To round off the Paris/ Lyon posts, it has got to be about the most unusual dining experience ever. Café des Fédérations is one of, if not, the most famous bouchon in Lyon. If you recall, a bouchon is a type of restaurant in Lyon that serves traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. We scored a table in Federations through my Lyon-based friend who called and made a reservation. Lucky us, we thought.
Meals in a real bouchon are cheap – much cheaper than Paris. At Café Federations, our five-course dinner cost just 27 euros per person including tips and service. The two main servers in Café Federation were so friendly, we couldn’t help but feel instantly at ease upon walking in. But Cafe Federation etched an unforgettable experience in us. This place “recycles” food. We saw our leftovers served to the next table. Yup, you read that right. Our neighbouring table ate our leftovers. You bet we were glad to have arrived at the start of dinner service! At Café Federation, English menus were provided. Aside from the main courses and desserts, the rest of the courses were standard. You can’t reject or ask for smaller portions. We tried and failed. At first we thought it was wasted at being served large portions despite not finishing.
Dinner started off very well: Oeufs en meurette, a classic Burgundy dish which consist a poached egg in dark and concentrated red wine sauce served warm with lardons (bacon). The brown sauce was very rich and embodied an intense flavor of a broth that had been cooking on the stove for days. The egg was perfectly poached, and its thick yellow yolk carefully enveloped the full-bodied sauce. My little pot contained delicious large pieces of juicy lardons but my dining companion did not get any in hers.
Our second starter was a large plate of beautiful and succulent saucisson de Lyon with cornichons, a heaping bowl of puy lentil salad (or caviar de la croix rousse), and an even larger bowl of Frisée aux croûtons et lardons (or salade Lyonnaise). The salad is a classic Lyonnaise salad with frisée, bacon, croutons and eggs in a Dijon vinaigrette. You know what I liked about the salad? The lardons and ham were hot. Everything else was cold. Cold food in the cold weather baffles me to no end. Little did we know that this was the only fresh vegetable dish for we were going to get a full-on meat fest bonanza. We did not come close to finishing the lentils and salad but they did not seem to mind…
Then came this terrine du chef with a knife stuck into it. That day the terrine flavor was wild boar. It was stone-cold solid.
We eagerly looked forward to our hot main courses.
This Quenelle de brochet sauce nantua et ses écrevisses, a pike quenelle with creamy crawfish sauce, is a typical Lyonnaise dish and stood out among the three savouries. Quenelles are made by combining panade (milk, butter, egg and flour mixture) with diced pike fish fillets, eggs and butter which is then molded into its characteristic torpedo shape and poached to a light fluff. Essentially a gigantic yellow fish ball as its texture bore a close resemblance to our little white ones.
All around us, the Quenelle was ordered for everyone at the table and we quickly figured out why; it was the most delicious and least-weird main course. The texture was spongy and the accompanying savoury crawfish sauce was delicious! We would gladly have gotten three of this.
I decided to be extremely adventurous and ordered the Tête de veau with sauce ravigote: braised calf’s head with vinegar sauce. It arrived looking massively unappetizing upon arrival. There was this thick gelatinous exterior that I just could not bring myself to eat. But the calf meat was extremely tender and was enhanced by the acidity and tartness of the ravigote sauce which was made with white wine vinegar, mustard, shallots, capers and herbs. In true bouchon style, this calf’s head came with small fine black facial hairs on the skin. Sick.
Our final savoury was this Bourdin Noir aux pomme: Black pudding sausage with baked apples. The baked sweet apples were lovely. The mushy black pudding thankfully did not taste of anything much but it was hard to look at.
For our fourth and second last course, we were presented with a humongous cheese assortment. As if we could eat anymore after our carnivorous banquet. The cheese plate included St. Marcellin, a beautiful creamy soft cheese, and cervelle de canut, a soft cheese paste of sorts with fromage blanc, white wine, garlic and herbs that literally translates to ‘silkworker’s brain’. Our full tummies meant we picked a bit of the cheese before calling it a day. Then the most bizarre act was witnessed.
Without a word, the friendly waitress took our barely-eaten plate of cheese and plonked it on the table next to us! And we proceeded to watch others pick on our leftover cheese. It seems at this place serving big portions will not render in wastage as it will be served to others later in the evening! Oh my god. If we came at the later half of dinner service, we would have served half-eaten food!!!!
Not even over the cheese experience was dessert time. I had high-hopes for Lyonnaise sweets but was severely disappointed. There was a wide variety to choose from. I chose the Moelleux à la châtaigne: Chestnut Fondant but it was nowhere chestnuty or lava-flowing. We also had the Poire au vin: Poached Pear into red wine sauce which fared better. The Dessert Maison (glace): ice cream with French liquor & blackcurrent coulis was extremely potent. But other than that, there was nothing spectacular about it. Our biggest beef with the desserts was how stale it was. Like it was made and frozen weeks in advance then heated up just before serving.
Lyonnaise cuisine is heavy on offals, sausages, pâtés and all things oozing with animal essence. The emphasis on hearty meat dishes can be pretty overwhelming after just one meal. Honestly we felt a bit sick about the food. It felt… rough. Bouchons are most definitely not a place for vegetarians or the faint-hearted (especially the cholesterol plaque-hearted/ weight-watchers). There are around 20 officially certified authentic bouchons in Lyon according to Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais. The certified bouchons have an official plaque outside their restaurants so they are easy to identify. Eat at your own risk.
Cafe Des Federations
8 Rue Du Major Martin
Tel: + 33 472 73 04 27
Nearest Metro: Hotel de Ville