Nicholas Le Bec in Lyon- or the Hungry One’s Happy Place

The Hungry One has just returned to our white square table. It’s so wide we can only just hold hands across it like proper honeymooners.

“You have to go to the bathroom “ he says.
“ I’m serious. There are nature sounds, hand cream and two types of cologne- lavender and one they’ve called intense. I tried a bit of both.”

I should have known. The Hungry One finds it hard to walk past a buffet without sampling a little bit of everything on display.
The bathrooms at Nicholas Le Bec are only the tip of the iceberg of elegant excess. It’s a place that is so adult that I can’t help but feel more like a child every second I sit there.

We’re in Lyon for two days. We’ve come to eat and wander between two rivers. We woke on the morning of our lunch booking at Le Bec and discovered the first day of our honeymoon that it wasn’t raining. I took this as a good omen.

Nicholas Le Bec is on Rue Grolee,on the island that’s tucked between the rivers and the Old City; an area called Presqu’ile. The restaurant is modern but warm, with muted warm browns, greens and oceans of white starched tablecloths.

I can tell from the moment we walk in it’s starting to tick off some of the things that secretly delight the Hungry One.

The chairs are stable and sensible. There’s a the visual interest of a small vase of flowers in the corner of the table. There’s enough distance between the seats for you to people watch, but not overhear the inane and intimate details of someone else’s day. There’s real butter on the table, along with salt flakes and a small pepper grinder. When it arrives, the bread has a decent crust, yet fluffy and best of all, it’s warm. The mineral water is Badoit, a recently discovered French favourite with tiny little bubbles that twinkle on your tongue.

There’s a set lunch menu, the Menu Affaire, with four courses and a decent choice between two for entrée, main and dessert . That comes in at 58 euro. For lunch at a Michelin starred, premier restaurant in Lyon, this seems ok to us. We may have completely lost all sense of perspective. We’ve also dangerously stopped converting things to Australian dollars.

To further the list of things that make the Hungry One happy, the petit fours that look like two sets of traffic lights bringing on tastes as diverse as smoked eel Chantilly cream and a sheep cheese cookie nugget with pear.

The three fat fingers of asparagus that I ordered are earthy logs splayed across a puddle of spiced cream. There are flirty slips of parmesan and bisected mushroom stem winking at you from ontop while bedding the flavours together. For the Hungry One there’s three of the best scallops he’s ever eaten. The Coquilles St Jacques are downy pillows squatting in a creamy shellfish sauce punched up with orange juice.

The wine list is fatter than the full list of Aesop’s fables and has a pretty wide selection of demi bottles so we pick out a St Perray white burgundy to start. It’s crisp and clean but not sharp or flinty. It gives a warm welcome to food like it’s a long lost friend.

The main courses are as much a feast for your eyes. The oregano sauce flooding my fish is so unbelievably green it reminds me of what was poured on your head when you made the mistake of saying “I don’t know” on the 1980’s Canadian children’s show ‘You can’t do that on television’.

The Hungry One’s two pigeon marylands have their legs half splayed ,having given up trying to vault the piped tower of liver mousse next to them or swim across the dark lake of sauce they’re surrounded by.

The hostess is kind enough to serve us a generous dollop of potato puree that’s got chives tinkering about in it. She then leaves behind the container with two more resting in the bottom. When she returns, it’s empty. Originally we think it’s potato puree, but really, it’s more like mousse, with an echo of potato but base elements of air and cream. It’s light in your mouth, but sits like a fist in your stomach.

A decent cheese course is something that especially pleases the Hungry One. A cart of cheese, wheeled from behind a magic curtain from which you can choose as much as you like is a sight to behold. The spicy fruit and nut bread to accompany is interesting and there’s a choice of nine cheeses, including our favourites, semi hard sheep and goat.

Desserts of a wild baby strawberry tart, with mango sorbet and almond cream and a hot chocolate mousse with dark espresso ice cream planted in the centre are more things to make us smile.

The plate of petit fours that comes with one of the first decent ristrettos the Hungry One has had in a week is a last delight. There are caramels which expand and expand in your mouth, like a souvenir from a Far-away Tree visiting land. They come in a flavor we can’t quite pick.

“Mango” says the Hungry One. “Apple” I guess. Blind tasting when you’re a little impaired from the half bottle of Beaujolais that washed down the mains is an entertaining game with a low success rate. For those playing at home, “Passionfruit and grapefruit” was the correct answer.

In Peter Pan- you just had to think of your happy place and with a sprinkling of Tinkerbell’s magic dust you could fly; escaping the things holding you down that make you afraid to keep walking forward.

It’s just before we leave that the Hungry One came back with his discovery of the bounty in the bathrooms at Nicholas Le Bec.

We paid the bill and didn’t even think twice. Some days you can’t question the cost of a Happy Place. I just hope in the months and years to come we’ll look back on that lunch and be transported again to the other side of the world, to a day when the sun was shining and all was good in ours.
Nicholas Le Bec
Rue Grolee
Presqu’ile, Lyon

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