IF it weren't for the wealthy and industrious silkmakers of Lyon's past, says Phillipe Chavent, Lyon would not be the gastronomic capital it is today.
To pay tribute to those silkmakers who helped build Lyon, the chef-owner of La Tour Rose has draped the tables of his second-floor greenhouse restaurant with vibrant Lyon silks. Together with the triangular presentation plates and stunning glassware that complete the table, the diner has a foretaste of the adventure that comes with a meal at La Tour Rose.
Crunchy, pungent, deep-fried fresh herbs as an amuse-bouche, poached eggs in a sea-urchin sauce - the purple tint comes from the boiled sea-urchin shell - crowned by a nest of quick-fried beet strips: That's how a meal might begin.
"People always associate Lyon with quenelles [a seasoned dumpling with minced meat or fish], andouillettes [sausage], and gras double [tripe], but I think that the provinces have the right to attempt something else," Mr. Chavent says.
Going against the flow is not always easy in a conservative city like Lyon, and the iconoclastic Chavent, despite his 15 years here, has not been easily accepted into Lyon's circle of renowned chefs.
Still, while his tables, and the 12 rooms of his hotel, tip their hat to the long line of Lyonnais silkmakers, the concessions to tradition pretty much stop there.
Next comes a generous pigeon breast wrapped in Chinese cabbage with a small-vegetable-and-truffle sauce, or sauteed duck liver and red mullet fillets on a bed of lentils with garlic. And with each course the plates change, from clear and simple to a blue baroque design or a pink sphere with red and gray splatterings.
Desserts range from a bergamot cream ("I'm becoming increasingly interested in experimenting with the bitter taste," says Chavent) served with a warm honey madeleine, to a chocolate macaroon with coffee cream sauce, or perhaps a peach caramel Bavarian cream, a house specialty.
For those who can't make up their minds, never fear: "Many of our guests try three desserts," a waiter says.