I first ate the food of Takao Takano a decade ago, when he was head chef of Nicolas Le Bec in Lyon. Mr Le Bec had a Chinese wife and in 2010 headed off to Shanghai to open a restaurant there. Takao Takano worked with Le Bec from late 2002 after a stint learning to cook French food in Tokyo with chef Masahiro Morishige at La Butte Boise, and after a transition period his former head chef struck out on his own with this eponymous restaurant in Lyon. The place is situated in a fairly quite side street a short distance from a Lyon riverbank. Lyon, having two major rivers in the Rhone and Saone, has no shortage of riverbanks. The dining room is what an estate agent would describe as “compact”, but tables were well spaced and noise levels were low despite the limited space available. The room décor was simple, stripped back and elegant.
There was a tasting menu at €90 (£80), a longer one at €130 (£116), and a cheap lunch option at €45 (£40). The wine list ranged from €50 to €1,800 in price, with labels such Domaine de la Taille aux Loups Triple Zero NV as at €50 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €29, Domaine Pattes Loup Chablis 2015 at €80 compared to its retail price of €38, and Felton Road Bannockburn Pinot Noir 2015 at €120 for a wine that will set you back €50 in a shop. For those with the means, there were grander offerings such as at Domaine Trapet 1998 at €500 compared to its retail price of €281, and Clos Rougeard Le Bourg 2010 at a more than fair €500 for a wine whose current market value is €678.
The meal began with an amuse bouche that hints at the chef’s Japanese origins. Chawanmushi is an umami-rich savoury steamed egg custard that sometimes pops up in kaiseki menus as an appetiser, and can be served either hot or cold. Here it was warm, flavoured with beef consommé and shiitake mushrooms and a little ginger, topped with fillet of mackerel from Brittany. This was gorgeous, the texture silky, the mackerel fresh, the hint of warmth from the ginger lovely (18/20). Bread here was a sourdough supplied from the Max Poilane bakery. Lyon is blessed with superb bakeries, my favourite being Boulangerie du Palais in the old town, so it is perfectly sensible for a chef based here to buy in bread rather than make it in a kitchen with limited space.
A starter of gnocchi, crab and mixed vegetables featured courgette flower, beans, asparagus, broccoli, coriander and mountain herbs, as well as a dressing made from lobster coral and vinegar. The latter was precisely judged, its sour note precisely balancing the natural sweetness of the crab, the vegetables of superb quality (19/20). I was less taken with pollack topped with a crust of snail butter, accompanied by a cabbage parcel containing snails and pike perch eggs, which came with a smoked Hollandaise sauce. The snails were fine and the fish was correctly cooked, but pollack, a relative of coley, just has such limited flavour compared to something like sea bass. I recall one Michelin-starred chef in London being so surprised by being asked by a cost-conscious owner to put pollack on the menu that he said: “Pollack? But I feed that to my cat”. I have once had a dazzling pollack dish, at the Sa Qua Na kitchen of the immensely gifted Alexandre Bourdas, but this version was not of that level (16/20).
Much better was Bresse chicken from Max Cormareche, a breeder who raises around twelve hundred birds, a mix of fowls and capons, and who regularly wins an annual competition for best Bresse poultry, most recently in 2018. The chicken was indeed lovely, with crisp skin and plenty of flavour. Famous though it is, Bresse chicken can be so mild in flavour as to lack much distinct taste, but not here. The bird came with crayfish, excellent girolles, a rich jus made from a reduction of the cooking juices and a few fresh almonds. This was another lovely dish (18/20).
A selection of cheese was in excellent condition, including some lovely St Nectaire. Pre dessert was an orange mousse with yuzu sorbet and grapefruit pieces, with lemon cream and a hazelnut crumble. This was lovely, the mousse light and airy, and the citrus flavours refreshing (18/20). Poached rhubarb came with mascarpone cream, flavoured with vanilla from Tahiti, along with hazelnut crumble, rhubarb syrup, topped with a transparent a sugar disc, and separately served lavender ice cream. This was also excellent, the rhubarb not too sharp, the vanilla flavour coming through nicely (17/20). Coffee came with lovely vanilla madeleines and cookies.
Service was extremely good, our waiter being very attentive and patiently answering my food geeky questions. The bill came to €149 (£133) per person. If you ordered the shorter menu and shared a modest bottle of wine and coffee then a typical cost per head here might be £110, and of course this would be still less if you opted for the cheap lunch menu. Overall this was a lovely meal, the cooking clean and precise.