Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Potless Budget Restaurant Review #8: Chez Mounier, Lyon, France

Being Potless isn't all about cooking at home - it's about having a fabulous value-for-money eating experience, wherever you are.

So, I present to you my series entitled: 'The Potless Budget Restaurant Reviews'!

Having trawled the globe looking for the best of the cheapest eating out establishments, I can now share my findings. 

'Cheap' is, of course, subjective. But what makes a restaurant qualify for this list is a sense of extremely good value. A greasy spoon cafe might be cheap (and delicious too, come to that) but it won't make it onto the list, unless the eating experience it provides is of the very highest quality in proportion to the price it charges.

This is, without a doubt, my favourite review to date.

Mrs Ribeye and I had spent a fabulous week in Nice, sunning ourselves on the French Cote d'Azur, and we were on our slow meander homewards. We decided to stop off at Lyon in order to see whether its grand culinary reputation had any foundation, and sample a meal from one of its famous bouchons.

The word 'bouchon' has a double meaning: It's either a reference to a cork - the counting of which, by the inn's owner, would calculate a patron's bill after a heavy night of wine consumption; or it's from the verb 'bouchonner', meaning to rub-down - as in a place where the tired traveller can eat and drink while his horse is massaged back to sprightliness. Either way, it's the name for traditional inns in the old part of Lyon, which are famous for serving offal.

Eek! Offal! I love trying new things, and I love French food, but I've never eaten the more questionable parts of the butcher's repertoire. I adore liver and kidneys, and I've sampled sweetbreads - but these are really prime cuts compared to our Lyonnaise experience on that warm summer's evening in early July.

So, after booking into our guesthouse, we set-off to find as authentic a bouchon as Lyon had to offer - and the Rue de Marroniers in the heart of the old town it had to be. The cobbled street is heaving with 200 year old inns and taverns, all offering traditional prix fixe delights at very reasonable prices. We settled on Chez Meunier because it was the least showy looking place (no Coke fridges/uniformed waiting staff etc) on the street and had an air of olde worlde charm. The chef (as you can see from the picture: smiling, ruddy-cheeked lady/standing at the door/arms folded/blue apron) spotted us hanging around waiting for a terrace table, and asked us to wait a couple of minutes while another couple paid their bill; and then we sat down in eager anticipation of adding a serious foodie experience notch to our belts.

Chez Mounier
3 Rue des Marroniers

Tel: 04 78 37 79 26


Filled with locals inside and out, it was obvious that this place had a great reputation. We took our seats at a table on the front terrace and were presented with a menu and a basket of bread. A quick trip to the restrooms allowed me a glimpse of the inner spaces of the bouchon. Tobacco-stained walls were covered in mirrored adverts for pastis, and other French liqueurs, together with a few paintings of Lyonnaise street scenes and surrounding countryside. The furniture was the standard bistro-looking small wooden tables and chairs, with a bar running down the long side of the space. Everything looked unpretentious and not at all 'put-on'. Fab.


As you may know, I'm not a fan of the standard four-course French set meal. They are normally a bit heavy and bland, with a big emphasis on meat and dairy. Instead, I normally adopt my patented '3-2-1' ordering method (3 entrees, shared between 2, served all at 1 time). However, to fully inveigle ourselves in some traditional authentic bouchon culture, we ordered the menu du chef and awaited our fate.

First up: salade de chevre chaude and a plate of crudites. No problem. No offal. I love goats cheese salad and make it regularly at home. Both plates were polished-off with a bottle of the delicious house rose. C'mon! Let's go!

Oh dear. a few minutes after our plates were cleared, I could sense that the next course was on its way. Sense it? Of course I could - my nose was sensing it, as was the nose of Mrs Ribeye and the noses of probably half of Lyon. We were presented with a plate of tripe in a tomato sauce with mashed potato, and a huge andouillette sausage in a mustardy glaze with some boiled potatoes.

Andouillette sausage is a bunch of small intestines, encased in a large intestine. The tripe is also part of the digestive system, in that it is the stomach lining of a cow - cooked until it is a gelatinous bunch of scraps. The problem for me with both of these dishes, however, was not the texture, or even the taste - but the smell. The andouillette and the tripe stunk of... arse.

The sausage was a little bit better than the tripe, in that there were some spices added to the recipe to counteract the smell of crap, but the tomato sauce that the tripe came in did nothing to disguise any of it. It was as if we had been presented with two plates of shit.

To avoid accusations of being English (or in my wife's case, Russian) scaredy cats, I ate the lot. Mrs Ribeye tried a small piece of tripe and a forkful of sausage, but mainly ate potatoes. I scoffed both of the stinking dishes in double-quick time so that I could attempt to bypass my olfactory senses and consign the repulsive stuff to my inner recesses. The plan sort of worked (helped along with a second basket of bread), until I realised that my nose has a memory, and that although the food had been eaten, my nose wasn't going to let me forget it as quickly as I would have liked. There's nothing for it - I'm going to have to order the next course to blot out this one.

We were presented with the smelliest cheese I have ever eaten. The waiter called it fromage sec, and it really was as dry as the name suggests. A lump of athlete's foot. Disgusting. I normally love smelly cheese, like Munster or Chaumes - but after eating tripe? No thanks.

Next up was a huge portion of creme caramel. It was basically a sweet creamy omelette. After everything else that I had already eaten? Double disgusting.

So, let's analyse this meal: 

1. Salad with cheese
2. Cow guts
3. Stinky cheese
4. Omelette

After all of this offal and dairy, I was ready to chuck-up the entire meal all over the terrace. Thankfully I didn't, and Mrs Ribeye and I paid our bill with a grimace-y smile and hobbled back to our hotel.


Does it matter? If I had paid 1 Euro each, it would have been too expensive. For the sake of completeness, however, I will inform you that the bill came to a very reasonable(!) 17 Euros per head, for four courses including wine - about £12-13 each.


Here's the thing: After I got over the shock of eating such extreme dishes, I started getting a few weird feelings. First of all, my memory banks started telling me that the experience was not too bad. Then I started to think that maybe I had been too harsh in my assessment of the experience. Then, I started CRAVING some more of this food.

What the hell is going on? Am I a secret masochist? Did the chef put psychotropic drugs in my food? Or, much more dreadfully, am I starting to acquire a taste for this repugnant fare? God, I hope not. But the fact remains: I certainly am looking forward to going back to Lyon and sampling some more of their weird grub. My andouillette and tripe days are not over, by a long way.

I'm not eating that effing cheese again, though. Or will I.....?

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