Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Saloon

42, cours Franklin-Roosevelt-69006
-Tél. : (0033) 04 78 52 23 65 -
Opening hoursTuesday to saturday: 9.00 to 18.15

Same words with different meanings in English and in French, the tile of this blog specifically refers to a tea room. Welcome to the world of passion in pastry arts and fine chocolate works as you descend upon Bernachon (I will talk about it in a later post) and Passion by Bernachon which is just next door.

Three generations of family have successfully managed the patisserie and chocolatier business, Bernachon was started by Maurice Bernachon who had learned the craft from age fourteen. Buying over the confectionary shop from the chocolate master when he retired, Chef Maurice transformed it into a worldwide recognized icon of fine chocolates and pastries in the city of Lyon. There is only one Bernachon Kitchen in the whole of France and its right here in this culinary capital. Today it is managed by the third generation of the Bernachon family with traditional recipes and skills a la Lyonnais style still being practiced daily aided by modern technology.

Passion By Benarchon
How could we not visit this culinary landmark in Lyon when here? Friends in the chefs industry have told me that this is a must see place as the best and one only chocolatier with no other manufacturing branches in the whole of France. This is what that makes it exclusive and every trip to Lyon should include a stop over here.

Passion by Bernachon is a tea saloon offering both sweet and savoury pastries with luxurious tea blends, gourmet coffees and a special in house formulated hot chocolate for afternoon tea. It also offers a lunch menu of some classic French dishes. The saloon is not opened for dinner and closes at the same time with the patisserie. Lunch is often packed so reservations are absolutely necessary. However, N and I took the chance of walking in an hour before they opened where some staff were already preparing for the lunch service. We had kind of overslept through the breakfast hour and lunch was just an hour away. With our tummies growling and not wanting to go elsewhere, we politely asked if we could just come in for tea first and order some pastries from next door to munch on as they get ready. We also indicated that we would like to have lunch as soon as they are ready. In the line of restaurant business, you do not turn away polite customers even if your house is not ready. The right thing to do is to host them on the side in a corner while the rest prepares for service. After all it doesn’t take much to host two people over a coffee table by the side which also translates to extra revenue.

We ordered Quiche Lorraine from next door to share as lunch was to be soon in forty five minutes. N wanted to go for the hot chocolate while I prefer my de rigueur cafe au lait to start the day with, something which I regretted with later.

While I normally do not comment much on beverages and my coffee was as good as I expected, I need to highlight this cup of dark brown looking liquid that sent my wife on a heavenly high at almost noon time. Hot chocolate is a very common drink that can be very comforting in the most uncomfortable of situations for example cold weather, hungry stomachs….etc. Its appreciation dates back to Mexican Aztec history when cocoa beans were used as trading currency. However, it does not enjoy the kind of hype and gourmet status of coffees even though the prices of cocoa beans are not really any cheaper to that of coffee. Bernachon’s version looked ordinary when it came by but the light up on N’s face at the first sip; I knew it just wasn’t simple stuff.

I used to think that Max Brenner offered the best hot chocolate but while it is still good, it is not something like Bernachon’s that sends N on high spirits. This cup of humble looking hot chocolate has that rich robust taste of cocoa beans that is so thick; its viscosity would put others pale in comparison. Its was like drinking a bar of melted dark chocolate couverture with all the flavours of sweet, bitter, toasty notes and a very light acidity in the background. And chocolate does have aphrodisiac properties because they trigger the feel good hormones into your system.

Good chefs know that to create the ultimate dining experience, food has to be sexy. To achieve that, presentation, balance of taste, temperature and texture has to be in the right place and the resulting synergy is an orgasmic sensation on the palate.

The quiche arrived at the right temperature as they had taken the initiative to serve it warm. This makes the lovely savoury custard meltingly good in the mouth and allows the pastry to give off a nice buttery note on the crust when you bite into it. By serving it warm also reduces the unpleasant feeling of eating cold grease. N is not a food connoisseur by training but she can go on raving for hours about it if she bites into something that would trigger an orgasmic experience on her palate. The quiche did just that and I must admit it was really one of the best quiche that I have tasted. Sweet onions, lightly sautéed with lardons(pancetta) not bacon was suspended in between sensational smooth custard and lovely topped with melted Emmental cheese. It reminded us of those wonderful freshly baked Sweet Egg Tarts from Leung San in Chinatown, Singapore, where the custard is still warm and runny. With the exceptional hot chocolate earlier, you could naughtily say that my wife had “multiple gastronomic related orgasms” before we could even hit lunch.

By now, the tables were ready and we were ushered to another corner where we could go through the freshly printed menus du jour (today). N left the choices to me so we opted for Pate Encroute with a Petit Salad and Salade Lyonnais as starters. As N wanted to taste that wonderful North Sea Cod again which I had in Le Nord a day before, I ordered it done with a tomato basil salsa for her. For me, the Fillet of Daurade with Lemon Beurre Blanc, Pink Peppercorns and Parsley was my choice.

Pates are traditional foods in France where pork meat is blended, seasoned, paired with liver, pistachio nuts, ham and some times foie gras or truffles. It is then sometimes encrusted in pie pastry with ornamented cuttings before baking. Served cold with toasted brioche bread, salad and pickles, it's the standard fare for lunch or dinner starters. Pate making tests on the skills of the chef in the art of gardemanger (cold kitchen) as preparing one is no easy feat.

We had a huge generous slice of Pate Encroute that came with a petit salad or marche leaves and other baby greens. The pate filling was rich, creamy and smooth with chunks of meat, ham and pistachio nuts. A small piece of savoury jelly from the meat juices that leeched out during baking provided a nice contrast on texture for the palate. The pie pastry was pretty standard but the petit salad had a nice mustard dressing which cut the richness of the pate perfectly together with the side pickles.

My Lyonnais Salad was a bed of mix leaf lettuces with mustard dressing, speck with sautéed smoked lardons (pancetta), tomatoes, crispy croutons and a warm poached egg. The sharp vinaigrette cut through the fattiness of the delicious smoky lardons and the runny egg yolk provided an element of subtle neutrality to the salad taking on a diplomatic compliment to the rest of the ingredients. The croutons resolved any crispy textured cravings bringing harmony to the dish’s well balanced taste and texture.

In between the next course, I had a chance to peek into the kitchen from my sitting position where much of the action was going on. I saw a racial mix of staff from Asian to African faces rather than just native French. Rather than think them as third world immigrant workers, I would perceive them as keen apprentices. Being such an institution in the world of pastry arts in Lyon, any aspiring pastry apprentice would sure loved to have a year or two of training in that level of passion and finesse.

Back to the food, both main courses arrived together with the Cod Fillet Cabillaud shinning from the drizzle of olive oil and the tomato basil salsa. Not losing out to the fantastic one we had just a day before in Le Nord, N totally enjoyed the lovely moist piece of fish and its delicate flavours accentuated by the tomato basil salsa and a squeeze of lemon. She was still basking in the glow of satisfaction from the earlier experience.

My Daurade fillet was equally tempting with the accompanying creamy tart beurre blanc. Its very crispy skin and moist flesh was already a sensation of its own, paired with the sauce, a well orchestrated combination. Bite into one of those generously sprinkle of pink peppercorns, an explosive burst of flavours to a lovely finish as you chew on.

We had a lovely Roesti Potatoes and Cauliflower Au Gratin for the sides. The cauliflower was especially tasty, being in the prime of the season , beautifully gratinated with Comte Cheese, giving it a nutty character. If there was a dash of truffle oil, I would have given it a perfect 10+. The Roesti Potatoes were normal but nicely done so having them with the fishes was just as beautiful.

As we planned to buy some pastries from next door, we order a simple Frozen Soufflé of Red Berries with Raspberry Coulis, Caramelized nuts and Creme Chantilly (whipped cream). The frozen soufflé was lovely with the sauce and we both like the caramelized nuts as sheer nibbles. However the Creme Chantilly was a humongous serving,way too much but the paper thin almond tulies and chocolate cigarettes will surely please any child. It was like some kind of a fairy tale dessert that every child would fantasize in their mind.

The meal was a lovely experience!!

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