listen to the Lyon - SIRHA, the Bocuse D’Or and Les Halles

And so I am once more, bi-annually, as a child in a sweetshop. Imagine an edible bejewelled crown made of naturally leavened Panettone, coated in Amedei chocolate and studded with Rococco truffles and you have the international (and fantastical) HORECA (hotel, restaurant, catering) SIRHA food fair in Lyon attached to the Bocuse D’Or, garnished with a trip to Les Halles de Lyon(-Paul Bocuse), his name is on everything.

Gluttony really doesn’t get tougher than this; 3 gruelling days eating my way around 6 halls of chef-targeted pastry, charcuterie, olives and desserts, long eating evenings of fine[ish] dinners and a lunchtime visit to Les Halles. Just as my wife would head to the nearest John Lewis in case of global catastrophe as nothing bad can happen, I would wish to be in Les Halles. It’s not real but it is fun. Oysters, cheese and chocolate abound and the (IMO) over-rated charcuterie of Sibilia is something of a landmark, the owner is a lovely lady and a true “Mere Lyonnaise”. At lunchtime the place fills up and as every shop has a dining area it becomes noisy and crowded as a good market should.  Along with all fine things French there is an outpost of Bellotta (spanish theme) and a Ciao Ciao, a "classic" Italian deli, both re-imagined and distorted through Gallic lenses.

To be fair, the Fair is not uniformly great experience; the traffic in and out is terrible and it rained during every long walk from every distant car park. But once inside there is entertainment galore, competitions and events (13) in all corners from patisserie through ice and chocolate sculpture to the pinnacle that is the Bocuse D’Or. Something like professional Iron Chef played out in front of 2,000 supporters, 12 teams per day have 5h35m to prepare 2 dishes. Team GB achieved its highest ever placing, 4th, and also won best commis, best meat dish and (IMO) most annoying supporters. The Barmy Army 5 piece brass section that follows the England football team were on hand to drown out the hundreds of Americans chanting “USA!USA!” with stirring(?) renditions of Rule Britannia, the dambusters theme and other jingoistic standards which soon grated like a hangover.

Outside the fair there is Lyon, the fermented heartland of France, a lovely city. Bread, cheese, charcuterie and wine; the French can claim to be one of the kings of fermentation. Don’t “see Paris and die” (in the original Russian “Увидеть Париж и умер еть”), instead go to Lyon and live. The first night after a long traffic jam and a bracing walk through a huge open square we ate in le bon bourgeois underneath frightening pictures of Engels, Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. I’m delighted to say that the food and service were rubbish; the food cold and badly cooked, dishes missing, grumpy waiters. In your face France ! My bavette with morels was no more than average and some of the gang didn’t even get fed. The ubiquitous Norwegian Omelette (baked Alaska) was a hilarious disaster as the flaming alcohol was poured onto the lap of our host.
The following evening we didn’t bother with Lyon and instead headed out to Le Bourg and enjoyed a rather splendid meal at the cheesily named Chez Nous; slightly weird baked eggs with langoustines & morels and a surgically splendid broken down and re-assembled wild pigeon; almond crusted rare roast breast, legs and wings en confit (only duck and goose are classed as confit), a silly tiny copper pan (which makes my hands look giant) of aligot and a rich a deep jus. Having drunk our way up and down the Rhone, from the light northern Crozes-Hermitage through the southern leg-chopping Gigondas and the papaly embossed Chateau Neuf I was eager to sample the pungent cheese trolley, however the rest of the table and the opportunity passed and so we moved onto desserts. Baked Alaskas in abundance and every corner ablaze, I choose to preserve my trousers and took a chocolat framboise tart instead (thinking it was strawberry), and as usual chocolate and berries is a stupid combination and did not in any way agree with my palate. Chocolate and prunes on the other hand, is the bacon and egg of the sweet realm.