Michelin-starred chef Mathieu Viannay took over the famous Lyons restaurant Mère Brazier in 2008. Viannay’s cuisine has given a new lease of life to an establishment which had lain dormant for some years, bringing the past back to life without ever falling into culinary imitation.
History often hangs on very little. When we went to La Mère Brazier in Lyons, an institution and landmark of French gastronomy, we learnt that disaster had been narrowly avoided. If Mathieu Viannay, the former chef of the eponymously-named, Michelin-starred restaurant, had not taken over the business, this temple of cuisine would have been converted into a mini-market. So Viannay should be thanked for having the courage to accept the challenge of following Eugénie Brazier, a unique woman who obtained two three-star ratings simultaneously in the 1933 Red Guide. It was also in her restaurant that chefs Paul Bocuse and Bernard Pacaud (L’Ambroisie in Paris) learnt the ropes.
So, was it really a challenge? Well, it actually came at just the right time. Viannay’s cuisine is neither a copy-and-paste of Eugénie Brazier’s menu nor is it totally out of touch with the history of the place. “My cuisine had already been evolving towards the neoclassical recipes we have served here for some time.”
So, two great classics remain on the menu: artichokes with foie gras and Bresse chicken demi-deuil (with truffles under the skin). As for the rest, Viannay is “inflexible about produce and cooking”. The title of Meilleur Ouvrier de France (best craftsman in France) awarded to him in 2004 is perhaps only now coming into its own because “it’s only gradually after the competition that one really becomes a best craftsman”.
Perhaps he needed it in order to cook as he liked with nothing to prove to anyone, other than that his taste and passion remain intact. Today, Viannay’s cuisine is perfectly adapted to the place in which he operates. On the menu: pâté en croûte of Bresse chicken and foie gras with a black cherry jam, a creation in keeping with the establishment; medallion of monkfish and crispy calf’s head, baby vegetables and red wine butter; warm madeleine with honey. These typical local dishes, however, don’t prevent a few flights of fancy, such as the crabmeat with black radish and green apples in tangy jelly.
As for the dining room, the decor has regained the colours of yesteryear and in the upstairs rooms the 1920s earthenware is back. The beautiful, polished panelling is there and some dishes are served from a guéridon, or side table, in the great tradition of French cuisine before food was served directly on the plate. Some of the regulars, old silk merchant families of Lyons, also seem to be part of the furniture.
Mathieu Viannay has managed to rejuvenate this legendary establishment and add his own personal touch without spoiling its soul.
La Mère Brazier
12, rue Royale
Tel: +33 (0)4 78 23 17 20
A la carte: around €90. Set menus: €55, €75, €95. Lunch menu €35.