille of vanilla cream featured a slab of top class puff pastry made from scratch in the kitchen, with layers of vanilla cream and vanilla ice cream to one side. The pastry was light and delicate, the cream could have had a little more vanilla flavour but the ice cream was lovely (18/20). Also very good was a chocolate and coffee dessert that I sampled, which had intense coffee flavour.
The meal finished with enjoyably rich coffee and a selection of mignardise. Raisins were flavoured with chocolate and Sauternes, and there was a tartelette of rose praline, pineapple jelly, Granny Smith green apple lollipop and chocolate with hazelnuts; these were all very capably made (17/20).
Service was very slick indeed, the staff friendly, attentive and efficient. The bill came to €209 (£167) per head, sharing a bottle of good Alsace Riesling and having pre-dinner drinks. A typical bill, sharing a modest bottle of wine, might be around £120 a head. This did not seem excessive given the evident level of skill in the kitchen and the high grade luxury ingredients used. La Rotonde delivered a thoroughly enjoyable dining experience, with an appealing menu of classical dishes. The best dishes of the evening were genuinely top drawer.